This page dedicated to: child sexual abuse, child sex abuse
THE SCOTT COUNTY INVESTIGATION
TABLE OF CONTENTS
On October 15, 1984, R. Kathleen Morris, the Scott County Attorney dismissed charges against twenty-one citizens accused of child sexual abuse in Scott County.
In dismissing those cases, the County Attorney made reference to a court-ordered release of documents in a case concerning "an active criminal investigation of great magnitude." The County Attorney went on to say that "prejudice would likely result to this ongoing investigation by release of this information at this time." This "investigation of great magnitude" referred to allegations of homicide made three months earlier by some child victims in the sex abuse cases.
The County Attorney also noted the need to protect and safeguard the children from further victimization. She indicated this could best be done by these cases proceeding in family court rather than a criminal setting. Finally, she noted that it had become increasingly clear that many children would not be able to testify in the criminal proceedings without great emotional distress or trauma. She concluded that it would not be in the best interest of the victims and the further interest of justice to continue with these criminal proceedings.
During the week of October 15, 1984, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and the Federal Bureau of investigation (FBI) began investigating the alleged homicides, pornography and child abuse in Scott County. On October 11, 1984, Hubert H. Humphrey III, Minnesota Attorney General, sent a letter to the Scott County Attorney, urging that she provide a more detailed public explanation of why the criminal charges had been dropped against the twenty-one defendants. On October 19, 1984, the Scott County Attorney requested that the Minnesota Attorney General assume responsibility for the pending family court matters and any criminal charges which might arise out of the FBI/BCA criminal investigation of the alleged sex abuse, pornography and homicide cases.
During the course of that investigation, over a dozen state and federal investigative agents focused on what happened in Scott County. Many of these agents had substantial experience in investigating child sexual abuse and pornography. The main case agents and others from the BCA had successfully overseen the Children's Theater sexual abuse investigation.
The FBI effort was overseen by the supervising agent in the FBI St. Paul office. Among the FBI personnel working on this case was the agent responsible for training other agents and law enforcement personnel in the Midwest region in child sexual abuse.
Investigations. The Jurisdictional focus of the FBI effort was on allegations of homicide and pornography.
Metropolitan area county attorneys, including Dakota County Attorney, Robert Carolan, Hennepin County Attorney, Thomas Johnson, and Ramsey County Attorney, Tom Foley, also provided assistance by assigning staff attorneys to handle the child neglect and dependency cases arising out of the sex abuse allegations. In addition, eight attorneys and tour criminal investigators from the State Attorney General’s Office participate in this effort.
At the conclusion of their investigation, the FBI/BCA agents submitted their investigative findings to Attorney General Humphrey. Those findings are as follows:
Those findings were unanimously supported by each investigator working on these cases. It should be emphasized that some children in Scott County were sexually abused. One individual has already been convicted as a result of a guilty plea. Other offenders received immunity and are undergoing treatment. In one instance the abuse occurred outside the period of the statute of limitations. In another instance a woman admitted sexually abusing her son, but the Scott County Attorney decided not to file charges. In that case there were no indications of any connection with a sex ring or other adults. With respect to all other allegations of abuse, however, it is impossible to determine whether such abuse actually occurred, and if it did, who may have done these acts. The reasons for this impossibility are set forth in this report.
Before detailing these concerns, a statement must be made regarding the nature of the charges. Sexual abuse of children is horrible and shocking behavior which our society, until recent years, has too often hidden or ignored. Recently, however, hundreds of child sexual abuse cases have been aggressively and sensitively pursued each year by Minnesota prosecutors. This has been possible because, in properly handled cases, children can be credible trial witnesses. For the most part, the delicate balance between the interests of children and the rights of accused individuals has been properly struck.
In the Scott County cases, however, something clearly went awry. This is not to suggest that the objectives of Scott County authorities were improper. There is no evidence that the Scott County authorities were motivated by anything other than concern for the protection of children. That concern is shared by the Attorney.
General and by everyone involved in the investigation. That legitimate concern, however, must be balanced against the rights of accused individuals. That balance can be best maintained when such cases are investigated and handled in a manner which results in the development of credible evidence. The best way to protect children is to conduct investigations in a responsible manner, in a way that will lead to discovery of what really happened and lead to convictions, if justified by the evidence. It is in this regard that the Scott County cases foundered.
This report summarizes the basis for the findings of the investigation. It is not intended to provide a chronological review of all the evidence in these cases. Nor does it comment on guilt or innocence of any specific individuals.
Included in this report is a section entitled "Recommendations for Action." These recommendations have been developed as a result of the Attorney General’s statewide survey of the handling of child abuse and from our experience with the Scott County cases. These recommendations provide the opportunity to develop a positive conclusion from the Scott County cases.
In an effort to protect the children involved from further public exposure, neither names nor initials of any children are mentioned in this report. Similarly, none of the former defendants, except James Rud, who is the only individual convicted of a crime in these cases, has been identified.
On November 14, 1984, the Attorney General, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the State Bureau of Criminal Apprehension announced that based on all available information, there was no substantiate evidence supporting allegations of murders in the Scott County sexual abuse probe. Before reaching that conclusion, FBI and BCA agents had spoken with the Scott County Attorney, staff from her office, investigators and staff from the Scott County Sheriff's Department and the Jordan and Shakopee Police Departments. Therapists and school personnel who had worked with the children who made the allegations were also interviewed. In addition, investigators consulted with psychologists not involved in the case, including one from the FBI behavioral sciences unit at Quantico, Virginia. This individual was also familiar with similar investigations around the country. Inquiries were made of the following sources: The National Crime Information Center (NCIC), FBI, FBI records, Minnesota Criminal Justice Information Systems (CJIS), Minnesota Motor Vehicle and Driver Services (DVS), Minneapolis Credit Bureau, and the Scott County Jail. Long distance telephone tolls and subscriber checks and inquiries were obtained. The U.S. Postal Inspector and the U.S. Customs Service were contacted to determine if any of the accused appeared in their tiles in reference to child pornography. Background investigations were commenced on suspected perpetrators. The final step in the process was interviews with the children themselves.
