Debate over train used in sex abuse goes back to March 2
On March 2, the Metolius City Council met in a work session before its regular meeting.
From the recording of the meeting, it is clear that council members — except Candy Canga, who was absent — were excited about the wooden train the city had bought and refurbished.
That train was destroyed over the weekend after several news stories explaining the train's history.
But at the first meeting, most councilors didn't know that history.
They talked about the painting that still needed to be done, as well as putting "City of Metolius" and "1911" across the front, along with "Oregon Trunk Railroad" somewhere on the train.
"I think it's a nice-looking train," one person said.
"It is. It really is," another replied.
Then Mayor Carl "Foncie" Elliott said as a point of information that there might be a speaker with "some opposition to the train."
There was laughter. Someone said, "Might have."
Elliott said he talked to the person the city bought the train from.
"She told me where she got the train from," Elliott said. "A yard sale. So I don't think there's any problem. So that's where she got it from. She said she was going to drive by ... and she is tickled pink that the city got it and the city did what they did to it."
There was discussion of notifying the Pioneer, including the train somehow with Spike & Rail celebration, and having a photograph taken of staff and the council with the train.
March 2 City Council meeting
During the City Council meeting that night, Jefferson County District Attorney Steve Leriche spoke during the time for public comments, and he told them about the history of the train they had been discussing at the work session.
"In approximately 2008," Leriche told the council, "I was called upon to be involved in the investigation and prosecution of one of the most horrendous child sex abuse investigations our county has seen. The defendant molested a child over the course of about nine years repeatedly, and the victim of that contacted me over the weekend because the victim saw a train set in front of the Metolius City Hall. That train set was an intrumentality of child molestation.
"The child was taken out under the ruse to be working on that train set for a period of over a couple of years, where she was repeatedly molested by the builder of that train set," Leriche continued. "So when she saw it, she was very aware of it because she had spent good portions of her childhood with that train set. And then to see it in front of the City Hall caused quite an emotional reaction and so I got contacted about it.
He then introduced Cassandra Ruwaldt.
"I'm here today to talk about the wooden train structure that you have placed on display," she said. "The history of this piece may surprise you, but I'm even more surprised to see it today, over a decade later. A convicted child molester was a longtime resident and employee of Jefferson County and known as a woodworker by hobby. ... At the time this play structure was being built, he was abusing the minor living in his residence in Jefferson County. How do I know this, you ask? That structure was in my front yard almost my entire childhood. The same hands that built this structure for children to play on were the same hands that abused me and took away my childhood.
"The structure was removed from my residence after the defendant was sentenced," she said, "and I thought I'd never have to see it again. Instead of it being destroyed per my request, it was sold. To whom I do not know. But I do know now that the city of Metolius has purchased it and restored the structure for display. Today, I ask at this time that the council decide to remove the train. But if this request is denied, you are telling the community that you do not care about its victims or the abuses they have encountered."
"Well, I would like you to understand the city does not condone anything that has endangered any child," Elliott replied. "We don't condone anything like that. When we purchased this train, we did not know the history of it. It was in pretty bad shape, and we took all the rotten boards out of it, put new ones in it, and at the time, we thought it would be a pretty nice thing because we are a train town. And I thought we made it really beautiful looking. We've had lots of comments about it."
Elliott said he called the person the city bought the structure from, and she said she had bought it at a yard sale.
"We have no doubt that it's really a surprise to everyone to learn of the history," Leriche replied, "and like it does a lot of citizens, it probably turns your stomach to learn about that history and whose hands made it and that it was actually used in the course of molestation to lure and maintain the victim on it. I think that history probably shocks and offends most of you. I'm sorry you had to learn of it, but that's what it is."
"Well, I have to say I'm truly sorry about what has happened to you," Council President Patty Wyler said, "but you have to realize that we don't know that ... We've gone to an awful lot of work and expense. ... We look at it as a really positive thing for our city. I don't know what else to tell you."
Elliott urged Cassandra to see the transformation the train had gone through.
"Maybe look at it, we took something ugly and made it look beautiful again. And maybe other kids -- I don't know if that's the right way to say it, but look at it as something nice and beautiful again. We took something that was really a dead piece item and made it look great again. ... I can understand where you're coming from, and I agree with you 100%, but like Patty says, we did not know the history of it when we purchased it. And then (we) put all the time and money into it. We thought we were doing a great thing for our town. I understand where you're coming from. I'm just not sure what to do about it. You know what I mean?"
He said the decision was the council's not his, and Wyler said the discussion should be tabled until the city could talk with its attorney.
City Clerk James Stratton told Ruwaldt he admired her courage. He said when he worked in law enforcement, he put child molesters in prison.
"Maybe some kind of tribute could be made in a different form or something that we work out," Stratton said. "We're not trying to cover up or minimize your situation."
Leriche said everyone believed the city didn't know about the history of the train.
"Now it's just a question of what's the right thing to do now that you do know it," he said.
Bryan Ruwaldt, Cassandra Ruwaldt's husband, also said he understood that the city had worked hard on the train.
