Military vets immune from civil justice for sex abuse crimes
PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. -- Thumbing through photos is a troubling but necessary part of closure for Pennie Saum.
“You're going to look at these pictures---those are happy kids, right? Because that's who we had to be,” she said while passing photos of her red Franklin Pierce High School letter jacket and her brother, Cory, in his red and white No. 80 jersey.
The smiles of those young children captured on film from the 1970s and 1980s hides the darkness and abusive torment they suffered at the hands of their father, Donald Delosh, an Army veteran.
“It was a day-to-day fight to get to the next day and feel like you've made a success,” Saum said.
Yet her current fight is for recognition of legal and financial justice. The KOMO Investigators have learned that despite civil judgments against him, Delosh and any other military veteran cannot have their retirement pay garnished to settle the debt.
There is no doubt about the abuse and crimes that were committed. Court documents show that Delosh emotionally and sexually abused his children. Saum’s memories start at age 4 but those records reveal it actually began when she was an infant.
“He was very calculated, very manipulative, very violent,” she said.
Saum remembers many late-night violations in her bed and the holes that were drilled through the bathroom door so Delosh could watch the kids bathe.
“Literally fondling me under this blanket while 'The Brady Bunch' is on,” she recalled.
Saum still keeps the pictures of her and Cory sitting inside the family van—a van where the table folded down into a bed.
“Any time he could take advantage of any of those moments, he did,” she said.
The excuses and lies kept coming for years. Saum said it crafted a reality she didn’t understand until years later despite the pain in her heart after every assault.
“’You don't want to be like every other family where families are broken up,’” she recalls being told by Delosh. “Like, this is how it is, this is how families are together. Most families are like this, they just don't talk about it.”
Fleeting legal help
“This is vile. This is horrific,” said Tacoma attorney Scott Candoo. He represented Saum and Cory Delosh in a civil suit against their father.
The case still haunts him 20 years later despite the criminal justice for Delosh. Once he pleaded guilty, Delosh was sentenced to prison for 17 years.
Candoo says both children needed extensive therapy and emotional repair.
“It changes who are. It changes what you consider to be normal,” he said.
Cory Delosh has been in trouble with the law ever since and is currently in jail for car theft. He granted KOMO permission to talk about the abuse and case.
Candoo won the civil judgment for $5 million plus fees and interest. “This was about correcting, and making a morala right answer,” he said.
Yet that never happened.
After being released six years early, Candoo and Saum say Delosh has been bulletproof and has not paid a penny of that civil judgment.
Federal law says Delosh and any other vet does not have to pay civil judgments if the only source of income is military retirement pay. It is completely untouchable except for child support, commercial debt and alimony---not for rape of a child.
“He serves his time. He's no longer even registered. And now, let's go ahead and protect him not having to pay anything for it in the end either? I mean, come on,” Saum said.
The KOMO Investigators researched federal law and the Defense Finance and Accounting Services did its own digging and agreed.
“How is that okay? How is that okay?” Saum asked as her voice trailed off.
We scoured the congressional archives and found that until the early 1990's the untouchable retirement exemption covered all federal employees.
After public outcry, Congress overwhelmingly passed the Child Abuse Accountability Act, which allows survivors to receive these garnishments from federal employee retirement. But the act covers only federal workers and civil services employees specifically and does not mention the military retirement system.
Saum was devastated to learn Delosh is untouchable.
“This has got to stop. It's ridiculous that our government protects these people just because they served in the country. Baloney. It's ridiculous,” she lamented.
Delosh did not respond to a visit at his home or a letter left behind with questions.
Congresswoman Suzan DelBene has made veterans issues a priority. After a recent roundtable in Redmond, the Snohomish County Democrat said the exposure of the gap for military garnishment needs attention.
She vows to prioritize survivors over service.
“We need to look at federal law and make sure federal law supports that,” DelBene said.
Saum welcomes any opportunity to share her story and emerge from the shadows so others don’t face the same darkness. She wants this to be about morality and not money.
“This country has a horrific problem with child abuse. It's not just by military. It's every single day. Kids are dying every single day at the hands of people who are supposed to care for them. And that's devastating. It's absolutely devastating.”