Those interviews with the children resulted in three individuals recanting their earlier allegations of killings. Four other children who had been identified by Scott County authorities as having given statements regarding homicides stated they had never actually witnessed any killings. The only child to continue talking about murders gave investigators three entirely different versions of what she claimed happened, all within the course of one interview session. In sum, by November 14, 1984, there was no credible evidence to believe homicides had occurred.
The first interview with a twelve-year-old boy, who had provided the most graphic details of homicides, took place on November 2, 1984. During the interview the child described in detail seven children being stabbed, mutilated and/or shot during the spring and summer of 1983. This contrasted with his statements in July 1984 to Scott County investigators. At that time he had described three homicides. He also indicated at that time that at least fourteen adults and eleven children observed one child being mutilated and killed.
When interviewed in November, 1984, he indicated that five bodies had been disposed of in the Minnesota river. He described how a caravan of cars had gone to the Lawrence Campgrounds and that the group involved in the homicide walked across a walkway bridge. This description of the caravan of cars traveling through the streets of a small Minnesota town on a summer's eve caused investigators to question the feasibility of the allegations in that no witnesses had ever reported seeing such a caravan of cars. The youth went on to describe the disposal of one of the bodies. He stated that the group involved in the homicides carried a body to the park, while armed with flashlights. He stated that it was so dark outside that one child stumbled off the bridge and was retrieved from the water. He said the bodies of the alleged homicide victims were disposed of in the river.
On November 3, 1984, BCA agents accompanied this boy, his guardian ad litem and therapist to the area where the child said bodies had been dumped. He stated that some of the bodies had been placed in an inflatable boat, paddled out and dumped in the middle of the river.
Shortly before a November 6 interview with this boy, state/federal agents spoke with a park ranger, who had kept a diary noting the depth of the river and certain occurrences there in 1983. The park ranger indicated that in March of 1983 the river had flooded over its banks and had swept away the walkway bridge, which was not replaced until late summer of that year. He stated that during much of the spring and early summer of 1983 the trails or paths which are located next to the river had been impassable because the river had flooded those areas. This was the same time period during which, according to the boy, bodies were carried along the paths and over the bridge. The physical impossibility of such events during that period raised severe doubts as to the boy's credibility.
On November 6, 19b4, the agents met with this boy in the presence of his therapist. Again he spoke of bodies being disposed of at the campground site. Agents asked the boy if he still recalled bodies being placed in inflatable boats which were then rowed to the middle of the river where the bodies were dumped. This was asked because agents had been informed by law enforcement personnel familiar with the river that currents would have pulled any inflatable boat downstream, making it unlikely that a boat could have been rowed to the middle and back. The child began to change his story about where the boat took the bodies. The agents told him that the walkway bridge was not in place when he said a body was carried across it. At that point he broke down and cried. he admitted that he had lied and stated that there were no murders. He stated that he was still telling the truth about the sex abuse but that he had invented the murder stories because he didn't want to go home.
The agents also interviewed another child who had made allegations of homicide. When interviewed in July by Scott County investigators, this individual told of three or four killings. He told of victims being shot and stabbed, and of one being drowned in a neighbor's pool. He described one of the victims as a drummer ill a rock and roll band, who was playing at a party when he (the drummer) was killed. When told that the purpose of the agents' interview was to discuss the alleged homicides, this child immediately stated that he had lied about the cutting and the torture and death of any victims. He stated that the idea of the homicides came into his head when Scott County investigators questioned him about a black or mulatto boy who may have been cut or tortured. He said he got the idea of ritualistic torturing front a television program he had seen. He stated that he lied about the murders because he wanted to please the investigators.
On November 6, 1984, state/federal agents met with a nine-year-old girl who had made allegations of murder in July, 1984. In July she had stated that her father shot and killed an 8-year-old black boy in the kitchen of their home. She did not describe any other children being present, nor any mutilations or sexual abuse accompanying the killings. The residence where she stated killings took place was not the site of any of the alleged sex parties or ritual killings described by any other witness.
When she met with state and federal agents in November, 1984, she immediately recanted all allegations of homicide. She stated that the reason she made up the story about someone being killed was because her "very good friend" told her to say these things. This friend was the child who first made mention of killings in July, 1984.
The child who first mentioned killings is a twelve-year-old female, who met with Scott County investigators after she had talked to her therapist about homicides. This child had been sexually abused by James Rud over an extended period of time. By July, 1984, this child had been interviewed no less than twenty-three times about the sex abuse allegations. She had accused eleven adults of sexually abusing herself or other children.
When questioned in July about homicides, she told Scott County investigators that she had seen a person stick the broken stem of a wine glass into the vagina of a baby girl, then stab the baby in the chest and bury it. She stated the child's mother was told that day that the baby was dead.
She also told of a woman in her thirties who had been sexual with her and then was killed by the same person. A third victim she described was a young mulatto boy killed after having sex with her.
When this witness met with state/federal investigators in November, 1984, she vividly described very different homicides. She again told of a baby being killed -- this time with its head partly cut off. She stated that the child's mother had dropped the baby off at her friend's house, where her friend's father was going to babysit. She stated that her friend's father killed the child because he could not tolerate the baby.
She spoke of a three-year-old black boy being stabbed. This child was killed, she stated, because it had gotten into her friend's father's shed and started a fire. She stated that this aggravated her friend's father so he killed the child with a pocketknife and buried the child in his backyard.
The next victim she described was a four-year-old boy who, she stated, started a fire in the street and was then stabbed in the heart by her friend's father because he stated that the child deserved punishment.