"The result looks extremely good," he said, "so I understand how it might land to learn of its history. So I understand how you might want to move forward in a way, respecting your investment in this piece and in the community and hoping to use that as a way to honor Cassandra and her experience ..."
He asked the councilors to "use an empathetic mind to think about how Cassandra would feel as her standpoint, the instrument of her decades-long molestation has been revitalized and now encapsulated and is being used as a centerpiece in the community.
"I would just ask that as you deliberate going forward," he continued, "that you try and stand in Cassandra's shoes and understand what such an ongoing, longstanding, profound, complex, traumatic experience that has impacted her, our family, and the community itself, to beautify the very object that this experience was kind of coalesced around and use that as a city landmark, the impact and the gravity of that."
Someone asked where the Ruwaldts live. "You live in Madras?"
Bryan said they did, but they liked driving on Culver Highway.
Elliott said the road gets a lot of traffic.
"We spent city tax dollars on something that we knew nothing about," Elliott said, "… we've got to think about our city taxpayers, too, because it's their money we spent. And now they're going to want to know why we tore it down and destroyed it. We could tell them why.
"Is there any way we could alter it that it wouldn't trigger anything but make it look different but still beautiful for the city of Metolius?" he asked.
"I would like to answer that question, sir, with a question of my own," Bryan Ruwaldt replied. "... I absolutely admire the goal of shared rejuvenation, so to speak, or maybe community justice or restorative justice. I understand that mindset, but I ask each one of you, whatever your deepest, darkest, most painful memory is, to take that thing and put it … that out in front of the main building that objectifies the city government and what it would be like to drive by that every single day. From our standpoint, every time we drive by that, there's no way to beautify it. It's a reminder of pain and trauma. There's no way to rectify that for us."
"That is true," Elliott said, "but I've got one question, I guess. What would have happened if the city would have built one and it looked like that?"
"I don't think that would be a problem," Bryan Ruwaldt said.
Elliott said he understood but would have to put the question to city of Metolius.
Then Cassandra Ruwaldt had a question of her own.
"What if your child or your grandchild had encountered that abuse and you displayed that for them?' she asked.
"We took a lot of it out and put new wood in," Elliott said.
"It doesn't matter," Cassandra Ruwaldt said.
Elliott said the city would discuss the matter with its attorney "because you're making this into a legal deal right now."
"Our goal is not to make this legal at all," Bryan Ruwaldt said. "We're making a moral plea."
"I respect that," Elliott said. "Our sympathy is with you."
"Our plea is just a moral one," Bryan Ruwaldt said again. "It just hurts. That's all."
"We feel for you," Elliott said. "There's no words. If it'd been a child of mine -- I'll answer your question -- I know where I'd be. I'd be in prison because I know the other guy, he wouldn't be in prison, OK?"
Cassandra Ruwaldt asked how much the city had invested.
Elliott said the city paid $500 for it.
"And that's what was paid for," Wyler said. "We've got a lot more than that into it."
"What if I raised enough money in donations to get it removed, to pay back what you guys have invested into it?" Cassandra Ruwaldt asked.
Elliott said that would be up to the council.
Bryan Ruwaldt explained that the train was part of a larger miniature town Richard Pickett had created.
"And where is the rest of it?" Wyler asked.
"The rest of it got burned, except that there's another truck that we can't find," Bryan Ruwaldt said.
"The truck got sold at the same yard sale," Elliott said.
He mentioned that no one knows the history of the items they buy.
Wyler agreed, saying the same is true of houses and cars.
"And there's no fault in that," Bryan Ruwaldt said. "Nobody knew, and that's the unfortunate part."
He said that was why the couple was trying to track them down.
"It's been set up there for seven years," Elliott said. "You didn't know where it was at."
Bryan Ruwaldt said he did not.
"Well, if you would have drove down Birch Lane, you would've seen it sitting there out by the house," Elliott said.
"We didn't drive by there," Bryan Ruwaldt said.
"It's been sitting up there for seven years," Elliott repeated. "I really feel bad, but we need to deliberate on this and then come up with a decision."
He said he was sorry the city had bought the train, but it had to think about taxpayers' money.
Then Wyler asked Cassandra Ruwaldt, "When you saw that out there, what did you do?"
"I immediately thought how I could get it removed," Cassandra Ruwaldt said.
"So what did you do?" Wyler pressed.
"I contacted City Council to aks how I could get it removed and I was told to come to the meeting," she said.
"How did you contact the City Hall?" Wyler asked.
"Google," Cassandra Ruwaldt said.
"I'm just curious because I know it was social media," Wyler said. "It just seems to me like if it was something that you were feeling badly about, that you wouldn't have put it on social media."
"It's the digital age, ma'am," Cassandra Ruwaldt replied. "Everything's on social media. And I asked for advice on who to contact, and people told me, 'Contact City Hall.' I had no idea that building was the City Council building or their City Hall."
"You drive by every day, you said," Wyler said.
