OLYMPIA — A bill that memorializes a Quileute tribal member whose bravery led to harsher penalties for custodial sex abuse was signed into law Thursday by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Kimberly Bender’s mother, Dawn Reid of La Push, accompanied by Bender’s stepfather, Vincent Reid, looked on as Inslee made Kimberly Bender’s Law official.
The 23-year-old single mother was being hospitalized in November 2019 after cutting herself while incarcerated at the Forks jail when she pointed out Corrections Officer John Gray as her abuser.
Returned to the jail, she died by suicide in December 2019.
Her accusation sparked an investigation.
Four female inmates said Gray fondled and had sex with them, and tormented one woman for three years.
Gray, then 52, pleaded guilty to two counts of felony custodial sexual assault and two counts of gross misdemeanor sexual assault for abusing them.
Kimberly Bender’s Law upgrades the gross misdemeanors to a Class C felony and the felony assault to a Class B felony, boosting the maximum sentences to five years and 10 years and ensuring those convicted of custodial sexual assault must register as sex offenders.
Gray, sentenced to 20 months, served 13 months on all four charges.
According to court records, while Bender detoxed from heroin, Gray made lewd comments toward her, called her princess, and ogled her from the doorway to her cell.
“I was infuriated,” Reid said Thursday before the bill was signed.
“I was just really upset that that was all he was going to get when my daughter got a life sentence.
“I’m happy that they put this law in place so this doesn’t happen to other women,” she added.
“I’m happy this is going forward and sad that this had to happen in order for the law to be changed.”
Sponsored by Spokane Valley-area Sen. Mike Padden and co-sponsored by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim, it was submitted to lawmakers during the legislative session as Senate Bill 5033, passing unanimously in the House and Senate.
Kimberly Bender’s Law changes a statute passed in 1999, SB 5234, which was requested by the state Department of Corrections.
“The more I learned, the more I thought this really is a necessary policy change,” Padden said.
The name change of SB 5033 in honor of her daughter was suggested by Reid at a Senate hearing.
“I thought she was amazing to say something,” Reid said Thursday.
During testimony before a legislative committee in February, Reid said: “Had Kimberly not spoken up, John Gray would have assaulted more women.”
Gray’s lewd comments and abusive behavior toward Bender were corroborated in interviews contained in a Forks Police Department report, her lawyer, indigenous rights attorney Gabe Galanda of Seattle, said in an earlier interview.
“She was the whistleblower,” Galanda said during the February testimony.
The city of Forks paid $1 million to settle the family’s negligence-civil rights case surrounding Bender’s death.
Legislative Reporter Paul Gottlieb, a former senior reporter at Peninsula Daily News, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.