The fourth alleged victim was an eleven-year-old boy for whom the girl said she was babysitting, even though she was only ten at the time. She stated that this child had taken some pills from a cabinet and got intoxicated from them. She stated that her friend's father revived him and then killed him with a knife.
She told investigators that all those killings took place on the very same day. She also made no mention of the woman in her thirties she had said was killed during her July, 1984, statement.
During the interview the girl was at ease and extremely talkative. In each case she talked about the victims being cut and stabbed. She was asked by the agents if there was any shooting involved and she said "no". One of the agents then pointed out to her that earlier police reports showed individuals being shot. She then described the four homicides again and this time changed her story, stating that all the individuals had been shot rather than stabbed. Her therapist then asked a question, and the child said that the individuals had been stabbed rather than shot. Because of the demeanor of this child and as a result of the shifts in her story within a relatively short period of time, it became clear to investigators that this child was simply not believable as to these stories.
Three other children who had been described in police reports as having discussed alleged homicides were questioned. They told state/federal investigators that they had not observed homicides but rather talked of people being hurt. Therapists informed these investigators of a fourth child who said that he had never used the word 'murdered" but rather "hurt." State and federal investigators attempted to interview this particular child. The child indicated that he would only be willing to talk to the agents through puppets. He indicated that he would nod the head of one of the puppets yes or no. At some point in the interview the agents asked him if he had seen any kids that were killed. This child shook the puppet's head "no.' When questioned by his therapist as to whether he had spoken last summer with a Scott County detective about homicides, the child indicated, through the puppets, that he did not remember that conversation.
When state/federal agents first began investigating the alleged homicides, they planned a search of the Minnesota River. Investigators consulted with pathologists to determine what, if any, evidence of a body would still exist after being in a river for an extended period of time. They spoke to the Army Corps of Engineers to determine if any evidence, assuming it existed, could be discovered through such a search. They spoke with law enforcement representatives from other Minnesota counties who have had experience with river search operations. They were informed that the possibility of finding such evidence was extremely slim. However, it was felt that every reasonable investigative effort should be made. Plans were made to begin the river search in early November, 1984. Bad weather forced a postponement of that search. It was at this time that investigators discovered that the walkway bridge had been washed away months earlier and children began recanting allegations of murder. As it became clear that there was no credible evidence of murders, the river search was canceled. In the absence of any credible evidence, both the FBI and BCA felt it would be inappropriate to risk injury or potential loss of life in a river search.
In addition to planning a search of the river, investigators had prepared search warrants based on the original statements of the children. However, as the stories collapsed and as the physical impossibilities of the original allegations piled up, it was concluded that there was no probable cause to justify the filing of any search warrants.
SEXUAL ABUSE INVESTIGATIONS
After concluding that there were no homicides, state and federal authorities turned their focus to the allegations of sexual abuse and pornography. They began to reconstruct the investigation made by Scott County authorities, continued to interview child victims, therapists, and do background investigations and interviews of the former defendants. Their investigation included contacts with law enforcement authorities in New York, Alaska, Utah, Kansas, Iowa, Washington, D.C., Georgia, Missouri, California, and Texas.
The original investigation by Scott County authorities failed to produce a single photograph containing child pornography, despite the fact that numerous children had mentioned that photographs had been taken during some of the alleged sex parties. By the time of the BCA/FBI entry into these cases in October, 1984, the only evidence of pornography and sexual abuse of children by the accused adults rested principally on the statements of the children. However, as a result of the original investigative process, many of the child witnesses were simply unable to provide credible testimony. In a number of instances, therapists advised state/federal investigators that certain key child witnesses would be unable to testify credibly in any further court proceedings.
The current absence of credible testimony and the lack of significant corroboration lead to the inevitable conclusion that no new criminal charges are warranted. The credibility problems result from repeated questioning, a lack of reports, and cross-germination of allegations. The opportunity to obtain corroborating evidence, on the other hand, was largely lost forever by the filing of the original criminal charges in Scott County before the completion of thorough investigations. These concerns are set forth more fully below.
Repeated Questioning and Lack of Reports
Repeated interviewing and discussions about abuse undermine the credibility of witnesses. It can cause confusion in both adults and children. With children it raises the additional concern of suggestibility. According to experts, children may interpret repeated interviews as demands for more or different information than they have already given. In one Scott County case a trial court judge refused to allow into evidence the testimony of a nine-year- old who made some incriminating statements against his parents after being "interrogated" by his foster parents about the abuse. The judge notes that this child had steadfastly denied any criminal sexual conduct on the part of his parents until he had been placed with new foster parents, who questioned him extensively.
The repetitive pattern of questioning often occurred in circumstances which threatened the integrity of the children's responses. In many cases children were removed from their homes and isolated from all family contact for prolonged periods, even though the children denied having been sexually abused. In some instances, the children did not "admit" that their parents had abused them until several months of such separation, marked by continuous questioning about abuse. In the most extreme cases, these children were also told that reunification with their families would be facilitated by "admissions" of sex abuse by their parents and other adults.
The problem of over-interrogation was compounded by a lack of reports. For example, Scott County investigators' notes show that one nine-year-old girl was interviewed by law enforcement authorities approximately twenty times and yet there were only four written reports concerning those interviews. In addition, her meetings with the County Attorney are undocumented. That pattern was not at all unusual. Investigators' notes show that another child was interviewed by law enforcement officers over twenty times and yet there are reports from less than half of those interviews. In addition, on at least a half dozen occasions she met with the County Attorney, again with no reports on these meetings.
The County Attorney played a major role in interviewing and meeting with the children during the course of the investigation and in preparation for trial. In some instances, when children were picked up and taken from their parents' homes to be placed in foster care, they would first be brought directly to the County Attorney's office. In addition, the County Attorney or her staff would meet with and receive information from children about alleged abuse which would serve as a basis for a criminal complaint before law enforcement personnel actually spoke to the children about the new allegations. Again, the files contain little reference to those meetings.
