Monday, July 6, 2009

'We Are All Obligated' to Report Child Abuse

Last week's arrest of two day care workers for failure to report child abuse has put the spotlight on those whose statutory duties include looking out for the welfare of children.

Sara Vasquez, 25, of Zolfo Springs and Linda Payne, 39, of Sebring, were arrested Wednesday and charged with failure to report suspected child abuse in connection with the death of 22-month-old Kaedyn Short, who died May 27, almost two months after she was allegedly severely beaten by Avon Park Police Officer James Parker. Payne owns A Better Choice day care center, and Vasquez is her employee.

Kaedyn's mother, Jenifer Short, 28, was also arrested and charged with failure to report abuse and child neglect causing great harm. Parker has been charged with first-degree murder. Investigators say the March 29 incident that led to Kaedyn's death was not the first time she was abused.

Members of the Highlands County Sheriff's Office, when asked by law whose responsibility it is to report suspected child abuse, cited Florida Statute 39.201, which covers mandatory reports of child abuse, abandonment or neglect.

In addition to day care workers, the lengthy list includes physicians, health or mental health professionals, practitioners who rely solely on spiritual means for healing, teachers or school personnel, social workers, professional child care workers, foster care workers, law enforcement officers or judges.

According to statute the people in the listed professions are "required to provide their names to hotline staff," when reporting allegations of child abuse, not just to report it.

"According to state statute, it states that in a sense all residents of Florida are mandated reporters," said Jeff Roth, director of the Children's Advocacy Center in Sebring. "We are all obligated to call in a suspicion of abuse."

Roth also said those suspecting abuse are "not there to validate that an abuse has occurred," just to report any suspicions.

This is how the statute is worded as well.

It states the following:

"Any person who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a child is abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent ... or other person responsible for the child's welfare ... shall report such knowledge or suspicion" to the Florida Abuse Hotline.

While the list of job titles cited in the statute are required to give their names, for Florida's citizens this is not required.

"By and large they can call it in anonymously," Roth said.

Information from the Florida Department of Children and Families Web site added that anyone making a report in good faith is immune from civil or criminal liability.

There are different types of abuse that fall into certain categories, all which need to be reported. They are physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect.

Neglect includes a failure to meet a child's physical, medical, educational or emotional needs.

More information defining those needs and different types of abuse can be found on the federal Child Welfare Web site at

Roth said anyone with questions can contact the CAC at 402-6845 or stop by in person at their office near Sebring High School, at 1000 S. Highlands Ave. in Sebring.

"If someone stops by and needs to discuss a circumstance," they will he helped by the CAC, Roth said. "If we have to make an abuse call from the center then we can do that."

To file a report with the state of Florida, call 1-800-962-2873 (1-800-96-ABUSE) or go online to and click on "complete a Florida Abuse Hotline report."

Former Officer Louis Alvie 'Buck' Morris in Court on Rape of 15-year-old

Former Stillwater Police Officer Louis Alvie "Buck" Morris, 48, who appeared in court today on charges alleging he committed five sex acts with a 15-year-old female student in May, has resigned from the department, Stillwater Police Chief Norman McNickle said.

"This case now rests in the hands of the judicial system," McNickle said.

The preliminary hearing for Morris, who has been charged with two counts of rape by instrumentation and three counts of lewd acts with a child, was scheduled during Morris's brief court appearance today for Aug. 28.

If convicted of the five-count charge, Morris could receive as much as two life without parole sentences plus 60 years in prison, court records show.

Morris was originally represented by Oklahoma City attorney Susan Ann Knight, but now is being defended by four Oklahoma City attorneys, Joe E. White Jr., Charles C. Weddle III, Marvel E. Lewis and Blake Farris, court records show.

Morris, who was an officer with the Stillwater Police Department for 17 years, had served as a School Resource Officer for six years, McNickle said.

He was suspended without pay at the time of his June 16 arrest at his Ripley residence, McNickle said.

Morris resigned from the Stillwater Police Department on June 26, McNickle said.

"As a Police Officer and a School Resource Officer, Morris was sworn to protect and serve all the citizens of Stillwater," McNickle said in a press release when Morris was arrested by officers from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, Stillwater Police Department and the Payne County Sheriff's Office.

"It is apparent to me and the personnel of the Stillwater Police Department that the sacred trust in the Oath of Office was violated." McNickle said.

"Department members are deeply disappointed and disgusted in the actions of a veteran officer.

"Members of the department take their oath seriously and will continue to seek out those who violate the public trust and where appropriate, seek prosecution and removal from office," McNickle said.

An investigation began on May 20 when a citizen reported a concern to police that Morris was engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a 15-year-old girl, McNickle said in his press release.

