Thursday, September 25, 2008

No faith is exempt from sexual abuse

Rabbinic Molesters Issue Moving Agudah

David Zwiebel of Agudah says he is closely watching emerging details of proposed sex abuse legislation in the Senate and Assembly.

by Larry Cohler-Esses

The recent rash of cases in which rabbis have allegedly molested young children going back decades has moved one group that usually bristles at government involvement in Orthodox schools to envision shifting its stance.

“Our general sense is that we’re much better off when government leaves us alone,” said David Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America for government and public affairs. “But because of the sensitivity of this particular issue, I could see the possibility of our rabbis affirmatively encouraging schools to buy into the system, and even maybe affirmatively encouraging government to impose it on us.”

Zwiebel was speaking specifically about a new law that will, for the first time, allow non-public schools to voluntarily take part in a program to
fingerprint school employees for use in criminal background checks.

But for Agudah, an umbrella organization of ultra-traditional Orthodox groups that seek a degree of insulation from the secular world, it was a striking statement.

To be sure, Agudah contemplates no welcome mat for a mandatory government fingerprint program just yet. That would be “quite premature,” said Zwiebel. Agudah, he said, wants first to see how the state implements the voluntary law.

But in an interview with The Jewish Week, Zwiebel, with whose organization many in Albany check first on legislation involving the Orthodox community, appeared to offer a wary road map to supporting greater oversight by the government on issues relating to sexual molestation of children.

The pressure for increased government involvement has been building for years. It began with the shocking emergence earlier this decade of Catholic priests who, it turned out, had molested children under their care for decades, and had often been protected by their Church superiors.

More recently, credible allegations have emerged here in New York against a small number of yeshiva rabbis said to have also sexually abused their students over several decades. The alleged victims — often now adults — have also charged that the yeshivas and rabbinic supervisors were informed about their teachers’ conduct but did nothing, or even protected them.

Now, state Assembly Member Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn), who has become deeply involved in this issue, speaks of hearing “hundreds” of reports of rabbinic sexual abuse — reports that appear to him to be credible. This week, speaking at a conference on this controversy, Hikind for the first time numbered these reports in the “thousands.”

Slowly, and somewhat erratically, the state legislature has begun to take up the question of legal reforms to address this situation. The fingerprinting law passed last year will permit non-public schools to voluntarily take part in a program that is already mandatory for all public schools.

But some lawmakers hope to go further next year, with legislation to make non-public school participation mandatory. They also want to pass a bill that would make clergy and non-public school officials “mandated reporters” — individuals required by law to report to the authorities any information or evidence they receive that a child has been abused or molested in a school setting. Public school officials are already required to do so, thanks to an education law passed in 2000 that excluded the private school sector.

Another bill, now stalled by differences between the Assembly and Senate, would extend the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of molesters and for civil suits to be filed against them. Presently, prosecutors cannot go after a child molester once the child in question reaches age 23. And a child victim of sexual molestation must sue his molester — or a school that fails in its duty to protect him — for civil damages by between one and six years after he turns 18, depending on the nature of the allegation. But experts say child victims can take many years, or even decades, after they reach adulthood to process what was done to them and act on it.

Agudath Israel does not oppose any of these measures in principle, Zwiebel said. But God is in the details. And one red flag for the group is disparate treatment.

“It’s never been our position that non-public schools should be treated differently than public schools,” when it comes to protecting children, he said. “But our position is that they should not be singled out.”

This led Agudath Israel to vigorously oppose a 2003 proposal that would have required members of the clergy and certain categories of religious educators and administrators to go to the authorities with any information they had received about child abuse by other clergy over the last 20 years.

Inspired by the continuing revelations coming from the Catholic Church, the bill singled out the duty of these religious workers to report on their colleagues — but not on sexual abuse from other sources.

In a memo then to leaders of the state Assembly and Senate, Zwiebel denounced the legislation as “patently unconstitutional” for its “apparent assumption that religious functionaries, more than any other element of society, are inherently suspect — and should therefore be subject to special legal scrutiny and reporting requirements — regarding allegations of child abuse.”

