HOUSTON – She’s a Houston housewife and mother who criticized the Harris County legal system on TV. The reason? Her young daughter had been sexually assaulted, but it seemed to this mother that little was being done about arresting the culprit.
Now the prosecutor’s office that handled her daughter’s case is charging the mother with a crime: failure to report child abuse. But her family and child abuse experts say it appears to be nothing but retaliation by a vindictive DA for "the real crime" of speaking out.
(Note: KHOU is withholding the names of the housewife and any family members in order to protect the identity of the sex crime victim in this story.)
"This makes no sense," the woman’s stepfather said. "That’s wrong. It’s inappropriate. It’s re-victimizing her. And they’re attempting to ruin her life, in my opinion."
It started in January of this year, when KHOU received a phone call from the mother.
She said that the Children’s Assessment Center, a Houston-run facility that specializes in assessing children who may have been abused, confirmed that her daughter had been molested and sexually assaulted by her husband. On top of it, her husband had voluntarily confessed to police that he had, indeed, molested children.
But weeks had since passed and her now-estranged husband had still not been arrested.
In a television interview with the 11 News Defenders, the mother described how the police officer handling her case had repeatedly promised an arrest on a particular date. But she claimed that date would come and go with no arrest.
Frustrated, she said she called the officer and was told that it wasn’t unusual in "these types of cases" for an arrest not to occur until nine weeks had passed.
Eventually, the mother decided to tape her next conversation with that officer, which was later broadcast on KHOU.
In the taped exchange, he explained the delay:
" I’ve got 100 of these that I’m actually working on literally...and there’s no way you can work ‘em with any kind of consistency and keep up."
Then, the 11 News Defenders started placing phone calls and asking for comment and posing questions to the Harris County District Attorney’s office, the Children’s Assessment Center, and even the police case officer himself. Six weeks after her husband’s confession and just as KHOU aired its story on the situation, he was finally arrested. The husband is now serving a 20-year prison sentence for aggravated sexual assault.
In addition, KHOU went on to discover and report on hundreds of similar cases where the arrest of pedophiles had been delayed by at least a month, and sometimes much longer.
And now, months after our final report, the Harris County District Attorney wants to arrest someone else – the mother.
The arrest warrant accuses her of knowing her husband was a danger to her daughter in June of 2009 and that she endangered her daughter by not immediately reporting the possible crime.
In a previous interview with KHOU, the mother said that she indeed had discovered her husband downloading child pornography on his computer. The mother told reporter Jeremy Rogalski that she was in shock and even frightened, but that she followed her first impulse to take her kids and leave her husband. The mother said that from that point on they lived apart. The husband, whom she described as the only source of income for the family, continued to support them, although she said he was not allowed to see the children.
But in December of 2009, the husband reoffended again with the child of a family friend. Then, that crime and the assault of the daughter were reported to the authorities.
Now, the mother could face jail time.
However, child abuse experts say the mother’s reaction to the discovery her mate was a sex criminal wasn’t unusual and was almost typical. They also say that fact is something the DA should know, and that charging the mother in these sorts of circumstances is very surprising.
"This is a case of systemic failure at the most destructive, it’s most counter-productive, for the community and, more importantly, for the child," Steven Lightfoot, president of Justice for Children, a Houston-based child advocacy group.
In addition, the organization’s chairman Randy Burton, an attorney and former Harris County Chief Prosecutor, said what’s happening does not seem like justice.
"We have seen repeated examples" he says, where officials "have neglected their duty to aggressively and competently investigate child abuse cases and take offenders off the street."
And for Burton, that makes the present situation even worse.
"When a protective mother who is not trained in the law…tries to get criminal charges filed against a child molester and speaks out when the system fails her child, she is prosecuted," Burton said, adding that "prosecuting her for failure to timely report after the mother spoke to the media about the Sheriff’s Office and the Children’s Assessment Center’s failure to act smacks of selective prosecution by the Child Abuse Unit at the DA’s office."
Which is exactly what the family thinks.
"Denise Oncken, the district attorney prosecuting the case, warned my daughter, my stepdaughter, on numerous occasions, in front of witnesses, not to talk to the press, or there would be consequences," the mother’s stepfather said. He added that there were also numerous witnesses to the alleged statements.
In fact, the mother’s family was so angry that Tuesday it went to Houston City Council to plead for help.
And what did the Harris County DA have to say about the controversy?
Late Tuesday, Donna Hawkins of the DA’s office sent KHOU a written statement. In its entirety it reads:
"Our duty as prosecutors is to see that justice is done. In that regard, criminal cases are filed based on the facts and the evidence presented to us by law enforcement. An independent magistrate made a finding of probable cause in this case on July 30th."Blogger Labels: Harris,News,Channel,FATHER,prison,District,Attorney,HOUSTON,system,daughter,culprit,office,crime,failure,retaliation,Note,KHOU,victim,woman,life,opinion,January,Children,Assessment,Center,husband,television,officer,cases,conversation,consistency,confession,situation,addition,danger,June,computer,reporter,Jeremy,Rogalski,impulse,kids,income,December,friend,authorities,reaction,discovery,fact,Steven,Lightfoot,president,Justice,advocacy,organization,Randy,Burton,Chief,Prosecutor,street,Sheriff,prosecution,Child,Abuse,Unit,Denise,Oncken,consequences,Council,controversy,Late,Donna,Hawkins,statement,members,Defenders,examples,offenders,statements,housewife,stepfather,weeks,wasn