The absence of reports with investigative personnel and the County Attorney makes it difficult to determine whether an individual has been consistent in making allegations. It makes it difficult or impossible to determine when and under what conditions claims of sexual abuse were made. It is standard procedure for law enforcement personnel to make out reports, particularly in instances where a witness says something of importance to the case, such as an accusatory statement. The lack of reports undermines the credibility of witnesses at trial by subjecting them to claims of recent fabrication.
State/federal investigators were faced with the lack of reports both in regard to allegations of sexual abuse and to statements about homicides. Although the children who made the homicide allegations spoke with investigators about murders in July, 1984, at the direction of the County Attorney reports concerning those interviews were not prepared until October, 1984, shortly before the criminal charges were dismissed.
The pattern of repeated questioning and the lack of reports permeated all levels of the original investigation. In addition to being interviewed by law enforcement and the County Attorney, the children often discussed sexual abuse with therapists, in some cases on a weekly basis. In some instances even foster parents and the drivers who took them to interviews questioned them about abuse.
As children continued to be interviewed the list of accused citizens grew. in a number of cases, it was only after weeks or months of questioning that children would "admit" their parents abused them.
In working with child sex abuse it is not unusual for children to initially deny being abused. In subsequent interviews they may finally admit what happened. However, the Scott County cases raise the issue of how long and how often one can continue to question children about abuse before running the risk of false accusation.
The children who told the homicide stories had been questioned repeatedly, over an extended period of time, about sex abuse. Some had initially denied being sexually abused by their parents until questioned over a period of months. In some instances, over a period of time, the allegations of sexual abuse turned to stories of mutilations, and eventually homicide.
The Scott County experience has demonstrated that in some instances prolonged interrogation of children may result in confusion between fact and fantasy. This conclusion was specifically drawn by the therapist of one alleged victim. The therapist believes that the repeated interrogation of this child has rendered him psychologically incapable of distinguishing among what actually happened, what he has previously described, and what has been told, by others.
Cross-Germination of Allegations
In addition to the problems of repeated interviewing and lack of reports, another concern which undermined the credibility of witnesses in these cases is "cross germination." In some instances witnesses were informed what other witnesses had stated. Sometimes, two children would be interviewed together. Some examples are set forth below.
In one case a twenty-one year old female described being interviewed by the Scott County Attorney when her eleven- ' year-old sister was also in the same office. She stated that her eleven-year old sister first described the abuse that she (the eleven-year-old) had allegedly endured. After hearing that story, the twenty -one year old claims she was then asked what information she had concerning the same individual in question.
An eighteen-year-old who admitted to abusing children was questioned about abuse by adults. He claims to have been provided with allegations of abuse made by another child concerning adults whom he knew. He stated that he was then asked to report on what abuse he observed concerning those adults.
The parents of a twelve-year-old child indicated that their daughter was questioned by law enforcement, then told what another child had said, and then questioned again.
In some instances young children were brought together and interviewed to discuss the allegations of abuse. In one instance this occurred during a therapy session in which a child was told that his sibling had made allegations against a parent. He was then asked to describe what had happened to him. On another occasion, during the one case that went to trial, child witnesses were provided with the same motel accommodations, ate meals together, and were otherwise permitted to have contact with each other.
The statement by James Rud also demonstrates the problem with cross-germination. In August, 1984, Rud gave a statement implicating eighteen adults in sexually abusing children. He later recanted that accusatory statement. Rud claimed to have obtained and reviewed copies of police reports regarding other defendants before he gave a statement implicating these individuals in the sexual abuse of children. It is interesting to note that in Rud's 113-page statement the only individuals identified by him were those whose names had been in the police reports, and all but one of whom had already been charged with a crime. The one not charged was a close acquaintance of a number of the defendants.
Finally, it should be noted that there is nothing per se improper about joint interviews of children. Some child sexual abuse investigators indicate that on rare occasions one may conduct a joint interview to limit the number of times a child will be questioned. However, in these cases the problem of cross-germination exacerbated the severe credibility problems already created by excessive interviewing of the children and the absence of reports to document the allegations made by the children.
The Absence of Corroborating Evidence
Corroborating evidence is evidence which confirms the verbal allegations of a crime victim. While corroboration is rarely an absolute legal requirement in a criminal case, it is always of the utmost importance. Absent corroboration, a criminal case boils a-own to a debate between the accuser and the accused. It is difficult for prosecutors to prevail in such cases.
Corroborating evidence is particularly critical to both the accuser and the accused in child sex abuse cases. In the interests of the accuser, corroboration is of immeasurable value to the credibility of a victim who may be impeached due to youth, or limited memory, or limited ability to communicate. In the interest of the accused, the search for corroboration protects individuals against unjust prosecution.
Corroboration for an allegation of child sex abuse comes in many forms. It may be in the form of physical instruments or evidence of abuse; or concurring accounts by other witnesses; or even incriminating statements by the suspect or another adult. In any event, all of these possibilities should- normally be well explored prior to the filing of criminal charges. Afterwards, evidence of either guilt or innocence is far more difficult to gather.
A major problem with the Scott County cases is that a thorough search for corroboration was generally not completed prior to the arrests. As a result, the cases rested almost exclusively upon the credibility of the children, credibility which was severely compromised. Most every opportunity to gather credible corroboration was consequently lost forever, long before the BCA/FBI investigation began.
Representatives of the Scott County Attorney said their office felt obliged to arrest suspects and remove children from homes with great dispatch whenever a new adult was identified as an abuser. In many instances, this resulted in persons being charged with abusing children, at a time when these children had either denied the abuse or had not even been interviewed.
For example, the neighbors of two former defendants described a meeting with the defendants following their arrest to discuss and review the complaint. During the meeting the neighbors learned for the first time that their own child was an alleged abuse victim of those very defendants. At that time, neither the children of the accused, nor the neighbors' child, had been questioned by authorities.