Since then, critics have frequently denounced Agudath Israel’s stand as obstructionist and cited its opposition to this bill as evidence of an intent to shield rabbinic abusers. Condemnations on the Internet against the group have been especially angry and intense.

But Zwiebel said that if the Legislature were to introduce a bill that simply included non-public school officials in the duty to report evidence of abuse of students in a school setting, as public school officials already must do, “At a minimum, I am pretty certain we’d advise our friends in the Legislature we don’t oppose this.”

As for efforts to expand the statute of limitations, whether criminally or civilly, “I don’t imagine we’ll oppose any of that” either, Zwiebel said. “Whether we would affirmatively push it, I can’t answer.”

Indeed, legislation on this appears to be stuck between the State Senate and the Assembly. And according to a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau County), it is opposition from the Catholic Church and the insurance industry that is playing a role.

The Assembly’s bill would significantly extend both the criminal and civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse going into the future. But the Democratic-dominated Assembly is determined to also give those now beyond the civil statute of limitations a key back into the courts. Its bill would establish a one-year “window” for adults with allegations of childhood abuse to file suit, regardless of when the abuse took place.

Skelos’ spokesperson voiced concern about this provision, citing the potential difficulties of obtaining evidence in very old cases. The Senate, he noted, has passed three different bills to eliminate or extend the criminal statute of limitation. But it has refused to pass the Assembly’s bill. The Assembly, in turn, has held fast against the Senate’s bill.

Meanwhile, the regulations have yet to be published for implementing the law passed last year that would allow non-public schools to opt in on fingerprinting and criminal background checks of its staff.

Zwiebel made clear that Agudah’s willingness to accept a bill to make this mandatory for non-public schools will depend on how the voluntary program goes.

One regulation under consideration, he related, would institute a “roach motel” principle: Once a school chooses to opt in, it will not be allowed to opt out.

“I’m troubled by that,” he said. “It doesn’t sound like wise public policy.”
Another proposed rule would mandate that a school opting into the system must require every employee to be fingerprinted, without exception.

“I don’t understand that part of it,” he said. “It would allow us no discretion to [exempt], say, certain veterans about whom there have never been any questions from a criminal background check.”

Still, he said, “I’m not necessarily implying those two rules would push us away. I’d like to know exactly what the details are.”

In many cases, Zwiebel said, Agudah’s views have been misrepresented. He pointed, among other things, to an error in a recent Jewish Week story — since acknowledged — that stated the group opposed a mandatory fingerprinting law and another to make yeshiva officials mandated reporters.

But referring to disturbing exposes that have appeared in this paper and elsewhere, he said, “Some of the anguish and pain that has come in the last few years, though uncomfortable, promotes consciousness of a problem that’s been in the shadows. So, though our views have been misrepresented, I can’t say [the critics] are bad people. They obviously care a lot about this issue.”

Hella Winston contributed to this story.

Prisoners proud they beat child molestor to death

Prosecutor: Accused Jailhouse Killers 'Proud Of What They Did'
Defense: Accused Were Looking To Intimidate, Not Maim Inmate

INDIO, Calif. -- Lawyers representing four of five men charged in the killing of a fellow inmate told an Indio jury Wednesday that their clients did not intend to kill the convicted child molester, but wanted to intimidate him into seeking protective custody to get him moved.

But prosecutor Anthony Orlando disputed the defense version of what happened at Chuckawalla State Prison near Blythe on June 21, 2005, saying two of the defendants beat Michael Green so savagely that he never regained consciousness, and all five were in on the plan and "proud of what they did."

Security was tight as the trial got under way at the Larson Justice Center for Robert James Deffenbaugh, 27, Frank George Barbosa, 55, Jack Stewart Woller, 23, Reggie Allan Bullock, Jr., 25, and Johnnie Dalerae Johnson, 29.

Nine sheriff's deputies positioned throughout the courtroom of Superior Court Judge John J. Ryan.

Green suffered severe head trauma when beaten in a bathroom in the C Yard, 7 building, according to court documents. He was transported to Palo Verde Hospital in Blythe and then moved to the critical care unit at a UC San Diego hospital, where he remained unresponsive.

The 45-year-old Los Angeles man's family made the decision to take him off life support systems several days later.

