Of­fi­cials: Child mo­lesta­tion cases are com­pli­cated

The Standard Journal - - Po­lice - By MELODY DARE­ING

Of­fi­cials said there hasn’t been an ex­plo­sion of child mo­lesta­tion cases in Polk County, but han­dling the ones that do oc­cur is a long, te­dious process.

Polk County Po­lice Chief Kenny Dodd said his of­fice has in­ves­ti­gated 64 re­ported child mo­lesta­tion cases since 2011. De­tec­tives have cleared 34 of those with an ar­rest, Dodd said.

“The rest were un­founded or we could not prove that it ac­tu­ally oc­curred,” Dodd said.

Cedar­town Po­lice Chief Jamie New­some said his de­part­ment in­ves­ti­gated six cases in 2011; 11 cases in 2012; eight cases in 2013 and only two cases so far this year.

Rock­mart Po­lice Chief Keith Sor­rells said his city hasn’t had a child mo­lesta­tion case in sev­eral years.

Dodd said there are times when some­one is ac­cused of child mo­lesta­tion in a cus­tody bat­tle or some other fam­i­lyre­lated dis­putes, but an in­ves­ti­ga­tion will even­tu­ally bear that out.

Polk County District At­tor­ney Jack Brown­ing said the jus­tice sys­tem is set up to pro­ceed cau­tiously be­cause of the dam­age an un­founded ac­cu­sa­tion can cause. He said no crim­i­nal case comes to his of­fice with­out a po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­di­cat­ing prob­a­ble cause and tak­ing out a war­rant.

Brown­ing said most cases are pretty strong be­fore his of­fice gets it.

“Most of the time, we’re go­ing to find our­selves in­dict­ing a case rather than dis­miss­ing it,” he said.

An on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­tin­ues in his of­fice while pros­e­cu­tors are pre­par­ing for grand jury and court hear­ings, he said.

Brown­ing said he will not pros­e­cute a case if fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­veals ev­i­dence that the per­son is falsely ac­cused. He said he de­fended some in court when he worked in the pub­lic de­fender’s of­fice and tak­ing those cases to trial is a waste of time and re­sources.

“If I don’t think I have a case, I’m not go­ing to pros­e­cute a case,” he said.

Brown­ing said his of­fice tried only a few child mo­lesta­tion cases last year but some are still work­ing their way through the sys­tem. He said most child mo­lesta­tion cases will go to trial be­cause of the strict manda­tory sen­tenc­ing guide­lines.

Some­one con­victed of ag­gra­vated child mo­lesta­tion will be sen­tenced to 25 years to life, he said. That makes a plea agree­ment non­nego­tiable, he said.

“That case is go­ing to trial. No one is go­ing to plea to 25 years,” Brown­ing said.

The district at­tor­ney said tak­ing a child mo­lesta­tion case to trial is chal­leng­ing be­cause usu­ally there is very lit­tle phys­i­cal ev­i­dence.

“Your strong­est ev­i­dence is the state­ments of the child,” Brown­ing said.

The sit­u­a­tion can be­come the child’s word against that of an adult and, many times, those state­ments are en­cir­cled by fam­ily drama that can con­vo­lute ac­tual facts, he said.

Brown­ing said there is also a process for any con­flict- of- in­ter­est he or any other at­tor­ney in his of­fice many have in crim­i­nal cases. Since he worked as a pub­lic de­fender, he said there could be a case he would have to step away from. In those cases, Brown­ing said he would fol­low pro­to­col and no­tify the state At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice of a con­flict and that of­fice would ap­point an out­side prose­cu­tor.

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