The central problem with which state and federal investigators were confronted when conducting their investigation was that many of the children had been questioned about sex abuse a large number of times. A therapist's report in February, 1984, notes one child who had already been interviewed by nine individuals about the alleged abuse. The mother of another child indicated that her daughter had been interviewed at least thirty and possibly as many as fifty times by law enforcement or Scott County authorities. A number of other children also were repeatedly interviewed.
In several other instances, parents were arrested and charged with Abusing their own children, even though those children denied the abuse through several weeks of interrogation and separation from their parents.
Likewise, the suspects themselves, their spouses, or friends, were seldom, if ever, interviewed prior to being charged. Thorough background investigations, prior to criminal accusations being brought, were not done.
Finally, the haste with which charges were brought often precluded a search for corroborating physical evidence. Surveillance techniques were not utilized. Search warrants were rarely obtained. In a number of instances there were allegations of individuals being involved in photographing victims. No warrant to search for those photographs was obtained at the time those individuals were arrested.
In the very few instances where searches were utilized, they were not always thorough. In the case of James Rud, on October 5, 1983, nine days after Rud's arrest, a Jordan police investigator arrived at the Rud trailer where he observed a stack of approximately twelve video cassette tapes and a large box containing what he believed to be pornographic materials. Rud's parents were present at the time and ordered the officer to leave. The investigator failed to seize the video cassettes or other materials. When he returned the next morning, the tapes and alleged pornography were gone.
The Scott County Attorney sought to compensate for an absence of corroborating evidence by inducing some defendants to testify against others. She indicated that the standard plea offer in these cases was for the defendant to plead guilty, undergo psychological evaluation and treatment. Most often, she indicated, treatment meant an in-house program at St. Peter State Hospital. The defendant would receive a stay of imposition, meaning if they completed their probation without incident, they would end up with a misdemeanor rather than felony record.
Former defendants also indicate that they were promised agreements which would provide them with no jail time, treatment and probation in exchange for their testimony. In one instance, a few days before he County Attorney dropped all criminal charges in these cases, two defendants were allegedly offered the dismissal of all charges if they would provide information about the alleged homicides. The defendants were also allegedly told that if they did not provide the information, the prosecution of the sex abuse charges would go forward. Their attorneys state that they recommended that their clients accept the offer if they had any information to give. The defendants refused the offer, indicating they simply had no Knowledge of any homicides.
In sum, with the single exception described below, none of the efforts to obtain incriminating evidence of sex abuse from the defendants or from other potential adult witnesses produced any fruit whatsoever.
The only defendant who accepted the County Attorney's offer of ,leniency in exchange for testimony was James Rud. James Rud is a confessed child abuser. He described in detail sexually abusing numerous children through cajoling, forced persuasion and violence. He faced charges of one hundred and eight counts of sexual abuse. If convicted on all counts, he faced the possibility of over 40 years in prison. The agreement offered by the County Attorney initially called for no jail time, but rather treatment at St. Peter State Hospital. That agreement was rejected by the trial court and replaced by one in which Rud would plead guilty to ten counts of abuse, and be sentenced on one. Sentences on the other nine counts would be delayed until after Rud completed his initial sentence and testified truthfully at trials of other defendants. Ninety-eight counts were dropped.
Rud gave a 113-page statement in which he implicated eighteen of the twenty-four defendants. He testified at the trial of two defendants accused of abuse. He was, however, unable to identify one of the accused. The jury was soon instructed to disregard his testimony because of legal issues regarding the propriety of the plea agreement.
In early November, 1984, Rud met with state/federal agents on at least two occasions. He was given polygraph examinations, one of which was inconclusive and a second one which he tailed. He had also met with attorneys representing the Attorney General’s Office who were handling the family court cases, in preparation for their hearings. These attorneys noted that Rud's testimony was 'troubling" because in a number of instances he could give no reasonable account of why he was at a particular party where he claimed to have observed adults sexually abusing children.
On November 20, 1984, Rud again met with state/federal agents who informed him that he tailed the second polygraph test. He then recanted his earlier statement about other adults being involved in child sex abuse. He denied ever attending any sex parties or that there was a "sex ring. He gave investigators the names of sixteen children, ranging in ages from five to twelve, male and female, whom he had sexually abused in 1981-83. He indicated that he knew several of the former Scott County defendants, but had no knowledge of their sexually abusing any children.
Rud claims that he felt pressured to fabricate the involvement of other adults in order to please the County Attorney and assure himself of a lighter sentence. Rud's public admission that he lied resulted in his losing the benefit of the plea arrangement originally offered by the Scott County Attorney. On January 18, 1985, Rud was sentenced to forty years in prison. The sentencing court noted that Rud's statements rendered him Ineffectual as a witness in any further proceedings.
Corroborating testimony for the sex abuse trials was also sought from older juveniles, who themselves admitted sexual involvement with child victims. The County Attorney gave these older juveniles immunity from prosecution as adults in exchange for testimony regarding other alleged abusers.
Most notable among these was an eighteen-year old who in January, 1984, admitted sexually abusing his nine-year-old sister and twelve-year-old brother. At that time, he also described observing his brother having intercourse with his sister and another juvenile girl in the Jordan area. Finally, he admitted having sexual contact with his step-mother's sister, but denied knowledge of any other adult sexual activity. In a June, 1984, statement he claimed that his brother and sister learned this sexual behavior from other children in the neighborhood and denied any knowledge of abuse by adults. He changed that story in July, 1984, when he gave a statement implicating his step-mother and seven other adults in sexual abuse of children. In November, 1984, however, this individual recanted the portion of his statement implicating other adults claiming he had done so only because Scott County authorities kept pressuring him. He did not recant his admissions about the sexual abuse he perpetrated on his siblings.