Cassandra Ruwaldt asked if the building displayed its name and was told it did.
"OK, OK, well, well, I contacted City Hall after someone told me who to contact.
"I'm almost 30 years old," she said. "And I will stand up for all abused children and against child molesters, and you are memorializing him by displaying that."
"No, we're not," Wyler said.
"Yes, you are," Cassandra Ruwaldt said. "Now that you know the history of it, you are memorializing a child molester."
After that meeting, the city removed the train from public view.
The Ruwaldts said Friday morning that they believed that was the end of the situation.
But the city began getting calls asking what had happened to the train.
So the city put out a survey in its newsletter and on Facebook — the city's Facebook page has now been taken down — asking for public input.
The notice said someone had objected to the train but did not say what the objection was.
July 3 work session
At a work session July 6, the City Council met again and discussed the results of the survey and the destiny of the train.
Councilor Candy Canga said she was concerned because of 200 registered voters, only 12 had spoken up.
"Personally, I know the family, and I understand where they're coming from ..." said Councilor Ema Urieta. "I feel like we can't just let one person come and dictate what they're going to do with city property because then everybody else is going to want to have a say on that, and it shouldn't be like that."
Elliott said that the Ruwaldts said they had been looking for the structures for years.
"The truck is in Prineville," he said, "easy to find."
"On a main street," another councilor said.
"My thought is: How hard were they looking for it if it was in a yard sale in Madras?" Elliott said.
He said he remembered the case.
"That's a horrific crime. Period," he said. "And I cannot even think of the trauma that the child went through.
"But you've got to look at it this way, too. Do we burn every car and house that this thing happened in? Do we destroy towns, houses, apartment complexes? Do we because this happened? I don't know where the answer is, but I do know that we're dealing with public property, taxes and stuff like that. We can't just --"
"Were they willing to buy it?" someone asked.
Elliott said the Ruwaldts said they would buy the train but then said they didn't have all the money. He said they would be at the City Council meeting later that night.
"If the city wants to keep it, the attorney says we can keep it. Period," Elliott said. "We don't have to sell it. ... It belongs to the city, so it's our property."
Elliott said Public Works Director Pat Hanenkrat spoke with an Amish church who said it would cost $4,000 to build a similar structure, and that price didn't include shipping.
"So what do we do?" he said. "Do we tell them we want $4,000 and what it's going to cost to have it shipped here to replace it? We've got over $2,500 into it."
Someone questioned whether Cassandra Ruwaldt was really serious about buying the train, saying they "thought that she would have come back with an offer because it's been clear since March."
"We haven't heard nothing from them," Elliott said.
Canga asked if the Ruwaldts had been told how much the city had invested. Elliott said they had been told, but the city did not hear back.
"After we took it down as a courtesy, we never heard nothing from them," Elliott said.
Someone said the council needed to think about the costs, whether selling for displaying the train.
"If we sell it back to them, then they need to destroy it," Elliott said.
"Personally, I would like to sell it if they can afford the price," Canga said. "I'll name the price. Give us $3,000 for it."
"What are we going to do?" Elliott said. "Spend another thousand to buy another one?"
"You know it was a piece of junk when we got it ..." someone said. "... It was fun to watch. It was just a caterpillar into a butterfly, and I think it has brought a lot of joy to a lot of people in Metolius."
Canga suggested Madras High School students could build something. She again said the city should sell the train to Cassandra Ruwaldt and involve the community in building another train.
Elliott said if they did that, he wanted "physical evidence that was destroyed or burned. It's pretty sad ... We've had people stop by with their kids and take pictures in front of it."
One person said the council should consider that the story would wind up in the newspaper.
"We've had negative publicity before," someone said, and several people laughed.
Another person said if Cassandra Ruwaldt said she didn't have the money, then the city would have to keep the train because of the money it had invested.
Another councilor said Cassandra Ruwaldt wasn't a citizen of Metolius.
"But she doesn't have to come this way to go into Redmond, so she doesn't have to see it," the person said.
One person asked about when Cassandra Ruwaldt could comment, since the item was on the agenda before the time designated for the public to speak.
City Recorder Tasha Alegre suggested the council allow her to comment on the agenda item, and everyone agreed.
July 6 City Council meeting
But the Ruwaldts did not go to the July 6 City Council meeting.
Canga made a motion to sell the train to Cassandra Ruwaldt for $3,000.
"But the party's not here, so I make a motion to keep it," Elliott said.
The city attorney interrupted, saying the council had to vote on the first motion before it could entertain another.
Canga said she would like to amend her motion to include a condition that Cassandra Ruwaldt destroy the train within 30 days.
Urieta seconded the motion.
Canga and Urieta voted for the motion; the other councilors voted against to.
Then Wyler voted to keep the train and replace it at City Hall and to send a letter to the Ruwaldts saying the decision was made because they did not come to the meeting.
That motion passed unanimously.
This story was reported using recordings of the meetings, except for the July 6 City Council meeting, which News Editor Teresa Jackson attended a portion of.
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