A state judge has awarded $16 million in damages to a former female patient at a Minnesota drug treatment center who alleged that she was raped repeatedly by the facility's top administrator.
The large judgment comes more than three years after Bruce L. Biddlecome, the former executive director of Douglas Place Treatment Center in East Grand Forks, Minn., was accused of sexually assaulting the patient on outings to a nearby store and once in her bedroom at the facility. The victim, who was ordered to receive drug treatment as part of a criminal sentence, said Biddlecome threatened to have her sent back to jail if she did not comply with his demands for sex.
Biddlecome, 43, of St. Paul, was convicted in 2016 of one count of criminal sexual abuse of a vulnerable adult and was sentenced to five months in jail.
In his ruling, Ramsey County District Court Judge David Higgs said the woman was entitled to the large damage award because of her vulnerability as a patient, and because of the lasting trauma and distress "of being sexually assaulted and emotionally violated on multiple [occasions] by an individual of trust." Higgs said the "deep wounds" resulting from the abuse would affect the woman for the rest of her life. The judge relied heavily on sworn testimony from Biddlecome, in which he admitted that he knew that sexual contact with vulnerable adults was unethical and that he had been trained to avoid such contact.
"Although the wounds caused by Bruce Biddlecome are not visually apparent, the court is convinced that they are deep wounds that will cause pain and hardship to [the victim] for the remainder of her life," Higgs wrote. Under the ruling, Biddlecome is ordered to pay $8 million in compensatory damages and $8 million in punitive damages.
Mark Kosieradzki, a Minneapolis attorney representing the victim, said he sought the large damage award in civil court because his client was "furious" that Biddlecome did not receive a harsher criminal sentence.
"This [decision] will haunt this man to his grave," Kosieradzki said. "The court not only held him accountable, but this sends a clear message to every other guy out there who thinks he can exercise force against a helpless woman, that you can pay for the rest of your life."
According to a criminal complaint and a state investigation, Biddlecome coerced the woman into sex on three occasions soon after she arrived at the drug treatment facility as a patient.
Once, while alone in a car with Biddlecome, he asked her to have sex and then said, "You know I could send you back to where you were if you didn't," which the woman perceived as a threat that she would be sent back to jail, according to state investigators. Then on Christmas Eve in 2014, Biddlecome entered her bedroom at the facility and said he was there to give the woman "an early Christmas present." He then pulled down her shorts and sexually assaulted her, records show. The woman ran away from the facility and left a note saying she had been raped by Biddlecome, according to court records. Detectives later found semen on tissue paper that matched Biddlecome's DNA.
In March 2015, the Minnesota Department of Human Services released a detailed report that substantiated the woman's allegations of sexual abuse.
Reached by telephone Tuesday, Biddlecome said the damage award is "highly inflated" and denied that he ever threatened or coerced the former patient into sex. Since being released from jail, he has found work in construction but said he lacks the money to hire an attorney to defend himself.
"I had a relationship with a vulnerable adult and that was a mistake, and I take responsibility, but $16 million is ridiculous," Biddlecome said. "I'll probably never make that much money in my lifetime."
Biddlecome had an extensive criminal record even before he was hired in 2013 to run Douglas Place, one of the largest chemical dependency treatment centers in the state. He had a previous conviction for felony vehicle theft and a charge for misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon before he moved to Minnesota from California. Biddlecome also pleaded guilty to loitering with intent to participate in prostitution after police caught him attempting to pay for sex at a Maplewood hotel, police records show.
In sworn depositions, executives for Meridian Behavioral Health, of New Brighton, which owns the treatment center, said they hired Biddlecome despite knowing about his guilty plea for prostitution.
"I am disappointed that we have a system where a man with his criminal background was hired in a position of public trust in the first place," Kosieradzki said. "He had no business being there."
Chris Serres • 612-673-4308