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Model citizen or monster.

Patrick Sullivan - July 11th, 2011
Model Citizen or Monster:The wide gulf between how people view a foster granddad accused of molestation
By Patrick Sullivan
There are two portraits of Jere Clark to choose from: a solid citizen who
takes care of troubled children in Bellaire or a monster who preys on
them.
The gulf between them is wider than the Jordan River Valley.
At the end of a preliminary hearing in April to determine if there was
enough evidence to prove Clark molested a foster child in the care of his
family, lawyers argued over whether Clark should be freed on bail while
the case wound its way through 86th District Court.
Clark owns 160 acres in Antrim County, his defense attorney, Steven
Freeman argued. What’s more, he’s lived in the county since the age of
six; he had supporters in the courtroom ready to vouch for him and he was
willing to wear a tether and surrender his passport if released.
Freeman said later he believes the allegations against Clark were spurred
by over-zealous investigators and have been planted into the heads of the
accusers.
Not so fast, argued Erin House, special assistant attorney general who is
working with the county prosecutor’s office on the case.
House depicted the 69-year-old who spent the bulk of his life on a farm
outside of Bellaire as a monster who has preyed on foster children for
years.
House said: “The information that we’re getting from our investigation is
that the defendant has engaged in this type of behavior for a long period
of time, so the question of, ‘Does he continue to represent or present a
danger to the community?’ the information that we have is that (the
Department of Human Services) has been receiving reports for the last 10
years that there have been allegations of sexual assault of children going
on in Mr. Clark’s home.”

MONSTER OR SAINT
Freeman argued that Clark, who maintains he is innocent, should be
celebrated for what he’s done for the community.
In the last four decades, he and his family have taken in around 120
foster children, many of them disabled; many of them fleeing abusive
homes.
“There should be a bronze statue of Jere Clark and Ruthie Clark in the
middle of town and here we are talking about criminal sexual conduct
charges,” Freeman said in court.
“Mrs. Clark was telling me about a time that they took a child in on
Christmas Eve day. Christmas Eve day. And she had to go out, she had to
shop, she had to get presents and put them under the tree so that the
child, who of course they didn’t know, could have gifts the next morning
with everybody else, okay?”
House countered that Clark currently resides where he belongs -- in jail.
The current case against Clark was not an isolated incident, she said.
House said there are four or five more cases involving alleged victims
that could lead to additional charges against Clark.
In fact, Clark has since been charged with another case of criminal sexual
conduct. Antrim County Prosecutor Charles Koop said he would not comment
about whether additional cases will be filed.
At the hearing, District Court Judge Michael Stepka denied Clark bond.
Clark will have another chance to argue for bail at a final conference in
circuit court in July.

SORDID DETAILS OF ABUSE
If, as Freeman argues, the allegations were invented and planted in the
head of the first accuser, then they came from someone with a lively and
macabre imagination.
The alleged victim from the first case, who the Northern Express will call
Girl No. 1 to protect her identity, was adopted by Jere Clark’s daughter,
Patty Lowery, in August, 2002.
Lowery was once a foster child of Jere Clark and she lives in a farm house
next-door to Clark’s farm. Now an adult, Patty Lowery sits on the Antrim
County board for the Department of Human Services, the state agency
responsible for the welfare of foster children.
Girl No. 1 said Jere Clark at first acted as though he was her grandfather.
“It started out like a parent -- like a grandfather/granddaughter kind of
thing,” Girl No. 1 testified.
But the girl, now 19 years old, said the relationship soon became perverted.
“Like when I was sick, he would rub my stomach and rub my back,” she
testified. “And then it graduated into a sexual relationship over the
years.”
The sexual relationship began, Girl No. 1 said, in the summer of 2004,
when she was 12.
She said she was baby-sitting Jackie Clark, Ruth Clark’s roughly
40-year-old autistic son, when Jere came to the house and asked that she
take a ride with him in his pickup truck.
“We went to a hill where there’s a broken down motor home and that’s where
he took me inside and laid me down...” Girl No. 1 said.
All four wheels were gone. It sat on grass and its motor had been removed.
It was dirty inside, but Girl No. 1 said she laid down on blankets.
Jere Clark removed her pants and underwear, she said. This time they did
not have sex, but she said Jere Clark penetrated her with his finger and
pleasured himself.
Afterward, “He sat down and he told me to get dressed and said, ‘thank you.’”