The prosecutor told jurors that many offenses are accepted by the general prison population, but convicted child molesters are "in trouble."

Orlando said it's routine for prisoners to ask a new inmate for "paperwork" when they arrive in the yard, which he said Deffenbaugh and Woller did to the victim.

Green told them he did not have his papers, but information that he was in custody on a child molestation conviction was passed on to Barbosa, the "shot- caller," who then ordered Bullock and Johnson to "take him out," the prosecutor alleged.

That night after "last count," Bullock and Johnson followed Green into the bathroom and savagely beat him, Orlando alleged.

Bullock's attorney, Melanie Roe, said the case is not "black and white" and has two parts -- the assault, and what she contended was delayed -- and lacking -- medical care to Green.

"There are no eyewitnesses to this incident, and stories vary," Roe said in her opening statement.

She told jurors that "evidence will show no person charged intended to kill him (Green)." Instead, the intention was to get him moved to another facility to finish out his sentence, she said.

John Patrick Dolan, who is defending Woller, said his client was on hand when Green was approached and asked for "paperwork." Woller was silent or "maybe said a few words as he stood around," the attorney said.

Dolan said his client, who is doing time for a car theft conviction and had been due to be paroled in a few months, did nothing wrong. He was following an "honor among thieves or a code of honor," where inmates ask for paperwork to determine the bottom order -- child molesters and rapists, the lawyer said.

"The intention of asking (is) to get them ... to ask for protective custody," which would remove them from interacting with prisoners who consider child molesters the lowest type of criminal, Dolan said.

James Silva, who is representing Barbosa, denied his client was the "shot caller," as alleged by the prosecution.

"Barbosa is not guilty of conspiracy with any of these individuals," Silva told jurors. "He did not give the order to assault Green."

Johnson's attorney, Cameron Quinn, said his client was a "short- timer" who, at the time of the attack, was soon to be released.

"It did not make sense for his to subject himself to this," Quinn said.
The attorney told jurors that placing a child molester in the general prison population tends to "stir things up."

Quinn said the term used by inmates is to "roll up" someone they want moved -- but that means to "rough up ... beat someone up to get him out, and not to kill them."

Deffenbaugh's attorney did not make an opening statement.

The trial, which is expected to last five or six weeks, is in recess until Monday, when testimony is scheduled to begin.

Child Molestors Referee Pennsylvania school games

Push on for refs' scrutiny
3rd bill introduced to alter PIAA rules
Thursday, September 25, 2008
By Bill Moushey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Another legislative bill intent on forcing registered PIAA athletic officials to undergo criminal background checks was introduced yesterday in the Pennsylvania General Assembly in Harrisburg. It is the third to be introduced this week.

State Rep. Anthony DeLuca, D-Penn Hills, citing recent Post-Gazette reports that showed child pornographers, molesters and other criminals continued to officiate games despite convictions, introduced a bill with more than 50 bipartisan co-sponsors requiring background checks on all officials who participate in sporting events on school property.

"We must protect our children from child predators in Pennsylvania," DeLuca said.

His bill will be sent to the House Education Committee.

Brad Cashman, executive director of the PIAA, has said existing checks and balances over officials and their criminal records are adequate, stating the newspaper reports identified less than 1 percent of all WPIAL officials as having criminal records. He had no comment on DeLuca's filing yesterday.

"I don't care if it was half a percent, all you need is a couple of kids to be harmed, you can't make up for the devastation they'd go through the rest of their lives. If one person gets harmed because there is no oversight, it would be horrible," DeLuca said.

The PIAA will consider instituting background checks at its October meeting.

Chester the Molestor banned from Indiana parks

Ban on molesters in parks is upheld
Ruling in Plainfield's case considered key for Indiana communities with similar rules

By Bruce C. Smith
Posted: September 25, 2008

Plainfield won a key court decision Wednesday in the fight over banning sex offenders from parks, a case closely watched by other Indiana cities and towns with similar bans.

Although courts struck down an Indianapolis ban two years ago, Plainfield's ordinance is the latest in a series of narrower measures to survive court challenges. Lafayette and Michigan City enacted bans against individual sex offenders that have withstood court review.

