Town Hit By Child Sex Scandal Tries To Recover
JORDAN, Minn. (AP) _ The case is closed and its stigma should be erased, residents of this small Minnesota town say. But many are bothered that they’ll never know if there was truth in the child sex-abuse allegations brought against 25 of their neighbors.
″I really felt sorry for the kids because of what happened to them, and a lot more sorry for them now because some people that did wrong to them are going free,″ said Jim Seifert, a bricklayer. ″Some people did injustice to innocent kids and they don’t get punished for it, and that’s the bottom line.
″Maybe there were bad arrests, maybe everyone was guilty. It’s possible everyone was innocent,″ said Seifert.
He said he no longer tells people he lives in Jordan because ″I didn’t want to get egged or have beer thrown at me.″
Minnesota Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III officially closed the Scott County child sex abuse cases Feb. 12, announciong that the evidence was too weak for charges to be re-filed. Authorities acknowledged, however, that some apparently guilty people were going free and that 16 to 19 children had been sexually abused.
For many Scott County residents, the cases remain open.
Only 13 of 27 children removed from their parents’ homes have been returned. Custody cases for the remaining children are pending in Family Court. Former defendants say their lives have been irreversibly altered.
Jordan residents fear that outsiders consider them freaks. And across Minnesota, people perceive a failure of the state’s judicial system.
″Humphrey said ‘Let the healing begin,’ but I don’t know how it can when so many questions still aren’t answered,″ said Patricia Kikos, owner of City Hall Antiques in Jordan. ″There’s still a heavy cloud hanging over it.
″They just don’t want to talk about what really happened,″ she said, ″like when they had six squad cars going up to the elementary school and marching a little second-grader out of class in front of all his friends. Does that sound like they were concerned for the children’s welfare?″
Others in the town of 2,600, about 40 miles southwest of Minneapolis, say the healing has already begun.
″There’s a different kind of perspective here now,″ said Myrtle Whipps, co-owner of the Hamburger Home Cafe. ″Very few people say anything about it anymore. They just feel it’s nice that the town was trying to do something about child abuse, instead of just letting it lay there like they do in other places.″
Of the 25 people originally accused in the case, one was sent to prison for 40 years after pleading guilty. One couple was acquitted, and none of the others made it as far as the courtroom.
Scott County Attorney Kathleen Morris dropped all charges against the remaining defendants in October, and turned the investigation over to Humphrey’s office. At the time, she had talked of an investigation of ″great magnitude″; published reports said there were allegations of murder. However, state and federal authorities found no credible evidence of murder.
Among the flaws Humphrey listed in closing the case was excessive interviewing of suspected child victims, to the point that they no longer could tell fact from fantasy. In addition, children were sometimes interviewed in groups, allowing a ″cross-germination″ of charges that damaged their credibility.
Humphrey also found that county authorities filed some charges before finishing their investigation, destroying the chance to get corroborating physical evidence and testimony. He found that record-keeping was inconsistent and sometimes lacking.
How could the case have been botched when Ms. Morris and other county officials had experience in successfully prosecuting other child sex abuse cases?
″That’s a good question,″ Humphrey said last week. ″But you’ll have to ask them.
″Ask them why there weren’t regular reports made during the case, or ask them why someone was interviewed 20 times and they only have notes for four or five times.″
Ms. Morris, accused by some of conducting a ″witchhunt″ of innocent people while praised by others for her willingness to stand up for the children, continues to say little about the investigation.
She refers most questions to her statement the day after Humphrey closed the case, in which she disputed his criticisms and charged that his actions were politically motivated.
″She may have seen an urgency there that I don’t know about,″ Cass County Attorney Mike Milligan said. ″But normally I would do just the opposite of what she apparently did. I would investigate the case almost to death to get all the information I need before charging it out.
″She also did something else I wouldn’t do,″ Milligan said, ″which is to get involved in the investigation. It’s not my role to investigate; it’s my role to prosecute.″
Several prosecutors have called for Ms. Morris’ resignation, including Crow Wing County Attorney Steve Rathke. ″As long as she’s there it just retards the healing process,″ said Rathke, a former president of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association.
Humphrey’s report included recommendations for increased training for police and prosecutors in child development and psychology; a team approach by investigators to limit re-interviewing; more attention to the role of therapists in child sex-abuse investigations; more training for foster-care providers; and changes in the way children are questioned for a judge or jury.
The Legislature is considering changes in Minnesota’s child abuse laws.
Officials also note an increased willingness to report sexual abuse, which currently accounts for more state prisoners in Minnesota than any other crime.