HOUSES OF HORRORS
For the young girl, it was like reliving a nightmare from a life she
thought she had left behind.
She had been molested by her biological dad, she said.
“I felt like my past was repeating itself,” Girl No. 1 testified.
She was afraid to say anything to anyone for several years, she testified,
because she knew Jere Clark had a bad temper and was prone to violence.
“He had a tendency to hit people,” she said,
Later, she said Clark would hit her if she refused to have sex with him.
Sex happened “a bunch of times. More than I can count,” she said.
Clark had sex with her repeatedly, beginning in the winter of 2004, she said.
It happened in a Ford F-250 standard cab pickup, at the house Jere Clark
shared with his wife (Ruthie), at Girl No. 1’s adoptive mother’s house, at
a relative’s house in Bellaire and at another’s in Mancelona. Often Clark
took her along snow plowing as a way to get her alone, she testified.
Once, when Girl No. 1 refused sex, Clark allegedly destroyed a vibrator in
front of her.
“He took his hand and he slammed it against the center console repeatedly
until it broke in multiple places,” she said.
In another allegation, Girl No. 1 said Jere Clark had sex with her while
Jackie Clark, the autistic man in his 40s, sat on a sofa in the same room
and watched country music videos.

INCONSISTENCIES
During the cross-examination portion of the preliminary hearing, defense
attorney Freeman set out to poke holes in Girl No. 1’s account.
There was confusion in the girl’s testimony about when and where the first
alleged incident took place. Did it happen in a broken-down motor home, or
in a pickup truck? Did it begin in 2004 or in 2005?
It’s an important question: if abuse is established to have occurred when
Girl No. 1 was 12, the maximum penalty is life; if it was at age 13, the
maximum is 15 years.
It turns out, under redirect examination from House, the confusion may
have stemmed from the way the question was posed to Girl No. 1 -- she said
she understands sexual experience to mean sex, and that when she said that
Clark touched her with his fingers, that was something different.
Freeman also questioned Girl No. 1 about when she told investigators,
twice, that abuse never took place.
In May or June of 2006, an investigator from the Department of Human
Services came to Girl No. 1’s school and pulled her out of class. She was
14 at the time.
The investigator asked her whether there had ever been any inappropriate
contact from Clark.
She told him, “No, I’m not being sexually abused, sexually touched by Jere
Clark,” according to her testimony.
In November, 2010, as prosecutors were mulling police reports, but before
charges had been filed, Girl No. 1 told a female DHS worker over the
telephone that all of the allegations were untrue.
“I don’t remember the person,” Girl No. 1 testified. “All I know is it was
a lady over the phone.”
She also testified that a family member other than Jere Clark had
instructed her to recant the allegations.
“I told her that my family was harassing me about dropping the court
case,” she said. “And that my family has been harassing me and I feel like
it’s getting nowhere. I want to drop it and get it done and over with and
never look back on it.”

A DELAY IN THE CASE
Girl No. 1 may have been acting out in frustration because she had
reported the abuse to police and endured the humiliation of questioning
and yet nothing happened, House said at the hearing.
There was a year-long delay between the investigation and the filing of
charges. The investigation began in January of 2010. The police report was
delivered to the prosecutor’s office in April. It would be a year later,
in April of 2011, when Clark was arrested.
“She’s made a police report to the sheriff’s department,” House said. “It
hasn’t been charged by the prosecutor’s office. Her feeling is, I finally
told someone and no one’s done anything about it. (A DHS worker) calls her
on the phone and you think she’s going to start disclosing to some
stranger she doesn’t even know who she has on the phone?”
Girl No. 1 may have been under even more serious pressure to change her
story.
She was no longer living at the farm outside of Bellaire, within easy
reach of Jere Clark, but she was allegedly still within his grasp.
Girl No. 1 had moved 30 miles away and, in between the police
investigation and Clark’s arrest, Clark allegedly visited her numerous
times.
House said Clark confronted her with questions: “What did you tell the
police? And what are you going to do about this? And what’s happening with
those charges?”
Koop said the case took so long to bring to court because it was so
complicated and because he was on medical leave during the summer of 2010.
The case was eventually turned over to House because she specializes in
these types of cases in Antrim and Leelanau counties.
Freeman said the delay is proof of the weakness of the prosecution’s case.
“It’s curious to me that this case sat on her desk for a year before she
did anything at all,” Freeman said, referring to House.

