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Letters 10-20-2014

Doctor Dan? After several email conversations with Rep. Benishek, he has confirmed that he doesn’t have a clue of what he does. Here’s why...

In Favor Of Our Parks [Traverse] City Proposal 1 is a creative way to improve our city parks without using our tax dollars. By using a small portion of our oil and gas royalties from the Brown Bridge Trust Fund, our parks can be improved for our children and grandchildren.

From January 1970 Popular Mechanics: “Drastic climate changes will occur within the next 50 years if the use of fossil fuels keeps rising at current rates.” That warning comes from Eugene K. Peterson of the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management.

Newcomers Might Leave: Recently we had guests from India who came over as students with the plan to stay in America. He has a master’s degree in engineering and she is doing her residency in Chicago and plans to specialize in oncology. They talked very candidly about American politics and said that after observing...

Someone Is You: On Sept 21, I joined the 400,000 who took to the streets of New York in the People’s Climate March, followed by a UN Climate Summit and many speeches. On October 13, the Pentagon issued a report calling climate change a significant threat to national security requiring immediate action. How do we move from marches, speeches and reports to meaningful work on this problem? In NYC I read a sign with a simple answer...

Necessary To Pay: Last fall, Grand Traverse voters authorized a new tax to fix roads. It is good, it is necessary.

The Real Reasons for Wolf Hunt: I have really been surprised that no one has been commenting on the true reason for the wolf hunt. All this effort has not been expended so 23 wolves can be killed each year. Instead this manufactured controversy about the wolf hunt has been very carefully crafted to get Proposal 14-2 passed.

Home · Articles · News · Features · How a pedophile slipped through...
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How a pedophile slipped through the cracks

Anne Stanton - March 9th, 2009
How a pedophile slipped through the cracks
Anne Stanton 3/9/09

Last week, Northern Express reported on how a respite worker for the Northwest Child Guidance Center had sexually assaulted a number of boys before he was finally caught and convicted. Yet this guy was trouble—the police knew, the courts knew, and Child Protective Services knew. So how did he get hired? This article explores the answer.



What are the chances that another serial pedophile like Robert Becker could get a job with the local school district or a nonprofit in town?
Actually, pretty good.
That’s because a lot of schools and nonprofits still rely on the same kind of background check that failed in the case of Robert Becker, a serial pedophile who is now in prison for sexually assaulting a young teen boy six years ago and nearly killing a police officer. [See the complete story in last week’s issue: www.northernexpress.com.]
As reported last week, Becker had been hired as a respite worker by Northwest Michigan Child Protective Services. Over a period of one year to 18 months, he sexually assaulted a 13-year-old boy, while threatening to do the same to his two younger brothers if he ever told anyone. The victim finally confided in a counselor, leading to Becker’s conviction. The victim sued the successor to the Child Guidance Center alleging that Child Guidance failed to do an adequate background check. The case was settled out of court last fall for an undisclosed sum.
But it wasn’t only the Child Guidance Center that thought Becker’s record was “clean.” So did the Traverse City Area Public Schools and the Traverse Bay Area ISD, which had also employed Becker.

NOT ENOUGH
That’s because the standard background check isn’t fail-proof. Here’s what many schools and nonprofits do and why it’s not enough:
• Require that a volunteer self-report any arrests or convictions. Problem: People can and do lie.
• Consult the state and national sex offender registries. Problem: If a pedophile has only been accused of a sex crime, but never convicted, he won’t appear on the registry.
• Obtain an ICHAT report from the Michigan State Police. Problem: The report reflects convictions only. It does not contain any arrest reports that do not culminate with a conviction (unless it’s a current and open investigation).
• Check with the FBI for fingerprints to determine if there have been any arrests. Problem: Anyone whose arrest did not result in a conviction can file a petition with the court to have his or her fingerprint records or DNA information expunged from the public record.
The victim’s attorney, Blake Ringsmuth, contended that the Child Guidance Center should have also made the extra effort to check Becker’s record with local police and courts.
“We argued that this guy, Becker, had lived in Grand Traverse County all of his life, and all of his bad acts occurred right here. Even a passing inquiry to local agencies would have revealed a number of criminal activities, not the least of which was inappropriate contact with children,” he said.
“When we got involved in this case, all we did was file a FOIA with the Michigan State Police just like anyone else could. And we got reams of information, reams of criminal activity that the local police had on Becker. It was as simple as that. Boom! When the officials at Child Guidance were asked about it, they kind of shrugged as if to say, ‘Why would we do that?’”

PATTERN OF ASSAULTS
A police report, of course, is not necessarily true as it may include unfounded allegations. And a person who is deemed innocent—or has never been charged—should not be treated in the same way as a convicted criminal, said Carol Stocking, the 86th District Court administrator, who oversees hundreds of cases a year.
“In this country, you are still innocent until proven guilty. Just because someone is charged, doesn’t make him a criminal. There’s a real danger in assuming that. I think we all know someone who’s been unfairly charged with a crime, but was later cleared,” she said.
Ringsmith countered that a pattern of sexual assault accusations against a child needs to be taken seriously even if there never has been a conviction. That’s because pedophiles typically target troubled youth, whose testimony is dubious to juries and police. In Becker’s case, it always came down to his word against the word of his victims—kids who had a history of lying or stealing or just plain getting into trouble.
“We’re not talking about the legal presumption of innocence to put someone in jail. We’re talking about whether to give someone like Becker a job that involves children. There is no way that should happen. Handing Becker a job as a respite worker is like giving him a seat at the buffet table.”

TIME AND MONEY
Getting a background check from Child Protective Services is free—the person whose background is getting checked must ask for it. Obtaining a police report is also easy and cheap and requires filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Michigan State Police. Anyone can do it. It might help to first contact the local police department to help with the wording or to provide case numbers.
Beyond filing an FOIA, it’s also easy and inexpensive to call the district court and circuit court to determine if charges have ever been filed against a particular person. The 13th Circuit Court records are online and free to access; the 86th District Court has a public terminal. Detailed records and transcripts, however, are expensive.
All this takes time and money, but the Becker case reflects the cost of not going the extra mile. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Michigan routinely checks with local police and courts, believing that it must do everything it can to protect children.
If a nonprofit is truly ambitious about screening for pedophilia, there are also tests available. Previous screening tests were banned in Michigan because of civil rights challenges, but a new test—the Diana screen—is now available and can detect individuals with a sexual penchant for children. The screen is not perfect with a 50 percent false positive and the test can be beaten. But it’s still useful, said John Ulrich, a therapist who administers the test.
“Say you have 100 people who take it and 10 score as a potential pedophile. Let’s say, upon further investigation five were okay and five of them weren’t. If you didn’t do the Diana screen, you wouldn’t have caught any of them,” he said.
Each screening test would cost about $300 to administer and score—a big expense for small agencies with tight budgets, said Susan McQuaid, volunteer director for United Way.
Susan McQuaid, director of volunteers for the United Way, said her agency currently does not file FOIA requests with the local police or call the local courts. Instead it relies on the standard background check described above.
“But cases like this are frightening enough, we have to consider how to best protect our clients—not only children, but the elderly as well,” she said. “The United Way is here to recruit and connect to support volunteerism in Northern Michigan. Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done when you have to deal with judgment calls and background checks of sexual offenders.”
The family of the victim believes we need the muscle of law to protect children. The Garcia family of Traverse City is lobbying legislators for a new law—Michael’s Law—to require an arrest history be done on anyone who works closely with children.


 
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