exposing the dark side of adoption
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By Caroline Young P-I Reporter

State children's services workers will ask a Clallam County judge today to order a Port Angeles attorney accused of sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl living in his home not to have contact with any children until the case is resolved.

Child Protective Services, the state agency responsible for protecting abused children, will ask Judge Grant S. Meiner to issue the order when the attorney appears in Superior Court today in Port Angeles.

The attorney, Theadore E. Ripley, 46, has been charged with statutory rape in the second degree. Prosecutors said the alleged victim, a blind, 12- year-old Guatemalan girl, has lived with Ripley and his wife, Merrily, since infancy. Merrily Ripley has not been charged in the case.

The Ripleys are nationally known for adopting children from Asia and Central America. Merrily has operated an international adoption agency in Port Angeles since about 1976. Ripley is on the agency's board of directors.

The Guatemalan girl has been made a ward of the state and is living with a foster family.

Ripley, who has denied the charge, is free on his personal recognizance. He is living in the family home with two other adopted teen-age children, said Steve Ennett, who licenses adoption agencies and foster homes for the state.

Denise Thomas, CPS social work supervisor, said the agency wants the judge to order Ripley to stay away from children as a condition of his release pending trial.

If the judge refuses, Thomas said CPS will ask Meiner to order police to take Ripley's adopted children into protective custody. The children may be placed with foster families or Ripley could be ordered to leave his home.

Thomas said police officers have already interviewed the children and felt they could be safely left in the Ripley home.

"We have some real concerns about that," said Thomas, who added CPS had asked police to remove the children.

She said, "We do have concerns about those kids in the home. There have been allegations of sexual abuse and whether (they are against) Mr. Ripley or someone else, we're concerned about the children being in the home."

Thomas said CPS had asked Ripley to voluntarily move out of his home, but Ripley refused. The agency has made a temporary agreement with Merrily Ripley that says her husband will not be around children unless a responsible adult is with him.

But Thomas said she is "not real comfortable" with that agreement.

State investigators and prosecutors are still working on the complicated case, which includes a "pattern of wanton sexual activity within that residence," court documents state.

Documents say three other girls and a boy who have lived in the home indicated they were sexually abused by other children in the household.

In addition, Ripley's 30-year-old adopted son, Kori, was charged last month with sexually assaulting the Guatemalan girl in 1984. Kori Ripley, who has pleaded not guilty, is free awaiting trial on March 17.

An unidentified male youngster living in the home was found guilty last July of assaulting the Guatemalan girl and sentenced to 22 weeks in a juvenile institution.

Merrily Ripley has been in the adoption business since around 1976, when she helped found a group formerly called the Washington Association of Christian Adoptive Parents, said informed sources in the adoption field.

Sources said she had a disagreement with the board of directors and broke off from the group. The group, which was later renamed the Western Association of Concerned Adoptive Parents, moved its operation to Seattle.

Janice Neilson, the group's present executive director, refused to talk about the Ripleys.

Merrily Ripley was licensed to operate her own agency, called Adoption Advocates International, in 1983, said Ennett, the state licenser. The license was renewed in 1986 and was up for renewal this year. Theadore Ripley was not listed on the license, Ennett said.

The agency also was licensed to certify its own foster homes where children who were awaiting adoption could stay, Ennett said. He said the agency certified eight foster homes, five of which are still active. He said he was unsure how many children were in those homes, but added that CPS investigators intended to talk with the children.

In 1986, the state checked the backgrounds of Merrily Ripley and her staff through the State Patrol's central registry of child abuse as a routine part of the renewal process, Ennett said. Nothing unusual turned up.

"We haven't received any complaints specific to the agency in the past," said Ennett.

Ennett said the state is talking with the attorney general's office to see whether any action should be taken against the agency.

"This is really still so very early for us," said Ennett. 'We need to look at the big picture."

The agency specializes in adoptions of foreign-born children, Ennett said. The state has sent letters to Thailand and Haiti confirming that Adoption Advocates International was a licensed agency, he said.

So far this year, the agency has placed seven children in adoptive homes. Last year, it placed 144 children and in 1987, 127 children.

"I'm obviously very surprised, given the history that the agency had with us," said Ennett. "On previous review of their operations there was nothing to lead us to believe there was anything to question."

1989 Feb 10