TARGET 8 investigates why child sex abuse charges took two years
MOBERLY - Missouri law enforcement is impeded by a number of issues in cases involving child sexual abuse.
Alleged pedophiles can continue to prey on children until the prosecuting attorney files charges and obtains an arrest warrant from the district judge. That can take years.
Moberly Police arrested Carl Sheets this October on 16 counts involving the sexual abuse of a minor. They included:
- Sodomy in the second degree
- Statutory sodomy in the second degree
- Three counts of incest
- Statutory rape in the second degree
- Four counts of endangering the welfare of a child in the first degree
- Rape of the first degree
- Abuse of a child
- Three counts of domestic assault in the second degree
- Unlawful use of a weapon
Court documents show Moberly police became aware of Sheets' behavior in Sept. 2015 when a hotline was called in response to an alleged sexual assault involving Sheets. Sheets allegedly forced the underage victim to perform oral sex.
A detective responded and attended a forensic interview at the Rainbow House in Columbia.
Court documents show Moberly police were again notified of alleged sexual assault in June 2016. The Moberly Police Department received a call in reference to "alleged sexual abuse, lack of supervision, severe untreated dental care and untreated illnesses."
The Rainbow House conducted another forensic interview. Among allegations, Sheets was accused of forcing a different victim to have sex as punishment.
A warrant for Sheets' arrest was not issued until October 17, 2017. He was arrested the same day.
How children are removed from homes
In fiscal year 2016, the Missouri Department of Social Services reported 1,250 substantiated cases of child sexual abuse. There were 1,328 substantiated cases in FY 2015 and 1,458 in FY 2014.
Missouri police officers have the authority to arrest suspected pedophiles if they have reasonable suspicion. However, the individual would be freed if the charges are not filed by the prosecuting attorney.
The Moberly Police department arrested Sheets on August 1, 2016 for statutory rape of the second degree. No charges were filed and he was released.
The Randolph County Sheriff''s department does not have arrest records for either report.
The county's records did show Moberly Police arrested Sheets in 2014 for assault. He pled guilty and paid a $350 fine.
The Moberly Police Department declined to comment.
Under Missouri law, the authority to remove a child from an abusive home rests with a juvenile court judge.
In the event of imminent danger, law enforcement, physicians and juvenile officers have the authority to place a child in protective custody.
It is unclear from court documents if/when the victims were removed from Sheets' custody following the reports.
Why does prosecution take so long?
Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney Mike Fusselman said several things can keep an attorney from pressing charges immediately.
"All of our victims have different times when they are ready to go forward, I've had experiences where I prepared cases in my younger days and I didn't consider the children or the victims," he said. "I was a cowboy going forward, and I was all about getting the prosecution done. And I went along I started to learn about the impact that was having on those children and those families."
He said he tries to give families and victims time to seek counseling if needed. Fusselman said if the victim is not ready to testify, a case might fail in court. If that happened, the alleged perpetrator would be permanently cleared on those charges.
"I have to have them able to testify, and I don't want them traumatized, and there's nothing about this that is easy for these families."
He said further delays can result from delayed disclosure of information. Younger children might not remember or understand the significance of certain events that took place.
"Children at a very young age are not very good at giving you an exact time frame because it's not on their radar," he said.
Rainbow House declined to comment on its interview process.
Furthermore, Fusselman explained sexual abuse does not leave the same physical indicators as physical abuse does. Prosecuting attorneys must create a timeline of alleged sexual grooming behavior that led up to the alleged abuse.
Fusselman said the timeline for every child abuse case is different, but building a sexual abuse case takes the longest.
He declined to comment on the specifics of the Sheets case or the status of the victims.
State provides resources for victims of abuse
When child victims are removed from a home, the Children's Division Staff of Department of Social Services, in coordination with law enforcement, work to place children in a safe environment.
The children are then provided various resources by the state. One such resource is a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer. This volunteer helps the court plan the future of the child, helps the child navigate the legal process and helps the child transition into a new home.
Missouri CASA Executive Director Beth Dessen said the state has a good track record of placing abused children in homes of family members.
"We always try to find relatives who are capable of taking them in and keep them safe," she said. "If that doesn't work then the children go into foster care."
Dessen said the volunteers continue to meet with the child and work on his or her behalf until the child is placed in a permanent home.
There are six minors identified in Sheets' case. The preliminary hearing is being rescheduled.