Monday, October 29, 2018

The Neosho High School athlete and the alleged sex crime that no longer exists in court records

As I was going through my Facebook messages Sunday night, I found one that I had overlooked for  several days because it was not from one my Facebook friends.

She ripped into me for my decision not to mention the name of a Neosho High School senior athlete who was charged with a sex crime when I posted the article October 10.

Though the description that was offered of the alleged offense in the probable cause statement sounded serious enough for it to be considered a felony, one reason that caused me to post it, the teen was charged with a misdemeanor so I omitted his name.

Legally, it would not have been a problem for me if I had identified him. At 17, he was legally an adult in Missouri and was his name was listed in a public record that was available on Newton County Circuit Court online records.

This reader was one of many who criticized my decision and some made good points in favor of printing the young man's name.

Another part of her message bothered me considerably more.

She was convinced that I did not print the young man's name because his alleged victim was a member of a minority group.

Until I read the woman's message, I had no idea the victim was a minority and I would hope Turner Report readers are aware by now, it would not have had made a difference.

This is what I wrote October 10:

An 18-year-old Neosho High School student has been charged with misdemeanor sexual abuse following an incident in which he fondled another student, exposed himself and attempted to force her to perform a sex act on him.

According to the probable cause statement, the incident occurred between 11 and 11:30 p.m. September 8, near the area of the high school parking lot. The young man kept rubbing the victim's buttocks and her genital area though she had told him to stop.

The young man kept trying to convince the victim to perform oral sex on him, according to the statement. Though she told him no, "(he) became somewhat aggressive, grabbing the victim by the back of the head and throat area with both of his hands and forcing the victim's head down near his groin where his exposed penis was over the top of his black Adidas shorts."

The victim was able to avoid contact with the penis, according to the probable cause statement and was able to move to the other side of the vehicle. She asked him to take her to her own vehicle, which he did.

As she was returning to her vehicle, the report said, the young man called out, "Bye, whore. Kidding, love you."

Normally, I would not have known who the alleged victim was at all. Names of victims in all kinds of cases are scrupulously redacted in Missouri judicial records, but for some reason, whether it was a mistake or perhaps misdemeanors are handled differently, the victim's name was in the public record this time.

I have a policy of not mentioning the names of victims and alleged victims of sex crimes, even when I am aware of them. An example is the case of the former Rangeline Sonic supervisor who faces statutory sodomy charges. I know who the alleged victim is in that case because the name was included in the lawsuit against the company, but I did not mention it in the stories on the lawsuit, nor in the articles about the man's court hearings.

When I saw the name this time, I did not look at it as the name of someone from a minority group. I looked on it as the name of a possible victim.

And now, as far as I can determine, either the charge against the young man has been dropped (though charges can always be refiled) or it has been reclassified as some kind of juvenile case and is no longer in the Newton County Circuit Court records.

There are many reasons why the case may have been dropped. There may have been a lack of evidence. Perhaps the girl did not want to testify. Sometimes people change their stories.

Unless the case is refiled, we may not ever learn.

The reactions to the case have been enlightening.

In the "Me, Too" era people are quick to assume that the accused is guilty and while there are few cases of alleged victims lying about being sexually assaulted, it has happened. We are fortunate to no longer live in a time where a rapist could not be convicted unless a third party actually saw him commit the act.

On the other hand, some people were skeptical of the girl's story because they could not believe she had allowed him to drive her back to her car.

I don't know what experiences the people who made those comments have had, but it is easy to say you would not have stayed in the car with the young man if he tried to do that to you. None of us know how we would act in this situation.

Hopefully, we will never have to find out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It caused me to pause when I read she got in the car with him, thinking “why would she get in the car with him”. Then I realized she’s a teenager, many of their choices don’t make sense. I’m not sure how I would handle the situation now, much less when I was a teenager.