Perry principal, teacher resign after
accusations of hiding Child Abuse
PERRY, OK – A Perry school principal and a teacher have resigned after allegations they both failed to report child abuse or neglect.
The Perry Public School Board of Education met Monday night to vote on whether or not to accept the resignations of 5th grade math teacher Jeffrey Sullins and Upper Elementary School Principal Kendra Miller.
The board approved the resignation agreements, KFOR crews confirmed.
Miller and Sullins each face misdemeanor counts after failing to report accusations of sexual abuse against their students.
Police arrested 85-year-old teaching assistant Arnold Cowen earlier this year on accusations he inappropriately touched at least seven girls.
The assistant chief told NewsChannel 4 at least 20 children may have been victims, likely over the course of several years.
At least 10 students may have been victimized in 2017, according to court documents, when Perry Upper Elementary School Principal Miller dismissed past allegations and failed to notify police or the victim’s parents.
Students as young as 10 complained Cowen fondled them and touched their breasts, according to arrest affidavits, sometimes during “lengthy hugs and inappropriate touches.”
According to court documents, Miller fielded multiple complaints from students but told them they had to be accidental.
“Principal Kendra Miller tells her that it’s possible, that Cowen has long arms and, when he reaches around to hug her, his long arms touch her boobs,” one student told police, according to the affidavit. “Principal Kendra Miller tells her to refrain from hugging Cowen and to only ‘fist bump’ him.”
As a result, students told police they were afraid to tell their parents about the interactions and often would cry in the bathroom.
During interviews with other teachers, police were told “Cowen was definitely the victim of false accusations and he was a model instructor and of great help to the school.”
Miller told police, according to court documents, police were not told of the complaints because they were “deemed to be false by her staff and herself. Stating, ‘we have had these allegations on Cowen before, but we determined they were fabricated by the students.’”
In interviews with police, Miller said Cowen’s of “great moral character and was a very ‘nice guy.”
Police said, when Sullins was told of inappropriate touching, he told the student she was “making stuff up,” at one point taking her into the hallway and calling her a liar, documents show.
“[The student] was escorted to the office to see Principal Kendra Miller, but since she was not available, [the student] was sent back to class, where she continued to work with Cowen,” according to the affidavit. “Sullins did allude to the fact that a majority of the teachers were aware of the incident/accusations.”
Cowen faces more than 20 counts of lewd or indecent acts to a child as well as child pornography possession charges.
Miller was charged with one misdemeanor count for failing to report child abuse or neglect. Her court hearing is scheduled for April 27.
Sullins has been charged with two counts of failure to report child abuse or neglect. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Both Miller and Sullins had their teaching license revoked by the State Board of Education last month under emergency orders.
“I don’t know how they think they are serving the public by keeping this stuff under wraps.”
Thomas Clay, Kentucky lawyer
Louisville, KY – Grabbing the teenage girl from behind, Kevin Watson, a security monitor for Jefferson County Public Schools, slammed her head to the table, opening a gash that splashed blood on the girl’s clothes, the table and the floor, according to accounts of witnesses at Breckinridge Metropolitan High School.
As he forced the girl’s head back to the table, Watson was overheard taunting her.
Yet, despite a state Child Protective Services investigation that substantiated the incident as child abuse, Watson has a clean record with the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, whose social workers issue findings in cases of alleged child abuse or neglect.
Using a secret process that not even victims may know about, Watson, exercising his right to a confidential appeal, was able to overturn the cabinet’s child abuse finding against him. That kept his name from being added to an official list — also confidential — known as the state Child Abuse and Neglect Registry that can restrict adults from some occupations or activities, such as child care, working or volunteering with youths or serving as foster parents.
And data obtained from the cabinet by the CJ show Watson’s case is not unique.
Of the hundreds of people who file such appeals each year, more than half are successful in overturning adverse findings through the same cabinet whose workers substantiated the abuse or neglect, according to the records. Appeals between 2012 and 2015 ranged from several hundred to nearly 1,000 a year, with anywhere from 56 percent to 66 percent being reversed or otherwise changed in favor of the person filing the appeal.