"The original information supplied by the citizen had no evidence of criminal activity by Morris.

"Two investigators were immediately assigned to determine if Morris had violated any policies of the Stillwater Police Department Standard Operating Procedures.

"The internal investigation continued until June 1, 2009, when information was discovered that Morris had possibly violated state law in his conduct with the 15-year-old victim.

"Based on this information, I immediately asked the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) to assist the Stillwater Police Department in conducting a criminal investigation into Morris' conduct," McNickle said.

"On June 2, 2009, the criminal investigation determined probable cause existed that Morris committed a felony. Also on June 2, 2009, Morris was suspended from duty and his powers to act as a police officer were revoked," McNickle said.

"On June 10, 2009, two investigators were dispatched on an out-of-state trip to interview potential witnesses in the criminal investigation. The trip continued through Monday, June 15, 2009," McNickle said.

The following day, charges were filed against Morris by Payne County First Assistant District Attorney Tom Lee.

Morris was booked into the Payne County Jail and released after posting a $25,000 property bond, court records show.

According to an affidavit by OSBI agent Richard Brown, the girl knew Morris for the two years she attended Stillwater Junior High School. She said that she talked with Morris every morning at school, the affidavit said.

"She and Morris exchanged phone numbers and would text each other. She felt Morris knew she liked him and that he liked her.

"She became close to Morris. Morris would text her saying he loved her and would be able to show her how much he loved her," the affidavit alleged.

She told the OSBI agent that Morris fondled her while they were alone in his home and that while he was driving her back to her house, Morris put his finger in her genital area, the affidavit alleged.

In May two days before she was to leave Oklahoma for the summer, Morris came by her house while her father was at work and they performed manual sex acts on each other, the affidavit alleged.

Morris subsequently talked to Stillwater Police Officer Guy Palladino, who was a School Resource Officer assigned to Stillwater's Sangre Ridge Elementary and Middle Schools, as well as Westwood Elementary School. Palladino also was a Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) representative for any officer at the Stillwater Police Department, according to the affidavit.

Morris told Palladino that they had sexual contact, but denied having oral or vaginal sex with the girl, the affidavit alleged.

Morris knew his job was gone and he hoped he did not have to go to prison, but that he had done this to himself," the affidavit alleged.

Marcus Tyms Sentenced to 23 Years for Luring 13-year-old

A federal judge has sentenced a McHenry County man to more than 23 years in prison for luring a 13-year-old girl to a park in Carol Stream to have sex with her.

Ten years was added to Marcus Tyms' sentence Monday because the 25-year-old was a registered sex offender when he committed the crime in 2007.

Authorities say Tyms met the girl online and persuaded her to come to the park, intending to have sex. They say he hit her when she had last-minute doubts and abandoned her when he was spotted by Carol Stream police who arrested him.

U.S. District Judge Milton Shadur sentenced Tyms to 160 months on an enticement count and imposed a mandatory consecutive 10-year prison term for committing the crime while being a registered sex-offender.

Information from: Chicago Tribune,

Malcolm Mitchell & Erin Stevens Arrested for Child Neglect

Lee County sheriff's deputies have arrested the parents of three children and charged them with child neglect after discovering deplorable living conditions in the family home.

Malcolm Mitchell, 40, and Erin Stevens, 48, of 15001 Woodrich Bend Court in south Fort Myers were arrested Saturday, according to a sheriff's office release.

During the morning hours Saturday, deputies were called to the Walgreens at the corner of Gladiolus Drive and McGregor Boulevard in south Fort Myers in reference to three young children ages 9, 8 and 5 who were in the store without supervision.

A deputy asked the children where they lived and returned them to their parents. While returning the children, the deputy saw the residence was in deplorable condition and notified his supervisor.

A detective with the Lee County Sheriff's Office Child Abuse Investigations Unit, along with two investigators from the Department of Children and Families, arrived a short time later. There they witnessed numerous environmental hazards including rotting food, open containers of cleaning chemicals and roaches. It also appeared that the children were ridden with lice.

The parents stated they were asleep when the children left the house. They were both arrested and charged with child neglect.

Rodney Dobies Arresrted for Sexual Abuse

Rodney J. Dobies has been arrested and charged with one count of Sexual Abuse on a Child under 12 years of age. On June 28 the McCreary County Sheriff’s Department and Kentucky State Police responded to a complaint in Pine Knot. Upon arrival at the scene the officers opened an investigation concerning a possible sexual abuse case against a minor.

The child, whose name is being withheld to protect her identity, was taken to Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital where she was examined and treated.