Similarly, another older juvenile implicated his own mother and other adults in sex abuse in exchange for criminal immunity. When interviewed by BCA and FBI agents, however, he recanted those allegations, alleging that he made them up out of fear of personal prosecution. At the time of his retraction he took a polygraph test administered by state/federal personnel. He passed that polygraph.
In conclusion, the search for corroborating evidence by the Scott County authorities came far too late to produce anything either useful or reliable. It would appear that this absence of corroboration was an extremely important factor in the dismissal of cases against 21 defendants by the Scott County Attorney.
Lack of New Evidence
The final factor in the decision to issue no new charges is the lack of new evidence. in spite of the intensive effort of state and, federal investigators, no evidence was uncovered which would corroborate the initial allegations of the children. There was, however, one individual who came forward claiming to have 'new," incriminating evidence regarding some of the Scott County defendants. The person is a juvenile who claimed to have been at a gathering where two of the defendant couples were sexually abusing children.
State investigators conducted two interviews with this witness. During the second interview they asked this witness to identify the photographs of the individuals alleged to have sexually abused children Though the witness was able to identify two of the children; the witness could not pick out the photograph of a woman whom he claims had given him oral sex on at least ten occasions. Upon further questioning he indicated that he had not actually witnessed acts of abuse by adults which he earlier claimed to had seen.
Investigators attempted to corroborate other parts of this story. They made use of a hidden body wire in an attempt to obtain incriminating statements from individuals the witness claimed knew about abuse. They spoke to individuals previously not questioned by Scott County authorities whom the witness claimed also were present when child sexual abuse occurred. These other interviews resulted in information directly contrary to the allegations of this new witness. As a result, the investigators concluded that statements from this individual were simply not reliable. As such, they could not be used to support the filing of any new criminal charges.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension concluded that there was no credible evidence of murders in Scott County connected to the activities of any child sex abuse ring. In addition, no reliable evidence of the existence of pornographic materials was discovered. Finally, their recommendation is that there is presently a lack of credible evidence which would provide a basis for pursuing any criminal charges in these cases.
There is no doubt that a number of children in Scott County were victims of sexual abuse. Yet, therapists treating them indicate that many of the children are presently unable to testify in further 'proceedings. Those able to testify face severe challenges to credibility due to repeated questioning, lack of reports and a cross-germination of information. Moreover, there is a lack of corroborating evidence to support these allegations. Under these "circumstances it would not be in the best interest of justice to continue these matters in a criminal forum.
The tragedy of Scott County goes beyond the inability to successfully prosecute individuals who may have committed child sexual abuse. Equally tragic is the possibility that some were unjustly accused and forced to endure long separations from their families.
Although criminal charges will not be forthcoming, this does not mean the children have been forgotten. In each of these cases there has been a thorough review of what actions should be taken to protect the children. The Hennepin, Ramsey and Dakota County Attorneys Offices provided the services of many of their most experienced family court attorneys to handle these cases. We are constrained by data privacy laws from speaking about specific actions in family court cases. Yet, the public should be aware that, where appropriate, the family court can and has required treatment, therapy, protective services, and ongoing monitoring of the family situation, even if criminal charges are never filed. Even if accused adults had not abused their children, the problems caused by long separations must be dealt with by the family as a whole. Family court can facilitate a healthy reunification of a family, regardless of whether sexual abuse has or has not been proven in a criminal courtroom. The role of family court is to promote the well-being of the family, in a safe and supportive environment. That goal is being met in these cases.
In addition, the Scott County cases have caused us to thoroughly review how child sex abuse cases should be handled. During the course of this investigation we conducted a survey of the handling of child abuse throughout the state. Using the Scott County experience in conjunction with the survey, we have developed 21 recommendations for improving the quality of child protection in Minnesota. it is clear that investigators, prosecutors, human service workers and therapists must all examine how they presently handle these cases in light of the Scott County experience. We should all benefit by understanding what went wrong in Scott County.
Both our survey and the Scott County experience should help spur on efforts to provide more intensive training in the handling of multi-disciplinary effort in investigating and processing these cases. In our survey of the handling of child abuse throughout the state, it is noted again and again that the system generally works well. In part, this is due to what a number of counties describe as a successful, coordinated effort in dealing with child abuse. In responding to that survey, one county sheriff succinctly addressed this issue:
"My observation is that counties that have a successful and professional child protection effort are those that understand and respect each other's abilities. This is the crux of the multi-disciplinary approach to child protection. It is a team effort that cannot be controlled by one team member...
In closing, I would like to add that child protection is best dealt with by local authorities. In the wake of a few bad examples of how investigations were conducted, I hope we don't lose sight of the fact that many of us have been doing a good job in this area."
It is hoped that our efforts to combat the horrors of child sexual abuse will not suffer as a result of what happened in Scott County. Yet, at the same time, we have been vividly reminded that in a just and democratic society, those in positions of public power must bring reason and good judgment to their discretion in the exercise of that power.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ACTION
During the course of the investigation of the Scott County cases, the Attorney General’s Office was also in the process of surveying child protection practices in Minnesota. Survey forms were sent to county attorneys, sheriffs, police departments and human services agencies in all 87 Minnesota counties. In addition, information was requested from various other states concerning the existence of training standards for individuals involved in child protection.
The survey was intended to provide a general overview of how the legal system in 14 Minnesota is handling child abuse cases. Our focus was on issues such as case load, training needs, general policies and guidelines, and recommendations for improving the system. It was not intended to achieve a comprehensive analysis of how ell the system functions in handling these cases. Moreover, in reviewing the survey responses, it is apparent that additional follow up and review is needed to more fully understand the problems and concerns facing those involved in child protection. We believe that, if a generalization is possible those involved in child protection are doing a very good job of protecting children while respecting the rights of the accused. The Scott County cases which we have reviewed must be seen as an aberration.