Because all proceedings are shielded by secrecy under Kentucky’s strict confidentiality laws regarding child abuse and neglect, it can’t be determined how the cabinet makes such decisions or who the cabinet notifies when someone appeals a case, including the alleged victims. Watson, who still works at Breckinridge, did not respond to requests for comment.
JCPS officials say they can find no record they were ever notified of Watson’s appeal or offered a chance to submit the school system’s investigation, which also substantiated witness accounts. Amari Walker, the injured student, never knew of the appeal or got a chance to participate, said her lawyer, Thomas Clay.
On July 6, 2016, the cabinet issued a single-page order with no explanation, reversing the abuse finding against Watson, according to records from his JCPS personnel file.
The cabinet rejected the Courier-Journal’s request for further records of Watson’s appeal, saying confidentiality laws protect its records of such proceedings.
Steve Davis, chief of staff at the cabinet, said the cabinet by federal law is required to offer people a chance to appeal findings of child abuse or neglect and state law requires that the records be kept confidential.
And while the law requires the cabinet to notify parties of an appeal, that generally applies to the person filing the appeal and the cabinet officials defending the findings, he said. Davis said he knows of no requirement in the law that victims or others with an interest in the case be notified.
Julie Locke, a Louisville mother, was shocked to discover that her ex-husband successfully overturned a substantiation of child abuse or neglect related to their two daughters. The substantiation stemmed from a 2014 finding by the cabinet that he had put the girls at risk during an incident in which he accosted Locke in front of them at a birthday party, grabbing, threatening and cursing her, according to a domestic violence petition.
“I never knew he filed an appeal,” Locke said. “I never knew they were even entertaining an appeal. For me not to have been notified is bizarre.”
Locke said that based on the cabinet’s reversal of its finding, a judge — over her objections — granted her ex-husband additional visits with their daughters.
Clay, who also represents Locke, said he thinks it’s time for such secrecy to end, that the state needs to revamp the laws and regulations that govern such proceedings.
“I don’t get it,” Clay said. “They’re concealing information about the very people they are trying to protect. I don’t know how they think they are serving the public by keeping this stuff under wraps.”
Walker, now 19, recently filed a lawsuit against JCPS and Watson. She said she still is in disbelief over the incident that left her with blood pouring down her face and required stitches.
“It was crazy,” said Walker, who now attends Doss High. “It happened so fast.”
Davis said he can’t comment on individual cases because of the confidentiality provisions of the law.
In Kentucky, when someone appeals a substantiation of abuse or neglect, the case is assigned to a cabinet lawyer who serves as a hearing officer and typically holds a hearing, takes testimony and makes a written recommendation to the cabinet secretary on whether to uphold or reverse the finding. The secretary makes the final call.
Davis said the cabinet relies on the judgment of the hearing officers and that cabinet officials don’t like to “tinker” with a case because people filing appeals are entitled to an impartial hearing.
“We expect them to issue sound decisions,” he said.
Some cases are settled through agreement of the parties or dismissed for various reasons without a hearing, according to the cabinet.
Dr. Melissa Currie, a pediatric forensic expert at the University of Louisville who occasionally is called as a witness at such hearings, said they tend to be informal, with participants seated around a table and the hearing officer in charge. She said she doesn’t know how the state reaches a decision.
“I don’t know how the system works,” she said. “There doesn’t seem to be any transparency.”
Currie said she has testified at hearings that involved what seemed to be obvious child abuse or neglect, only to find out later that the substantiation was overturned.
“There are cases that seem very clear-cut and they are overturned and we don’t know why,” Currie said.
Often, a lawyer represents the person filing the appeal. Currie said she’s heard lawyers make arguments that don’t address whether abuse or neglect actually occurred but rather, appear to seek sympathy for the client.
” ‘This is going to ruin this guy’s life, he won’t be employed,’ ” Currie recalled one lawyer arguing. “Of course, that should have no bearing whatsoever.”
State law says that the hearing officer should allow only “the evidence on the record” and exclude anything that is irrelevant or immaterial.
