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Originally published January 27, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 19, 2012 at 1:36 PM

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Abuse victim who killed teacher settles with district

Darrell Cloud will receive a $250,000 settlement in the lawsuit he filed against the Seattle School District.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Darrell Cloud, a Seattle man who shot his former middle-school teacher to death after a decade of sexual abuse, will receive a $250,000 settlement in the lawsuit he filed against the Seattle School District.

Cloud served nine years in prison for the crime, but he also sought damages from the district, saying administrators should have better supervised Whitman Middle School teacher Neal Summers.

The pattern of Summers' behavior "should have alerted them that he was worthy of very careful inspection and investigation," said Cloud's attorney, Jeff Keane.

District officials have maintained no teachers or administrators knew of the abuse by Summers, who was 45 when he was killed. The abuse started the summer after Cloud, then 13, left middle school.

In the settlement agreement, obtained by The Seattle Times through a public-records request, district officials admitted no liability. They felt they had a strong case, said district spokesman Peter Daniels, but agreed to settle to avoid the expense, time and emotion of a trial.

"Legal battles bring a lot of wounds to the surface for people on both sides," Daniels said.

Keane said his client doesn't want to revisit the past either.

"I don't think that the revelations about Summers cast the Seattle School District in a positive light," he said. "And I'm very confident that Darrell Cloud would like to move on with his life."

For Cloud, the settlement "represents an affirmation of a lot of things for him," said Keane. "I think it really helps him restart a life that really ended in January of 1994."

On the morning of Jan. 31 that year, Cloud, then 24, waited outside Whitman with a rifle.

By that time, he'd been sexually abused by Summers through high school and college. Once a good student and talented athlete who was quarterback of a Kirkland high-school football team that won a state championship, his mental health had deteriorated. Some experts attributed that decline to the abuse.

Cloud was initially found mentally incompetent to stand trial, but that decision was reversed.

He was convicted of first-degree murder in his first criminal trial, where his attorney argued he should be found not guilty by reason of insanity. Cloud then won a new trial on the grounds that his first attorney did a poor job of representing him, and Cloud agreed to accept a conviction of second-degree murder. He served nine years before his release nearly two years ago.

At the same time that he faced murder charges, Cloud filed the suit against the school district. He also filed a separate suit against Summers' estate, but that case was dismissed because key documents weren't filed on time, court records show.

The school-district lawsuit was scheduled to go to trial earlier this month. The suit alleged the district was negligent in its supervision and retention of Summers, a respected and popular veteran teacher.

Daniels said school officials had no clue what was going on until after the shooting.

"There wasn't any kind of indicator or sign that would have made the district take action," he said.

In 1994, the district tried to find out if Summers had abused other students. They aren't aware of anyone else, Daniels said.

Keane said he favored settling in part because it was clear that Summers was good at hiding what he was doing and that school officials didn't know what was going on, even if they should have.

He said he thought the district "had a better than 50 percent chance of prevailing."

Still, Keane said he hoped the district learned from the case, which he acknowledged occurred at a time when public awareness of the problem of sexual abuse was much lower than it is today.

The main lesson, he said, is that although most educators are wonderful, decent people, "not every last one of them is a wonderful and decent person."

Daniels agreed that today, more people in the Seattle School District and other agencies that work with children know what signs of abuse to look for.

Of Cloud's $250,000 settlement, $50,000 will come from the school district and the rest from the insurance company that covered the district at the time. Keane was surprised to hear that the settlement agreement was released under a public-information request. The document requires Cloud to keep the agreement confidential.

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or lshaw@seattletimes.com

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