Child's case ignites protest

Arundel court let dad go home after girl's sex abuse allegations

August 16, 2006|By ANNIE LINSKEY | ANNIE LINSKEY,SUN REPORTER

The 15-year-old girl told authorities that her father had sexually abused her over seven years, and Anne Arundel County police said he then confessed.

But after the man was arrested in June and charged with multiple sex abuse offenses, he was allowed to return to the family's Severna Park home, where he saw the girl regularly for the past two months.

Yesterday, 10 neighbors of the family and prosecutors appeared in an Anne Arundel County courtroom to express outrage that the man, 46, was allowed by the court to spend time at home after his arrest and angry that the county's Department of Social Services closed its case on him without securing the safety of the girl.

The man did not show up in court for the hearing, and it was postponed until tomorrow. But in an afternoon conference call involving attorneys and Judge Ronald A. Silkworth, it was agreed that the man would "move out of the victim's household" and "have no contact with the victim" until the next hearing, according to court documents.

But for neighbors, prosecutors and victims' advocates, the decision came two months too late.

"The system failed this child victim," said Russell Butler, the executive director of the Maryland Crime Victims' Resource Center. "Somebody dropped the ball big time by allowing this happen."

The Sun is not identifying the man because it would reveal the name of his daughter.

State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee, who is running for re-election this year, said the Department of Social Services is "preoccupied with the idea that they need to get the child back to the home. ... Here you have a case where the accuser is in the house."

The man's decision to move out followed a Circuit Court hearing yesterday morning to revisit what the state's attorney's office considered the lenient conditions of his release.

Roger Harris, the accused man's lawyer, said his client did not appear at yesterday's hearing because he was not told about it. Harris would not comment on his client's decision to move out of the house, but he said the original conditions of his client's release were "fair and reasonable."

The man, a real estate agent, was arrested June 16 and charged with child abuse, third- and fourth-degree sex offense, and second-degree assault, according to court documents.

He was then brought before Anne Arundel County District Court Commissioner Kerry Anderson, who signed an order allowing the man to return home and be with the alleged victim and his four other children as long as he was supervised by his wife or DSS, or if he had a judge's written permission.

The commissioner also required that the man post $250,000 bond without collateral security -- an arrangement that did not require him to hand over any money to the court, a court official said.

The commissioner makes the initial determination regarding bail amounts and pretrial conditions. Because the accused man was not held on bail, he did not have a formal bail review hearing before a judge.

Anderson, the court commissioner, was not scheduled to work yesterday and could not be reached for comment. When asked about the conditions of the alleged sex offender's release, District Judge Robert C. Wilcox, who as acting administrative judge has authority over the court commissioners, said: "I don't know what was in his thinking. I share your concern, but there may be factors in there that I was not privy to."

Wilcox said Anderson has been a well-regarded court commissioner for many years.

Aside from helping the police with their investigation, it is not clear to what extent the county's DSS has been involved in this case. Neighbors said they had been told that the man was not allowed to stay in the home at nights, but could remain there during the day because he works from his home.

"An adult has power over a 15-year-old. To allow this to happen is to me incredible," said Butler, with the Maryland Crime Victims' Resource Center. He said DSS should have brought a case on behalf of the girl.

David Ladd, an assistant director at the Anne Arundel County DSS, said yesterday that he could not comment on this case or why his department had not brought a "Child in Need of Assistance" case. Such an action would have removed the child from her home for one day -- and then allowed a judge to review the facts and determine what should happen to the child before the trial.

Speaking in general terms, Ladd said: "We don't want to have a government that can go in and take your kid. Within those constraints we won't let a child remain at risk."

"The overall principle is we feel the best place for a child is with its parents. A government agent that comes in and tears a child out from its roots -- that is very terrifying," he said.

Ladd would not confirm that his department closed a case concerning the man. However, in the state's motion to modify bail, agency officials said that "the DSS does not have a pending case" and "the Defendant's wife would effectively be the sole protection for the child."

According to the state's attorney's motion to modify bail, the girl's mother knew about the alleged abuse but did not report it when she learned about it. The victim told a friend about the alleged abuse, and the friend's parents called police about it.

According to police charging documents, the abuse started when the girl was 8 years old. Her father initially touched her in private areas over the top of her clothing, but "it progressed over time to the point where her father put his hand under her clothing and there was skin-on-skin contact," according to charging documents. During a police interview, the man admitted to touching her "breasts, buttocks, and vagina," according to the charging documents. The man allegedly told police he had done this fewer than 10 times since the summer of 1999.

The man's wife declined to comment yesterday. The man could not be reached for comment.

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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