Acena Beck, a lawyer with the Children’s Law Center in Covington, said she had represented people at such hearings when she worked as a legal aid lawyer in Northern Kentucky. Generally, the hearings are held in the county of the person filing the appeal, she said, and how they are run depends on who’s in charge.
“It can vary greatly depending on which hearing officer you get,” Beck said. “There’s no consistency.”
Currie said she worries about the effect on social workers tasked with investigating difficult, complicated cases and reaching conclusions, only to have them overturned by the same cabinet that employs them.
“When a finding gets reversed, it undermines the investigation,” Currie said. “It’s demoralizing. They do all this work, they try to protect the kids.”
Locke said she’s still trying to find out how her ex-husband was able to reverse a finding against him.
His lawyer, Elizabeth Pepa, declined to comment, citing the confidentiality of the process.
“My client respectfully wishes for it to remain that way,” she said.
Locke provided the CJ with a copy of the Nov. 19, 2014, letter from the cabinet substantiating abuse or neglect, along with the 2014 domestic violence order she obtained against her ex-husband.
Locke said she was astonished when his lawyer in mid-2015 announced the finding had been reversed following an appeal she knew nothing about.
“How does anyone get a fair hearing if both sides are not represented?” Locke asked.
Even more disturbing to Locke is the lack of any records of the appeal or an official explanation.
As a parent, Locke is entitled to confidential records involving her children of any hearing but when she and her lawyer asked for them, they found there were none. A cabinet lawyer told her the case “was settled outside a hearing,” she said.
When they asked for records of the settlement, they received nothing, Locke said.
Seeking an explanation, Locke and Clay, her lawyer, said they met in December with cabinet officials who said they would look into it.
They are still waiting for an explanation, Locke and Clay said.
Some argue that at a minimum, the state’s confidential registry of people who have substantiated findings of abuse or neglect against them should be open to the public.
Among those arguing that case is state Rep. Dennis Keene, who is sponsoring a bill this year on behalf of a constituent whose infant daughter was injured by a babysitter in 2014.
Keene, a Democrat from Campbell County, said his House Bill 47 would require the cabinet to publish the registry on its website.
“It should be more transparent and accessible to the public,” Keene said.
Jennifer Diaz, the Northern Kentucky mother pushing for the law, said the babysitter was convicted of injuring her daughter and another child she cared for and sentenced to three months in jail.
Diaz said her daughter, now 2, recovered from the injuries that included bruises and head trauma. But Diaz said she believes there should be a way for parents seeking child care to check out individual sitters or other adults around their children.
“It’s very important to us to get this passed,” she said. “I want that registry to be accessible to the public so that everyone can see it.”
Watchdog Group: Tennessee Child Abuse Laws And Judge’s Orders Are Being Ignored
Tennessee’s law that requires suspected child abuse to be reported to authorities is too often being ignored, according to a child abuse watchdog group.
In its latest report, the Second Look Commission, which closely examines severe abuse cases, asks officials to be more vigilant this year in holding adults accountable. Failure to report abuse concerns can be charged as a criminal misdemeanor.
The commission is also worried that suspected abusers are getting too much access to children who have been placed into protective custody.
The group found that one child was killed by someone who was under a judge’s order to stay away and have no contact. (The report did not provide further specifics.)
The broader concern is a practice known as a “family placement.” That’s when an endangered child is temporarily moved into a relative’s home, an arrangement when a no-contact order might be ignored.
“It’s ongoing,” said commission Director Craig Hargrow. “Since our inception, we’ve noticed that.”
The commission suggests that judges should more clearly inform caretakers of their duties, even if they’re family members. And the members of the commission are checking on whether no-contact orders can be loaded into a state database so that police can easily check on violators.
Fatality Data Reported
Since 2013, the Second Look Commission has found that 16 Tennessee children have died even after state Child Protective Services had confirmed that there was prior abuse.
That statistic had not been tracked by officials prior to a Tennessean investigation and a shakeup at the Department of Children’s Services.