The survey, together with our Scott County experience, has led to development of recommendations for providing high quality child sexual abuse protection in Minnesota. Several of the more specific recommendations are established practices in many counties. Others are new. Thousands of child sex abuse cases have been successfully and properly handled by local prosecutors in Minnesota. Again we emphasize: the child protection system in Minnesota works well. Nevertheless, we can and should examine ways to improve it.
A final word of caution must precede our recommendations. Any item for child protection, especially involving sex abuse, is extremely complex. There is no single set of rules for how the problem of child sex abuse should be handled. Some counties may do things differently than suggested below and achieve outstanding results. The recommendations in this report are intended to serve spring board for a sensitive and well-informed public debate on subject. Participants in the debate should include: the legislature; county attorneys, who have primary jurisdiction in this area, law enforcement agencies; social welfare agencies, religious organizations; and other groups of interested citizens. To all of these we offer the following observations.
The importance of thorough, competent investigations in child sexual abuse cases cannot be overemphasized. A thorough investigation protects the innocent and provides greater certainty that the guilty will face the consequences of their conduct.
Many counties presently employ a multi-disciplinary team approach involving law enforcement, human services, and prosecution. A team approach may be the most effective means of handling child sex abuse. However, the functions of child protection and criminal investigation are distinct and separate. Law enforcement, human services and prosecution need to recognize their appropriate role distinctions.
Another key to competent investigation is adequate training. In our statewide survey of county attorneys, 100% of those responding cited a need for increased training for law enforcement officials involved in child sex abuse cases. Law enforcement officers involved in child abuse investigations should have some background in child 'development and psychology. This would prove helpful in questioning children and evaluating their statements. Similarly, there is a recognized need for increased training for human services workers involved in child protection. Both human services and law enforcement personnel concurred in recognizing the need to improve skills in this area. Adequate resources, both state and local, must be made available for training purposes.
There is no consensus on the specific number of times a child should be interviewed prior to trial. Responses to our survey indicate there is a consensus that contacts be minimized. On occasion, repeated meetings may be necessary to obtain the full story or allay a child's fears about the court process. Nevertheless, the Scott County experience has demonstrated the difficulties that develop from repeated questioning and a lack of reports, especially when the child has been isolated from family and provided inducements to talk about abuse.
In regard to the human services component of investigation, a number of survey respondents cited a need to remove what is known as the 'Tennessen warning" in child abuse investigation. The "Tennessen warning" requires that individuals being asked to provide what is defined as private or confidential information to state agents should be informed as to (1) whether he or she may legally refuse to give the data; (2) any known consequences of providing or refusing to provide the data; (3) and the identities of persons or entities authorized to receive the data. Law enforcement is already exempt from giving this warning because of the obvious concern that giving it hinders the investigative process. Because of the investigative process involved in any child abuse inquiry, such an exemption is also warranted for human services workers. This proposal is already being reviewed by the Minnesota County Attorney's Association.
Law enforcement officers involved in child abuse investigation may benefit from more extensive training in that area. This includes a need for training in child development and psychology and interviewing techniques.
Investigation of child sexual abuse should involve a team approach, including law enforcement, human services, and prosecution personnel. Such an approach should involve extensive communication from initial entry into the case until final disposition. This will also help limit the number of interviews.
Where appropriate, search warrants should be used extensively in an attempt to obtain corroborative physical evidence.
Basic to any interviewing of child witnesses are three standard and routine procedures.
Remove the requirement that human services personnel give "Tennessen warnings' when investigating child abuse cases.
Prosecuting attorneys play a central role in the handling of child abuse cases. They have the responsibility of presenting evidence in both criminal and child dependency and neglect cases. It is essential that prosecuting attorneys maintain good working relationships with human services and law enforcement personnel so that investigative problems do not hamper prosecution efforts.
Prosecutors must insure that cases have been adequately investigated before criminal complaints are filed.
It is important that prosecutors work with child victims to ease their anxiety about the court process. However, the Scott County cases have raised the issue of how close and how much contact the prosecutor should have with child victims.
Prosecutors must also recognize a separation of investigative and prosecution functions. The ABA standards on prosecution functions provide that although prosecutors have an affirmative duty to investigate suspected illegal activity when it is not being adequately dealt with by other agencies, they should ordinarily rely on police and other investigative agencies for investigation.
As prosecutors recognize, the protection of children involves more than just successful prosecution of the offender. From the moment the state intervenes in the family unit until the family problem is resolved, prosecutors must seek to protect children. This requires a recognition and consideration of the impact of the prosecution's effort on the well-being of the child. Prosecutors recognize that, unless termination of parental rights is appropriate, offenders and victims will eventually be reunited. As such, where appropriate, the child's relationship with the family unit should be maintained. This involves attempting removal of the abusing party, rather than victims, from the home. The 1984 Minnesota legislature provided judges with the authority to remove abusers from the house pursuant to Minn. Stat. S 260.191 suba lb (1984).
There are, of course, circumstances when the protection of children requires their removal from the home. However, the removal of a large number of children from their homes in these Scott County cases is not indicative of how other counties operate. In Hennepin County, for instance, less than two percent of the child protection cases result in removal of children from homes.
In responding to our survey, prosecutors also recognized the need for training. It should be noted that the Justice Assistance Act of 1985 provides the opportunity for Minnesota to receive over $900,000 in matching funds to assist in improving the criminal justice system. The Attorney General’s Office has worked with the Governor's Interagency Task Force on Criminal Justice in directing that those funds be used to improve the handling of child sexual abuse cases. This includes funding for increased training for prosecutors, law enforcement, human services, treatment and other personnel involved in these cases.
Therapists play an important and necessary role in dealing with child sexual abuse. Working closely with victim, family and perpetrator, they can help the child 6eal with the effects of abuse and aid in bringing families together. they are necessary experts in family court cases. Even if reported abuse did not occur, therapists can and need to work with the child and the family to help resolve the underlying problems.
