Two lawsuits were filed Thursday against Vancouver Public Schools and James Mattson, a former school janitor who was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Jan. 20 in the state's largest-ever voyeurism case.
Mattson, who worked in the district between 2007 and 2022, pleaded guilty to 137 counts of first-degree voyeurism during his October arraignment hearing in Clark County Superior Court. Friday's hearings detailed that Mattson had been secretly recording people in women's staff restrooms at Skyview High School for nearly a decade and keeping images and footage in a collection of personal SD cards and computers in his home.
The two lawsuits, filed by attorneys with the Tacoma-based Washington Law Center, allege that Vancouver Public Schools was negligent, should have been aware of Mattson's actions and is liable for damages that came as a result.
The first case is a class action suit brought on behalf of three subclasses: Vancouver Public Schools employees, students and visiting community members who used the locker rooms and restrooms and Alki Middle School and/or Skyview High School between 2013 and 2022.
The second case was filed on behalf of 64 specific victims, also made up of district employees, students, family members and district visitors within that same time frame.
"Mattson's direct conduct is not just a criminal act against society in general; it's a personal violation against every person he imaged and threatened with imaging, and it make take years to reveal who all has been harmed and how invasive the violations have been," lead attorney Darrell L. Cochran said via email Thursday.
According to court records, the criminal investigation began Oct. 5 after Mattson's live-in girlfriend reported that she discovered a video on his computer of a girl changing clothes in a locker room. On Oct. 10, the girlfriend reportedly found a stash of SD cards and thumb drives containing more such imagery and footage. Mattson was arrested and booked into the Clark County Jail on Oct. 13. Vancouver Public Schools officially terminated Mattson on Oct. 25.
In his sentencing on Jan. 20, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Kasey Vu said investigators had seized multiple computers, two cellphones, 20 thumb drives, 25 SD cards and 14 mini SD cards from Mattson's home in Hazel Dell. Lead Detective Justin Messman described the recordings that made up the 137 counts that came from the initial review of the seized property as "the tip of the iceberg."
With regard to the suits' allegation that Vancouver Public Schools was negligent in the situation, attorneys pointed to an unsolved case in 2020 in which staff at Alki Middle School reported finding a toiletry kit in a staff restroom with a camera inside.
"Of the limited information we have received via public records requests, it appears the district had some information of potential video surveillance concerns previously and related to Mattson but did a poor job of investigating it or further monitoring the concern," Cochran said. "The district has a responsibility to protect its children, protect its employees and protect visitors as well from the invasive, sexually motivated exploitation caused by this employee."
Attorneys are not requesting specific damages in the lawsuits at this time; Cochran said Thursday that it's "early in the process" of assessing the extent of Mattson's actions that might reflect damages.
"On behalf of everyone harmed by the covert video imaging, we can assure you that we will be trying to convince the district to enact and enforce much stricter employee hiring and supervision practices as well as zero-tolerance policies on misconduct with video and computer devices," Cochran said.
As part of the case, Washington Law Center has created a webpage about its case against Mattson and the district.
Vancouver Public Schools released a statement Thursday afternoon saying it was aware of the two lawsuits.
"The district prioritizes the safety and well-being of our staff and students and takes these allegations seriously," said district spokesperson Jessica Roberts. "The district is reviewing the allegations in the lawsuits and will be responding and taking appropriate action."
The suits were filed in Clark County Superior Court and were assigned to Judge Emily Sheldrick. No date has been set for their hearings.