ANOTHER CASE FILED
An observer might note that when someone takes care of troubled children
and then is accused of molestation by one of them, perhaps people should
pause. The children are troubled -- many of them suffered abuse in the
past. You have to be careful about what they say.
But what if two people make the same accusation against the same person?
That is now the circumstance Clark faces.
The second case stems from Girl No. 2, who was adopted by Clark’s
daughter, Jan Clark, when she was 13 years old.
Jere Clark is accused of sexually abusing the girl from when she was age
14 until she was 21 years old, although the charges pertain to when the
alleged victim was between the ages of 13 and 16. She is now 29 years old.
The alleged abuse is supposed to have happened in a corn field on Clark’s
property, in the basement of Clark’s home, in Patty Lowery’s home, and in
a Winnebago motor home.
The similarities between the cases are striking, House said. Girl No. 2
also told investigators that Clark got her alone by taking her out to plow
snow.
Freeman said he doesn’t expect Clark’s defense will be overly complicated
by the fact that at least two women now claim Clark molested them. Both
victims are mentally challenged and they are both suggestible, he said.
“If someone tells a story and it is so outrageous that it’s just difficult
for anybody to really believe it, ... then I don’t think it makes a
difference if two people or three people or five people tell the story,”
he said.

GIRL NO. 2
During a preliminary hearing for the second case, Clark appeared defiant
in court.
Clark looked at the second woman to come forward with sex abuse
allegations against him and he smirked through much of the proceedings. At
times, he laughed to himself, like when she testified about how he would
allegedly hit her with a backhand to the face for refusing sex.
After the hearing, as Clark was led in shackles back to jail from the
courthouse, he said to a reporter: “Better make sure you get the right
story.”
Girl No. 2 could apparently not stand to look at Clark as she testified at
a preliminary hearing in late June.
She turned her face away from Clark as she sat just feet away from the man
she said raped her as many as 500 times.
She testified she was 13 years old when she was adopted by Jan Clark and
Jere Clark became her grandfather.
Prosecutor House asked her why she was in court that day.
Girl No. 2 seemed on the verge of weeping as she spoke: “I am here because
my adoptive grandfather has raped me and multiple other girls.”
At first Clark just touched her in a way she thought was inappropriate,
she testified, on her arms and legs. Later his hands moved to her breasts
and private area, she said.
“I didn’t like it because it’s not what a grandfather is supposed to do,”
she said.
Other family members, including ones who came to court to support Clark,
knew about the abuse, she said.
“They knew exactly what was going on and they didn’t do nothing about it,”
she said.
During cross examination Freeman asked about whether Girl No. 2 had posted
something on Facebook in January to the effect that Jere Clark never
molested her. She said she had not.
District Court Judge Michael Haley said he found the young woman’s
testimony credible and he bound Clark over to circuit court to face trial
on the four counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

PLANTED EVIDENCE
Freeman argues Clark is in jail because the Clarks took in troubled children.
“These kids are all mentally ill. All of them. And these folks take them
in. That’s what we’re dealing with,” Freeman said.
Freeman plans to call a witness who is a forensic child psychologist to
testify about suggested memories.
“The point is to educate the jury sufficiently so that they can understand
how a young person with mental illness can say these kind of things even
if they never happened,” Freeman said.
Girl No. 1 is childlike, even as an adult, and extremely suggestible,
Freeman said, so much so that Freeman said he believes the girl believes
her testimony, even though Freeman said he believes it is not true.
“I don’t think she’s lying,” he said. “I think she adopted these memories
through suggestion.”
Further, Freeman said investigators relied on unreliable witnesses.
At the preliminary hearing, Freeman said of unnamed accusers who helped
police build a case against Clark, they “are the same people who are
taking their own human feces and injecting it into their arm and being
hospitalized because they like hospital food.”
Later, he elaborated about what he meant.
He said one of the witnesses is an adult foster care patient who did just
what Freeman described. He said he brought it up in court because he
believes it indicates the quality of the prosecution’s case.
“They’re taking this person at their word,” Freeman said. “This is what
the people and Miss House are relying on as their source of information.”

