Lowell police target DCS performance

2012-07-28T22:45:00Z 2012-07-30T00:08:08Z Lowell police target DCS performanceBy Susan Brown susan.brown@nwi.com (219) 662-5325 nwitimes.com

CROWN POINT | In the only such case during his 20-year administration, Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter last week declined to press criminal charges sought by Lowell police against a case manager with the Indiana Department of Child Services.

Lowell police had been pursuing possible charges of obstruction of justice and child endangerment against the veteran case manager, as well as possible internal disciplinary action by DCS, since May 2011 in the wake of his interview that March with a 4-year-old Lowell girl police believe had been molested.

With police prodding, DCS took action to place the child temporarily in foster care, but the child since has resumed contact with the person accused of molestation.

Carter said until the case raised by Lowell police came to his attention last week, he could not recall another law enforcement agency in the county targeting a DCS worker.

"It's extremely rare," Carter said.

"I'm comfortable in declining any criminal charges," Carter said of his decision not to charge the case manager. Carter reviewed the matter following a call for comment in the case by The Times. The Times does not name the case manager because the prosecutor's office chose not to file charges.

Carter said his review of the videotape, which involves a two-minute interview and, shortly afterward, a four-minute interview of a 4-year-old girl by the case manager, lacked sufficient evidence to convince a jury to convict the case manager.

"There's no evidence that (the case manager) received information of molestation from that child," he said.

Carter said the case manager is considered to have had a successful career. "He's never been suspect in other cases as not playing by the rules," Carter said.

DCS officials declined to comment and referred The Times to its public relations spokeswoman, Stephanie McFarland, of McFarland PR & Public Affairs LLC. McFarland said in an email to The Times: "DCS is highly puzzled as to why the Northwest Times would, given that the prosecutor agrees there is no basis for any charges, attempt to unjustly malign a case manager who did his job properly, leading to formal action to protect a child. DCS is equally shocked and offended that the video of the interview with the child, which is a violation of the child's privacy as well as state and federal laws, would be shared with the Northwest Times."

However, Lowell police said the case was one of several in which they have found the performance of DCS disturbing. Among them was the case of 18-month-old Anthony Mogan, of Lowell, killed in 2008 by his mother's boyfriend in the midst of a DCS investigation.

"We've had concerns before — but never the smoking gun," Detective Cpl. James Woestman said. "We didn't have the video of this guy lying about the investigation."

Woestman was referring to a videotaped interview between the case manager and the child in which the case manager contends the child did not indicate any sexual contact. Police differ with the case manager's findings.

The videotape, which The Times reviewed, shows the case manager, a male of physical heft with a resonant voice, querying the mostly silent child for about two minutes before she begins to cry.

The caseworker leaves the interview room for several minutes to bring in the girl's 3-year-old brother. Upon returning, the case manager questions the girl for four minutes to elicit where she had been kissed and by whom.

At one point, the child points downward with her left hand. Her verbal response is inaudible to the casual listener. However, Woestman and Lowell Police Chief John Shelhart stand by their report that the child told the caseworker she had been kissed on the "pee pee." The child's words were picked up by the Police Department's enhanced audio equipment, they said.

Conflicting reports

What police say they heard puts them at odds with statements by the case manager, who reported the girl pointed only to her face, cheeks and neck. In a subsequent court document, the case manager reported the girl pointed to her cheeks, lips and chest.

In a letter to DCS regional manager Jane Bisbee dated May 2, 2011, Woestman reminded Bisbee of a weeks-old telephone call in which he criticized the case manager's "inaction and inaccurate statements." He urged DCS's Bisbee to "follow up."

Woestman's letter informed Bisbee that DCS Assistant Director Richard Bann acknowledged receipt of the officer's letter, though he declined to comment on any action taken because of its being a personnel matter. Bann requested a copy of the interview, according to Woestman's letter, which also informed Bisbee the investigation had been forwarded to the prosecutor's office for action.

"As I expressed to you, my department's administration and I believe this matter needs to be fully investigated, as the child's welfare was endangered by his inaction," Woestman wrote in his letter.

Although polygraph tests are not admissible in court, Woestman told The Times the department's concerns had escalated considerably during the investigation after the man alleged to have molested the child failed a lie detector test.

"We asked to have an expert in child molestation evaluate (the children) through both the courts and DCS, and it was ignored," said the girl's grandmother, who also actively sought action against the DCS worker for allegedly filing an inaccurate report.

Failing to obtain satisfaction from the prosecutor's office, the grandmother turned to the attorney general's office this May, requesting someone "look into this case a little deeper."

Bryan Corbin, public information officer for the attorney general's office, said his office could find no record of receiving the grandmother's letter requesting action, adding Attorney General Greg Zoeller nevertheless has no jurisdiction over the matter.

Corbin said members of the public with complaints about DCS employees may contact the DCS Ombudsman Bureau, described as independent of DCS and based in the Indiana Department of Administration. More information on the bureau is available on its website at www.in.gov/dcs/3174.htm.

Corbin also suggested possible ethical lapses on a state agency's part can be addressed to the state's Office of the Inspector General.

In the current matter, Corbin said a copy of the grandmother's letter, which The Times provided to Corbin, will be forwarded to the appropriate person at DCS headquarters.

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