A 23-year-old woman who says she and her 4-year-old son were abducted by a man in New Hampshire and driven to a hotel in White River Junction, where she was allegedly raped in front of the boy, has sued the State of Vermont and a Bradford substance abuse treatment center.
The woman, Celia Roessler, filed suit Monday in Chittenden County Superior Court seeking punitive damages. The 39-page complaint accuses the state and the Valley Vista treatment facility of gross negligence in their handling of the case of Everett Simpson, who has been charged with kidnapping and sexual assault in connection to the January 5 incident.
Prosecutors say Simpson walked away from Valley Vista, stole a car and drove to Manchester, New Hampshire, where he allegedly abducted Roessller and her son, identified in court documents as J.R., ands drove a Vermont hotel, where he raped the woman in front of her five-year-old child.
In February, Simpson was arraigned on charges of kidnapping and transporting a stolen vehicle across state lines. On Friday, Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill filed aggravated sexual assault and operating a vehicle without the owner’s consent charges.
Roessler issued a statement Monday, saying she decided to go public with her experience and filed suit “because I have nothing to hide from or be ashamed of.”
“I also hope something good can come of this lawsuit so that something like this never happens again. I was raised to make the best of any situation and that’s exactly what we will continue to do,” the statement said.
Simpson was arrested January 6 in Upper Darby, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia, after police there say he stole two cars and lead officers on a car chase.
The lawsuit filed Monday says Simpson was “a dangerous and violent criminal” who should have been in a locked-down corrections facility after his September 2018 arrest for stealing a car and assaulting a police officer when he was apprehended.
The lawsuit says the state’s “criminal justice reform initiatives,” including an apparent decision to maintian a low number of prison beds, contributed to the reduction in Simpson’s bail and subsequent transfer from pretrial detention to Valley Vista.
“Private treatment facilitiers like Valley Vista are often in the middle of a residential area, and the only thing between dangerous criminal defendents like Mr. Simpson and the local community are a couple locked doors and a residential fence,” the suit says.
Roessler claims both state authorities and Valley Vista should have known Simpson, whose record included nine felony convictions, was a violent flight risk with a history of stealing vehicles, eluding police and assault. The suit says Valley Vista did not notify police that Simpson had left the facility until 90 minutes later, and never issued an alert to the community.
The delay in notifying authorities gave Simpson a ’90-minute head start” over law enforcement, the suit claims. That gave him time to steal a car, travel to New Hampshire and spend several hours in the city before allegedly abducting Roessler and her son.
The lawsuit also criticizes actions by the Vermont State Police, which has acknowledged that “additional steps” should have been taken in the effort to find Simpson, including seeking an arrest warrant and a”be on the lookout” alert sooner; and notifying the public about Simpson’s escape from Valley Vista.
The suits alleges the state police took no action until after Simpson had already allegedly raped Roessler and fled the state in her car.
A Vermont State Police trooper received a six day suspension as part of its investigation into whether it could have done more to prevent Roessler’s alleged kidnapping and rape.
Here’s Roessler’s statement:
I would like to personally thank not just our friends and family, but also the many people throughout local communities who have expressed their care and concern for the well-being of our family even though many of them never met or knew us. It is important to me and our family that you all know how much we appreciate your support, and that you have made us even stronger in our journey ahead. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.
The past couple months have not been easy, but the most important thing is we made it out alive, and my son was not physically harmed.
Over the past couple months, certain friends and family have learned that my son and I are the ones who went through the events of January 5th; more suspect that to be the case, and even more have been in the dark. Ultimately, I have decided to speak out today because I have nothing to hide from or be ashamed of. We are going to embrace the challenges we’ve been dealt, continue growing ever stronger, and move forward as best we can under the circumstances.
I also hope something good can come of this lawsuit so that something like this never happens again. I was raised to make the best of any situation and that’s exactly what we will continue to do.