TYPICAL DEFENSE PLOY
Koop rejects the argument that overzealous investigators played upon the
suggestibility of vulnerable victims.
He said the theory lacks credibility.
“This plantation idea is a typical ploy by defense attorneys in (criminal
sexual conduct) cases,” Koop said. “You don’t hear about them in armed
robbery cases. You don’t hear about them in other types of cases. All of a
sudden women who claim to be victims of sexual assault are somehow
manipulated into coming up with stories? These are adult women. These are
not children in this case.”
In both cases, the alleged victims said the abuse began at around age 13.
Both are now adults.
“In younger children, inappropriate interviews can create issues, but
these are adult women,” Koop said. “They were teenagers when these events
were occurring, but they’re adult women now.”

A SEARCH FOR VICTIMS
Freeman said he wouldn’t comment specifically about where he believes the
allegations against Clark originated.
He said he plans to wait until the trial to talk about that.
“It had nothing to do with Jere Clark having sex with anybody, it had to
do with people thinking Jere Clark had sex with somebody,” Freeman said.
Freeman points to the large number of foster children who have been
through Clark’s home or the home of a relative.
“Jere Clark has been taking kids into his home since 1968 ... and there’s
never been an allegation of anything, and now all of a sudden, at age 70,
when he’s got diabetes and other health problems, I mean, it just doesn’t
make sense,” Freeman said.
He said investigators have gone back repeatedly to question numerous girls
placed with Clark’s family about whether Clark assaulted them.
“Miss House is desperately attempting to locate other mentally challenged
women who she can persuade were sexually assaulted by Jere Clark, too,”
Freeman said.

‘CATCH 22’
House countered that the children’s disabilities made them attractive
targets for Clark.
You can attack the credibility of damaged children, but that’s what makes
them such appealing victims, she said.
“This is the Catch 22, ... that sexual assault victims are usually chosen
because they’re victims that are vulnerable,” House argued in court. “That
(predators) think people aren’t going to believe; that aren’t going to
object; that are going to be too scared to do anything.”
House said she planned to seek to consolidate the two cases against Clark
because of the similarities in each woman’s account of what Clark did to
them.
Girl No. 2 came forward after she heard about the charges against Clark in
the other case.
House said Clark groomed the first girl and the second girl in the same way.
The older one told investigators she saw the younger one being groomed
just like she’d been around the time Clark told her she was “getting too
old for him,” House said.


Under Suspicion
Foster kids were placed in risky home for a decade

By Patrick Sullivan

Let’s set aside for a moment the question of whether Jere Clark is
innocent or guilty. Maybe he horribly molested some of the children placed
in the care of his family. Maybe he is wrongfully accused despite
selflessly taking care of troubled kids of 40 years.
Without resolving that, a disturbing fact remains -- for a decade, Clark
was under suspicion of child sexual abuse.
During that time, the state continued to place children in the homes of
Clark’s children within Clark’s reach, Antrim County Prosecutor Charles
Koop said.
The Department of Human Services “has been receiving reports for the last
10 years that there have been allegations of sexual assault of children
going on in Mr. Clark’s home,” said Erin House, who is prosecuting the
case for the Antrim County Prosecutor’s office, at a criminal hearing for
Jere Clark.
One of Clark’s foster children, Patty Lowery, now an adult who lives
next-door to Clark and was foster mother to one of Clark’s alleged
victims, sits on the Antrim County board for the DHS, the state agency
that looks out for the welfare of foster children.
Koop said he couldn’t comment specifically about the Clark case, but that
he could speak in general about a hypothetical circumstance.
“If there had been a decade of complaints concerning a family ... about
various allegations of mistreatment, whether it’s sexual or physical or
food, ... and children are continued to be placed in that home, that would
concern me,” Koop said.

