Delta-Montrose Youth Services said in court filings it is not not liable for the conduct of Joshua Hemphill, the former deputy now in prison for sexually assaulting a Montrose child whose parents are now suing.
Delta-Montrose Youth Services operates Partners of Delta, Montrose & Ouray. The family filed suit in May against the organization, which once had Hemphill as a mentor, as well as against Mesa Youth Services in Grand Junction, which operates Mesa County Partners.
In addition to mentoring youth, Hemphill had been employed in law enforcement, first as a detention officer in Mesa County, then as a deputy in Dolores County.
He resigned from the deputy position shortly after the Colorado Bureau of Investigation interviewed him about sexual assault complaints in 2017. Hemphill had by that time not been paired with a youth through the Partners mentoring program since 2014, the organization says.
Hemphill was in 2019 convicted by guilty pleas in separate Montrose and Mesa County cases of sexual offenses against children. His victims included a Montrose boy.
The local boy’s parents sued the Delta-Montrose Youth Services, Mesa Youth Services, and Hemphill in May, seeking at least $100,000 in damages. The full complaint was not publicly available.
According to documents in his criminal case, Hemphill had mentored youths other than the plaintiffs’ child through the local Partners. He was terminated from the volunteer program in 2014 for not following protocol and disregarding warnings about how much time he was spending with one of the kids.
In 2017, a young man, then living out of state, alleged Hemphill had sexually abused him in 2014. Although Hemphill was not charged with assaulting that individual, the complaint prompted the 2017 investigation that led to the 2019 convictions.
Hemphill is currently in prison for a minimum of 15 years.
But Hemphill was never assigned as a mentor to the boy whose family is suing, Partners’ attorney Paul Collins wrote in a July 15 answer to the family’s complaint. The organization “never partnered (boy) with a mentor and (boy) did not finalize the application process with DMYS,” the answer states.
“Mr. Hemphill was not partnered with another youth after June 2014,” the document reads, going on to say that if there had been a mentoring relationship between Hemphill and two juveniles, identified as JD-1 and JD-2, it was not through DMYS.
Whatever damages the plaintiffs’ suffered were the result of conduct by someone over whom Partners had no control, Collins said.
According to past testimony and court records, prior to Hemphill’s arrest, the parents of the Montrose victim told the CBI they had at first allowed Hemphill contact with their sons, even helping him by offering a place for him to stay when he left his job in Mesa County.
However, they quickly became concerned about the amount of time he spent with their children and his lack of boundaries, which was so extreme that he would sleep on the floor next to one of the boys’ beds, instead of in the allotted guest room.
The family eventually had to obtain police assistance to get Hemphill to stop trying to communicate with their children, and they also were granted a restraining order.
The Partners’ organization attorney argued in the July 15 filing that the plaintiffs’ own “comparative negligence” was to blame for any damages suffered. Partners “expressly denies” negligence and in the answer, also invoked immunity based on the Colorado Doctrine of Charitable Immunity. The doctrine protects non-profit charitable corporations like DMYS, which, the attorney said “at all times” acted in good faith.
“This defendant had no duty or obligation to the plaintiff under the circumstances forming the basis for this complaint and no other duty or obligation to this defendant exists as a matter of law,” Collins wrote, asking for the court to dismiss the lawsuit.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.