Greenwood enacted a ban similar to Plainfield's two years ago, and a suit over the constitutionality of that ordinance has been on hold pending the outcome of the Plainfield case. Another suit is pending concerning a ban in Jeffersonville.

The Indianapolis ordinance prohibited convicted sex offenders within 1,000 feet of a park or school. A federal judge found the ordinance overly broad, noting there were few places in the city that were not within 1,000 feet of a park, a school, a playground or other children's gathering spot.

Indianapolis officials chose not to appeal the ruling, and the City-County Council has not discussed trying to draw up a new version that might survive in the courts.

On Wednesday, the appeals court, in a unanimous ruling, said that while Plainfield's ban does have a punitive aspect, the ordinance did not violate guarantees to the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness under the Indiana Constitution. The ruling upholds a March decision by Hendricks Superior Court Judge Robert Freese in favor of Plainfield.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed suit in November 2005 on behalf of a Marion County man identified only as John Doe, claiming Plainfield's ordinance was unconstitutional on several grounds.

The ACLU had argued that enjoyment of the parks is a core value under the Indiana Constitution, and that banishment from the parks is a second punishment for a crime.

"Obviously we're disappointed because we felt this ordinance is impinging on constitutional rights," said ACLU Legal Director Kenneth J. Falk.
A decision on whether to appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court will be made within a few days, he said.

Town officials praised the ruling.

"We're pleased with the outcome and a 3-0 vote by the court," said Plainfield Town Attorney Mel Daniel. "We all know how very important the parks are in Plainfield, and how adamant the town is to keep them clean and safe for the kids."

Under Plainfield's ordinance, people listed publicly on the state registry of sex offenders are prohibited from going into town parks and recreational areas. People with convictions for such crimes as rape, child molesting and incest must register with the state.

The man identified as John Doe is a convicted sex offender who was released from probation in August 2004. According to the lawsuit, Doe and his son visited Plainfield parks until June 2005, when a policeman recognized him and knew he was on the state registry of sex offenders.
He told Doe the town ordinance bans anyone on the state's online registry of convicted sex offenders from being in the parks.

Doe sued Plainfield, setting off three years of twists and turns in the legal case. In one key development, Doe won a court ruling to keep his identity secret in the legal proceeding, even though he is listed publicly on the sex offender registry.

Pennsylvania man busted for child porn

Lower Pottsgrove man pleads guilty to child porn charges

By Carl Hessler Jr.,

NORRISTOWN — A Lower Pottsgrove man has admitted to possessing child pornographic images on his home computer.

Mark A. Neiva, 33, who listed an address in the 1300 block of Walnut Ridge, pleaded guilty in Montgomery County Court to a felony charge of sexual abuse of children, possessing child pornography, in connection with a November 2007 incident.

President Judge Richard J. Hodgson deferred sentencing so that court officials can complete a background investigative report about Neiva. The judge will use that report to assist him in sentencing Neiva later this year.

Neiva faces a possible maximum sentence of 3 ½ to seven years in prison on the charge.

Neiva also must undergo an evaluation by the Pennsylvania Sexual Offender Assessment Board to determine if he meets criteria under Megan's Law to be declared a sexually violent predator. Those classified as predators face more stringent restrictions under Megan's Law, including a lifetime requirement to report their addresses to state police and mandatory counseling.

Neiva remains free on bail pending his sentencing hearing.

An investigation of Neiva began in November 2007 when a woman who shared access to Neiva's laptop computer reported to Lower Pottsgrove police that she and a friend discovered inappropriate images of female children on the computer, according to a criminal complaint.

Township detectives turned the computer over to members of Montgomery County's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force who conducted a forensic examination of the computer. Detectives discovered numerous images of child erotica and child pornography on the computer, according to the arrest affidavit filed by Lower Pottsgrove Detective Sergeant Michael Foltz.

When detectives searched Neiva's home, they seized compact disks that contained additional images of child pornography, court documents alleged.

Under state law, by pleading guilty to the charge, Neiva admitted that he possessed or controlled computer images that depicted a child under 18 years engaging in a prohibited sexual act or in the simulation of such act.