DHS INSIDER
Lowery has not been accused of interfering with the investigation. Koop
said he wouldn’t say whether any family members are under investigation
for obstruction of justice.
The county DHS board is a holdover from an earlier era when the county
oversaw abuse and neglect investigations. Now it primarily oversees
Meadowbrook, the county’s medical care facility, he said.
Lowery would not have been able to thwart any investigations into Clark,
said Colin Parks of the Child Protective Services program at DHS.
“Within the guidelines of their positions, DHS Board Members are not
provided access to individual CPS investigations,” Parks said. “They are
not allowed access to any systems which may provide them access to or
influence over investigations.”

FOSTER CARE OVERSIGHT
Christina Fecher, a media relations specialist for DHS, said officials
cannot comment about a particular case.
Officials said they could only answer general questions.
To become a foster parent, a person fills out an application, they
complete a 27-hour training program that focuses on child development and
the special needs of foster children, and they are required to take part
in annual training to keep their licenses current, said Suzanne Stiles
Burke, director of the Bureau of Child Welfare at the DHS.
Once a foster home is up and running, as many as four children can be
placed there. There are visits from regulators every year and every two
years there is an automatic investigation of the home.
In addition, there are regular visits from foster care workers.
“Once children are placed in a foster home, then there’s a foster care
worker who goes to that home every month, has eyes on the kids, talks with
the caregiver, sees the home,” Stiles Burke said.
Stiles Burke said the state’s child protection laws spell out what DHS
workers do upon allegations of abuse in a home.
“There are risk and safety assessments done right at the beginning,” she
said. “The intake process assesses immediate risks to the child and that
determines how quickly we commence an investigation. In an allegation of
sexual abuse, that’s a very high priority, priority one allegation, where
in most cases we would try to make an immediate contact with the alleged
victim.”

SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS
A specially trained worker from DHS investigates allegations of abuse in
foster homes.
“Risk and safety are the very first things we look at, and if the
Department of Human Services investigator determines that they cannot
assure the safety of the child while the investigation is underway, then
we will ask the court to allow us to remove that child so that we can
conduct an investigation while ensuring the the safety of the child at the
same time,” she said.
Stiles Burke said the opposite could also happen.
“We could do a safety assessment and decide, you know what? We can protect
the safety of this child in the home while we conduct the investigation,”
she said. “It’s likely we would suspend placement of any other kids in
that home while we were conducting that investigation.”
Koop said the DHS investigates any time there is a report of abuse, but
prosecutors do not always learn of the investigations.
“Every time there is a reported incident, anonymous calls or something,
they’re required to open up a file,” he said. “Our office may never know
of any investigations.”
While it is the job of DHS workers to monitor foster children and advocate
for them, it is ultimately up to the courts to decide whether children
should be removed from homes.

PAY FOR PARENTS
Foster parents receive payment for taking in children.
The current base amount for children under 12 is $14.24 per day and $17.59
per day for older children.
For special needs kids, depending on their age and the level of their
disability, foster parents receive an additional $5 to $18 per day.
The rates are not meant to provide financial incentive to foster parents
to take in kids, Stiles Burke said. It’s solely meant to cover the cost of
care.
“That rate includes all the things that you’re supposed to do for the
child -- food, clothing, incidentals, as well as a daily allowance rate
for the child,” she said. “There’s no compensation. It’s really only to
care for the needs of the child. It’s not pay in any way, you know,
children go into foster care often with the clothes on their back.”

FINANCIAL MOTIVE
Dan Wilson, a parental rights activist from Wolverine who runs an
organization called Parents for Children that seeks to uncover corruption
in state family courts, is primarily a critic of how the state takes
children away from their parents.
But he’s also a critic of the foster care system.
He believes officials are too quick to place kids in foster care and fail
to adequately monitor them once they are there.
And he disagrees that the money paid to foster parents is not a financial
incentive above the cost of raising children for some foster parents eager
to cash in on the system.
“I totally, absolutely disagree,” he said.
Wilson believes oversight of children placed in foster care is minimal.
“I don’t want to end Child Protective Services, I don’t want to end DHS,
because they are needed, unfortunately,” said Wilson.
There are good people who open their homes to foster children and get into
it for the right reasons, Wilson said. But he doesn’t believe they’re all
good.
“Unfortunately, way too many are being opened up by these absolute
low-life scum,” Wilson said.
 
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