In working with sexually abused children questions are raised regarding the role of therapists. Should the therapists perceive themselves as part of the prosecution team or is their role a more neutral one? Is it appropriate and under what circumstances, should therapists act as investigators?
Recognition of the scope and seriousness of the problems of child abuse has only recently come to the forefront of public awareness. Many issues regarding the treatment and handling of victims are only beginning to be understood. How long should children remain in therapy when they deny being victims? What "incentives" should therapists use in trying to get children to admit they have been abused? To what type of "education" process concerning sexuality should children abused or suspected of being abused be exposed? These and other issues must be more fully explored.
Both the Scott County experience and our survey responses indicate a need for independent psychologists to counsel both victims and families. Regardless of the outcome of criminal or family court actions, victims and families must be aided in dealing with the underlying abuse and problems that may develop as a result of separation and court action.
HUMAN SERVICES/FOSTER CARE
Our statewide review of child abuse projects that human services agencies experienced almost a twenty-five percent increase in child abuse cases in 1964. The director of Pipestone County Human Services sums up the problem:
Pipestone County has experienced a two hundred percent increase in child abuse, neglect in period August through September, 1984. For a small rural county agency, 25 new cases, involving 27 children,, of which 12 of these cases were complaints of sexual abuse, from August 1, 1984 to October 16, 1984, is scary. We need action and especially need training and additional assistance.
The survey also indicates wide disparity in training and background of child protection personnel, as well as case loads. Using the survey results, we compared the projected number of abuse cases in 1984 (based on nine-month statistics) to the number of full-time equivalent staff positions. The result was an estimate of the number of investigations per full-time positions. The range was nine investigations per full-time position in one county to 116 in another. Follow-up review is needed to analyze this data.
There are many concerns which should be reviewed more thoroughly by the Department of Human Services. For example, what is the appropriate role of the State Department of Human Services when local agencies handle child abuse oases? Is there a need for closer monitoring by the state in this area? Is there a need for establishing uniform training or licensing standards for individuals involved in child protection?
Another important issue that needs to be addressed is the delicate balance between protecting the child and keeping the family together. In some Scott County cases, children were removed from the home at a time when there were allegations of abuse against only one parent. The question arises as to when and under what circumstances should children be removed from a home? As set forth in Minn. Stat. S 260.015 (1984), whenever possible, attempts must be made to preserve the family unit.
The use of foster care must also be examined. What type of training is required of foster care providers? What is their proper relationship with the prosecutor? In at least one Scott County case, questioning of a child by the foster parents resulted in that child's testimony being ruled inadmissible in court.
Visitation becomes an issue after a child is in foster care. Everyone involved in child protection has concerns about victims being intimidated by an accused parent, even during supervised visitation. Nevertheless, total isolation from members of even the extended family unit is a serious concern. It presents major barriers to eventual reunification of the family.
We need to understand that very few child sexual abuse cases result in termination of parental rights. Even if an offender serves time in jail, eventually he or she will return to the family. Again, the stated objective of family court is to preserve and strengthen family ties.
The report on the FBI/BCA investigation did not focus on the role of the courts, a major component in handling child abuse cases. After the conclusion of the one case that went to trial there was concern about the trauma child witnesses possibly had to endure. A number of survey respondents felt a need to re-examine trial procedures and rules of evidence to provide more protection for child victim/witnesses. The question of how to achieve the protection in a manner consistent with the constitutional rights of the accused is a difficult issue to resolve. Much of this is dependent on the sensitivity and training of trial judges.
Proposals have been made which would allow judges to protect children by rules of cross-examination. We recognize that in seeking to protect child witnesses, any proposal that limits the right of cross-examination may raise constitutional issues. Those concerns carry greater weight in a criminal action where loss of liberty is a potential penalty. In family court the trial judge may have greater discretion in protecting child witnesses.
In addition, in dependency and neglect cases a family court judge presently does not have jurisdiction over the parents. In certain instances the court's ability to achieve its goal of family unification can be more effectively achieved if it were to have authority over parents at the disposition stage of a case.
Delays in disposition of cases are also a major concern. Delays or continuances in these cases have both a negative impact on children and the families. For example, an important consideration is the effect that time has on the memories of young witnesses. In addition, families should not suffer the pain of separation for an unduly long period of time. By requiring speedy action one sets in motion the possibility of early treatment or other corrective actions needed to reunite the family.
Another area of concern is the need to provide greater anonymity for both victims and the accused. Minnesota Statutes, sections 3641 to 3644 are outlined as various degrees of intrafamilial sexual abuse. The mere filing of a criminal complaint under these provisions almost invariably results in the victim being identified as a family member. In our survey, one county attorney noted that the mere filing of charges is more devastating to the victim than to the accused.
Finally, it must be recognized that the Scott County experience has and will continue to have an impact on the prosecution of child sexual abuse. It has provided an opportunity to challenge the credibility of children by claims of manipulation. This is an unfortunate occurrence because the Scott County experience is simply not representative of how these cases are handled elsewhere in Minnesota.
Finally, a brief note regarding the City of Jordan. It is accurate to state that the City of Jordan should also be listed among the victims of the so-called sex-ring cases. Over sixty of its citizens were either charged with or suspected of abusing over one hundred children. State/federal investigators simply do not believe that accusations of such wide-spread abuse were accurate. The citizens of Jordan, most importantly the children, both those who were abused and those who were not, have suffered as a result of these public accusations. The impact those accusations have had on the community may well be extensive and far-reaching. At the same time, the precise nature of the impact will likely be difficult to discern.
We have an obligation to the citizens of Jordan to help address, treat and learn from these unfortunate events. This is an opportunity to develop a positive conclusion to this story for the citizens of Jordan and for the citizens of Minnesota.
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