Friday, November 11, 2016

Report: Dean Dankelson swept Joplin High School child porn scandal under the rug

It was the talk of Joplin in April 2015.

More than 100 nude photos of Joplin High School girls, some as young as 14, were circulating through use of the Dropbox application and through texting.

Students were taken to the Joplin Police Department for questioning. After all, these were photos of underage girls, which opened the possibility that child pornography charges could be filed.

Some of the male students who were allegedly circulating the photos had already passed their 18th birthday, which meant they could be charged as adults.

The last information that was released about the case was that the police had applied for a search warrant for Dropbox.

And then nothing...until Thursday night.

That's when, thanks to the only top-flight investigative reporter working for a traditional media outlet in this area, KOAM's Jordan Aubey, we learned why the Dropbox scandal died shortly after it became public.

In the community, some felt Joplin R-8 officials, already going through a horrendous public relations situation with soon-to-depart Superintendent C. J. Huff's attacks on board member Debbie Fort and newly-elected board member Jennifer Martucci, had waited for the initial explosion to pass then quietly made sure nothing happened.

It was what many thought would happen anyway since many of those involved in the Dropbox scandal, some distributing the nude photos and others being featured in them, were among the "popular" students at JHS.

Others thought it was the Joplin Police Department that put the matter to rest.

Thanks to some old fashioned shoe leather reporting and use of the Sunshine Law, Aubey uncovered the truth.

The Joplin Police Department's investigation determined that misdemeanor charges should be filed against three Joplin High School students and forwarded that recommendation to the Jasper County Prosecuting Attorney.

Nineteen months later, the department has yet to hear from Dean Dankelson. And no charges have been filed.

KOAM's report came during a sweeps period when television stations use all kinds of special series to draw audiences. The bigger the audience, the more the stations can charge for advertising. In the promotions for this series on sexting, which also includes reports on what schools are doing to cope with the problem and what parents can do, the emphasis is more on sexting as a serious social problem, which it is,  The topic also grabs the attention.

But the meat in Aubey's reporting and what should concern Joplin and Jasper County residents the most is the indication that the prosecuting attorney, who is less than two months away from being Division II judge, failed to press even misdemeanor charges.

From the KOAM report:

Joplin police requested misdemeanor charges against the three students, based on probable cause.
"Probable cause is defined as what a reasonable person would believe," says (Joplin Police Captain Bob) Higginbotham.

Joplin police say they never received a response from Jasper County Prosecutor Dean Dankelson.

Police requested criminal charges a second time, this time felonies, one year after the alleged sexting incidents happened.

"The media inquiry on this case prompted us to go back and re-examine any crimes that hadn't been prosecuted here. The timeline is such that misdemeanor charges were no longer available to us. But felony charges, under the state law, were available to us. So, just to be sure that we didn't meet the community's needs and not see justice done, we decided rather than compromise the case and put it out for public consumption, we put it to the prosecutor again," says Higginbotham.

E-mails between police and investigators show numerous attempts to get a response from Dankelson. But again, according to police, the county prosecutor gave no reply.

Dankelson refused to comment on the case citing ethical concerns and said the case remains open and that charges could be filed if new evidence comes to light.

The Joplin Police did not appear to take that statement seriously, noting that no new evidence was going to come to light at this point.

Not commenting because of ethical considerations is a bit ironic coming from a public official who has recently come under fire for accepting $5,000 in contributions connected to Jordan Disposal at a time when Andrew Aaron Jordan, a member of the family that runs that business, is awaiting trial on felony drug and weapons charges. Dankelson confirmed to the Globe that his campaign had sought the contribution, though he claims that it was someone working for his campaign who contacted the five people, all of whom gave identical $1,000 contributions, which were used to pay off his debt to the media company that produced the last minute ads that he used to defeat Stephen Carlton in the August primary.

Dankelson initially talked about returning the $5,000, but apparently ethical concerns did not lead him to go through with that and he said he would keep the money, instead asking that an outside prosecutor be appointed for Andrew Jordan.

In his 30 days after the election campaign finance report, Dankelson was able to pay off another $4,500 debt to the same media company by calling on some of the attorneys whose cases his office prosecutes, including a $2,000 contribution from the Glades Law Firm.

Dankelson's handling of cases involving Ace Mohr, 23, Carthage, has also come under scrutiny. In the past two years, Dankelson has dropped two armed robbery charges against Mohr and did not bother to file charges, though they were recommended by the Joplin Police Department, against Mohr after an armed robbery in August at 7th and Moffet.

Though Mohr is awaiting trial on numerous charges of possession and sale of controlled substances, including heroin and methamphetamines and was charged with receiving stolen property, when he was arrested at Ernie Williamson Music in Joplin September 3 with instruments taken from the Racine Christian Church, Dankelson's office made no objections when Mohr's attorney asked for a drastically reduced bond that has put Mohr back on the streets.

Questions have also been raised about Dankelson's lack of actions concerning the state audit of the City of Joplin. The audit uncovered serious problems concerning former Joplin City Councilman Mike Woolston, former City Manager Mark Rohr, Joplin businessman Charlie Kuehn, Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce President Rob O'Brian, and those involved with bringing Wallace Bajjali to Joplin.

Dankelson said he never received anything from the state auditor.

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Anonymous said...

So they want to charge the boys for receiving the pics but not the girls for producing and distributing child porn? Sexism at its finest.

Anonymous said...

Lol really their Kids... If you went to any High School in the state of Missouri and took every kids phones and looked through them every school in the state would Have a case going on about Kids sharing pics.. Is it right NO but should you ruin a kids life b/c their doing something that goes on in every school No.. If they weren't kids arrest them and all that but come on.... If you don't thank High school Kids are having Sex you people need to wake up !!

Anonymous said...

You will find kids doing drugs and drinking at every school. Sexting. Bullying. So, should we ignore all of it since it's so widespread, or should we act like responsible adults and hold them accountable for their actions, both genders, and teach them how to behave responsibly and how to be productive citizens? The comments above are a clear sign of what is wrong with today's children. They lack responsible adults in their lives. It's so easy to give in or focus on anything but the real issue at hand.

Anonymous said...

or should we act like responsible adults and hold them accountable for their actions, both genders, and teach them how to behave responsibly and how to be productive citizens?

After they're registered sex offenders, and apparently because of the statue of limitations on misdemeanors vs. felonies, to become convicted felons, just how, pray tell, will they become "productive citizens"?

There's something particularly perversely sinister about how this plays out today:

"Sexting it's bad for you."

"Why is it bad for me?"

"If we catch you doing it, we'll ruin the rest of your life!"

Anonymous said...

Dankelson may be a buffoon but he made the right call here. Prosecuting kids for sexting and thereby branding them as sex offenders for the rest of their lives does nothing to help anyone.

Anonymous said...

No I'm just not willing to brand a kid a sex offender for the rest of their lives for sharing pics... alcohol and bullying won't make it to where the kids can't get a job or vote or own a gun and many other things.. In my Opinion there's a big difference between said actions.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't the charges fall under juvenile, thus preventing it from ruining lives?

Anonymous said...

You know, if that technology was available when I was young, I can't say I wouldn't have taken advantage of it. I became a productive citizen with a long crime free career and I am retired. It appears that Mr. Turner, now that he doesn't have C.J. to target, has switched to Dankleson.

Dankleson made the right call, even if Mr. Turner disagrees.

Anonymous said...

@4:05 not if they're 17.

Anonymous said...

Adults don't get charged as juveniles.

"Some of the male students who were allegedly circulating the photos had already passed their 18th birthday, which meant they could be charged as adults."