On Tuesday afternoon, the McCreary County Sheriffs Department arrested Rodney J. Dobies, 42, on a warrant for one count of Sexual Abuse First Degree on a Victim under 12 years of age, a Class C felony, which carries a possible 10 year prison sentence.

“As with all cases of this nature, we cannot release all of the details of the investigation due to the involvement of a minor,” McCreary County Sheriff Gus Skinner said. “But, I am pleased to report that the alleged perpetrator of this crime is off the streets and the child is safe from being harmed any further from this individual.”

“This was a collaborative effort between my department and the Kentucky State Police,” he added. “As always, I am glad to be able to have the assistance of other law enforcement agencies.”

Dobies, an employee of the McCreary County Ambulance Service, is being lodged in the McCreary County Detention Center with a $100,000 cash bond. Additional charges may be pending. As of press time Wednesday, no court date has been set for Rodney J. Dobies.

The case is being jointly investigated by the McCreary County Sheriffs Department and Kentucky State Police, with Detective Billy Correll leading the investigation. McCreary County Department of Social Services assisted with the investigation.

Carol Ricker Arrested for Sexual Abuse to Child

A 46-year-old Logan woman faces 12 first-degree felony counts involving sexual abuse of a child.

Carol Ricker was arrested Thursday and booked into the Cache County Jail on four counts each of rape of a child, sodomy on a child and sexual abuse of a child.

The victim is now in his 20s, but prosecutors allege the abuse happened sometime between 1992 and 1997.

The Cache County prosecutor's office says Ricker was arraigned and charged Monday in 1st District Court.

Cory Mrazik Charged with Sexually Abusing 23-Month-old Baby

A Port St. Lucie man is accused of sexually abusing a 23-month-old girl while he changed her diaper.

Cory Mrazik is charged with felony child abuse.

Police said initially Mrazik admitted to causing several bruises on the girl.

But during another examination, investigators said, it was revealed the little girl had also been sexually assaulted.

Mrazik denies touching the girl inappropriately.

Illegal Immigrant Raul Mendoza Guilty of Sexually Assaulting 12-year-old

An illegal immigrant who was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl will serve 10 years in prison, prosecutors said.

Raul Mendoza was sentenced Monday morning. After the 10-year sentence, he will appear before a parole board, which may decide to extend the sentence or turn him over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation hearings, said Weld County District Attorney spokeswoman Jennifer Finch.

Mendoza, 20, was arrested after the victim told her parents about the assault, Finch said.

He was found guilty in April on charges of sexual assault on a child causing bodily injury and sexual assault-overcome a victim's will. Both charges are felonies.

Mendoza spent several years in juvenile corrections as a teenager after he was convicted of several other child sex assaults, the Greeley Tribune reported after his last arrest.

Mendoza was a registered sex offender as a result of his previous convictions but he wasn't listed on the sex offenders Web site because he was a juvenile at the time.

Previous Stories: July 30, 2008: 12-Year-Old Sexually Assaulted, Suspected Illegal Immigrant Held

Bus Driver Richard Dean Stephen Charged with Sexual Assault to a 5-year-old

A Clark County School District bus driver charged with the sexual assault of a 5-year-old girl tentatively agreed today to plead guilty to two lesser charges of attempted lewdness with a minor.

Richard Dean Stephen of North Las Vegas was arrested June 16 and booked on 10 counts relating to lewdness with a minor under the age of 14 and sexual assault.

At Stephen’s preliminary hearing in North Las Vegas Justice Court today, his attorney, William Terry, said he would enter the guilty plea when he is arraigned in District Court. That hearing is scheduled for July 29.

Stephen, 63, faces up to 40 years in prison for the two charges. He is being held in the Clark County Detention Center on $80,000 bond.

The North Las Vegas Police Department received a report on May 19 that a girl had been molested numerous times at her home, police said.

Although Stephen drove elementary school children, the alleged 5-year-old victim is not a student, police said. Stephen rented his North Las Vegas house on Van Der Meer Street to the girl's mother. He also lived there.

At today’s hearing, prosecutor Mary Kay Holthus said the police investigation found that Stephen had been warned by the school district for allegedly touching children on two separate occasions. According to the detective’s report, Stephen’s supervisor told police that she was conducting an internal investigation because “several students” alleged that he touched their arms, faces and shoulders on the bus.

Terry said during the hearing that no charges have been filed regarding those reports and there were no allegations that the touching was of a sexual nature. Terry declined to comment to the media.

A spokesman for the school district said he could not confirm the reports because it’s against policy to discuss employee disciplinary matters. In general, employees are advised not to initiate contact with students. Stephen was hired in August 2007 and he is still employed with the school district.