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Archive for Sunday, January 13, 2013

Jefferson County man sues McLouth school over alleged 2011 sexual assault of his daughter

January 13, 2013

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Lawsuit against McLouth schools ( .PDF )

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Jefferson County resident Terry Snell says his 6-year-old daughter was sexually assaulted by a teenager at a McLouth school in 2011.

Though the 16-year-old boy accused in the case was arrested on several sexual and assault charges, the case was dropped by prosecutors.

Police and Jefferson County officials say there isn't enough evidence in the case, but that hasn't deterred Snell.

"I just keep coming," said Snell, who's taken his fight to social media with a YouTube video he created that's now surpassed 30,000 hits. "I have never given up."

YouTube

Justice for Summer

This video, created by Jefferson County man Terry Snell, details the allegations that his daughter was sexually assaulted at a McLouth school in 2011. So far, the video has been viewed more than 31,000 times.

In October, Snell filed a lawsuit against the McLouth school district, alleging that the school "failed to implement adequate supervision of students," and failed "to report incidents of sexual, physical, or other bullying as required by state law."

The incident

As detailed in the YouTube video and in the lawsuit, Snell's daughter Summer, then 6, came home from school on February 22, 2011, and told her father about an incident involving a 16-year-old student at the McLouth Elementary School.

According to the lawsuit, the 16-year-old boy, who was able to access the elementary school because the district's kindergarten through high school facilities are connected, grabbed Summer and pulled her into a school bathroom. The boy fondled Summer and attempted to take the girl's clothes off.

Summer broke free and reported it to a teacher, but that teacher did not report the incident to school officials, according to the lawsuit.

Snell reported the incident to McLouth police, who interviewed Summer and the 16-year-old boy. The boy was arrested and charged with attempted aggravated indecent liberties with a child, three counts of battery, and criminal restraint.

Days later, though, the boy was released and charges dismissed by then-Jefferson County Attorney Robert Fox.

The problem, says current Jefferson County Attorney Jason Belveal, who also reviewed the case, was that "there simply was not sufficient evidence to proceed with prosecution."

Belveal cites video surveillance in the school, seized by police. Though Belveal said he has not seen the footage, police reviewed the tapes and found no evidence of an assault, he said.

Belveal also takes his conviction about the case a step further.

"I believe that it didn't happen," he said.

The response from Belveal and police has never satisfied Snell, however, who points to the video. Snell says police never took his daughter to the alleged crime scene to detail the location of the incident, and Snell says he's been denied a chance to view any footage.

McLouth Police Chief Marcus Koch, who headed the investigation, declined comment about many aspects of the case, saying he didn't want to compromise the investigation if any new evidence came to light.

A video was reviewed by police, he said, but didn't offer any further details about what that footage did or didn't show.

Koch said his office conducted a "very complete and very detailed investigation."

McLouth School District Superintendent Steve Splichal, citing the pending civil suit that's seeking $75,000 in damages, declined detailed comment on the case.

"To be clear, the McLouth school district investigated the claim and fully cooperated in a separate investigation conducted by the McLouth Police Department," Splichal said in a written statement.

Advocate role

Snell said he knows that additional criminal action in the case is not likely.

But after the YouTube video aired, he said he's been thrust into the role of advocate for improved criminal investigations of sex crimes in rural Kansas communities.

He's received hundreds of emails from others in small Kansas communities, expressing concerns that sexual assault cases are being mishandled by small police departments ill-equipped to handle such complex cases.

One step Snell said the county attorney should've taken in his case was to ask the Kansas Attorney General's Office for assistance. The Attorney General's Office has the ability, if requested, to assist police and prosecutors in rural communities in criminal investigations.

Snell said he thinks the outcome of the investigation may have been different if additional resources had been brought in earlier in the case.

But that's a charge Belveal disputes.

"It wasn't a lack of resources" that led to dropping the charges, Belveal said, adding that he believes the McLouth police "did a fine job" investigating. Police used a trained sexual assault interviewer to speak with Summer, which is cited by advocates as a best-practice approach in such cases.

Snell said he'll keep fighting for his daughter, who now attends another school. From the incident, Snell said she's suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety-related issues.

He keeps up the battle and said he's proud she stood up and reported the incident.

"She did everything she was taught to do," he said.

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