The agency has also firmed up its method of counting instances of children who are severely abused more than once. In fiscal year 2015, the state had 643 such cases, of which the majority involved repeat sexual abuse or exposure to drug use.
Penn State lawyer: Ex-Coach ‘walked away’ from Child Abuse
BELLEFONTE, PA – A Penn State lawyer on Monday turned claims in a civil lawsuit against a former coach who offered key testimony against Jerry Sandusky, saying it’s not the school’s fault he can’t find a coaching position but rather a response to the man’s own failure to stop the child sexual abuse he witnessed.
Attorney Nancy Conrad cited Mike McQueary’s own words from an email as the defamation and whistleblower lawsuit began, saying the national media and public ruined him — not Penn State.
“He should not be permitted to exploit the tragedy that was caused by Jerry Sandusky for his own personal financial gain,” she said. McQueary is seeking at least $4 million in lost wages and other damages.
Conrad said comments that flooded in to the university after Sandusky was first charged in 2011 with child molestation were deeply critical of McQueary for not acting to stop an alleged child rape.
“Yet he walked away,” Conrad told jurors, saying any harm to McQueary is “a result of his own decisions and actions.”
McQueary has said he happened to go to a team shower late on a Friday night in February 2001 and saw Sandusky engaging in what he concluded was a sexual act with a boy about 10 to 12 years old. He slammed his locker shut and saw they had separated, but did not say anything to Sandusky, a retired assistant coach, nor did he report the matter to police.
Instead, he met about the incident the next day with then-head coach Joe Paterno, and more than a week later with two high-ranking school officials.
Nothing happened until nearly a decade later, when police investigating other complaints about Sandusky got a tip to contact McQueary. His testimony helped convict Sandusky of being a sexually violent predator, and Sandusky is now serving a lengthy prison sentence while appealing a 45-count conviction.
McQueary says he was put on leave, and then his expired contract was not renewed as retaliation for his help in the criminal case. He also says he was defamed by a statement issued by then-university president Graham Spanier when Sandusky was arrested, and that he was misled by two of Spanier’s lieutenants into thinking they took his report seriously and would respond appropriately.
“Their intention,” McQueary lawyer Elliot Strokoff told jurors, “was to sweep this incident under the rug.”
Other coaches who might hire him are concluding, based on how Penn State treated McQueary, that he must have done something wrong, Strokoff said.
“This is a cloud that hangs over his head today,” he said.
Witness Jonelle Harter Eshbach, a former prosecutor who had a leading role in the Sandusky investigation, described email exchanges shortly after charges were filed and McQueary’s role in the probe became public. McQueary told her he felt he had not been properly supported during a prosecution news conference, his story had not been accurately told in a grand jury report and that he felt he was being vilified.
Former university lawyer Wendell Courtney recounted telling one of the administrators, Gary Schultz, to report the shower incident matter to child welfare authorities.
“It was my assessment that the appropriate course of conduct would be to report it and let the Department of Public Welfare investigate it in a manner it deemed appropriate,” Courtney said.
He said Schultz described the incident as horseplay and did not mention any sexual component, as McQueary claims he related to Schultz, then the school’s vice president with supervisory authority over police, and Tim Curley, then the athletic director.
Lisa Powers told jurors that Spanier knew at least a week ahead of time that Sandusky, Curley and Schultz were going to be charged in November 2011. He called her into a meeting with then-general counsel Cynthia Baldwin and Steve Garbin, then the trustees’ chairman, to work on a news release — a statement the lawsuit claims made it appear McQueary had lied.
Powers said Spanier seemed to have formed a strong opinion.
“He had already indicated that he knew that the charges were groundless,” Powers testified. “He felt it was an attack on his leadership team and nothing more.”
Assistant principal at Cape school accused
of dragging boy with autism
CAPE CORAL, FL – A video showing an assistant principal dragging a 6-year-old boy with autism down a hallway in nothing but his boxer shorts sparked an investigation by the Department of Children and Families and the Lee County School District’s internal affairs department.
The video, which captured the Child Abuse of the Autistic Student with Special Needs, was edited by school employees, who edited out 20 minutes of the incident.