Two Oklahoma organizations are facing public criticism and/or criminal charges after failing to report sex crimes on their premises to police.
Oklahoma State University was recently granted the ignominious "Black Hole Award" by the national chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. According to the SPJ website, the Black Hole Award is given in an effort to "highlight the most heinous violations of the public's right to know." The award, which goes to individuals, organizations, or institutions that violate open records laws, is based on three specific criteria:
The Student Press Law Center nominated Oklahoma State University for the award after it failed to notify police, the student body, or the public about a series of alleged sexual assaults on campus. Students accused Nathan Cochran, 22, then an OSU student, of groping them while they slept. Instead of notifying police, University officials held student conduct hearings, suspending Cochran for three years. Though the alleged acts were sex crimes, OSU officials did not notify police, citing FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), a law meant to govern privacy of educational records. Stillwater police only became aware of the alleged crimes after a student journalist contacted them for information about the case. Cochran has since been charged with four counts of sexual battery in Payne County.
Investigators call the actions of OSU officials a "misguided" interpretation of FERPA; the SPJ and others call their failure to notify police "egregious," saying that by failing to report alleged sex crimes to law enforcement, they endangered members of the student body. A report by an independent investigator hired by the Oklahoma State University Board of Regents found that university officials, though imprudent in their decision to handle the incident internally, were not guilty of criminal wrongdoing in failing to notify police, as the alleged victims were adults capable of notifying law enforcement themselves.
However, in Tulsa, several employees of Victory Church have been convicted of failing to report child abuse after a 13-year-old girl told them that she had been raped on church grounds by another employee. Five church leaders, including the son and daughter-in-law of the church's senior pastor, pleaded no contest last week to a misdemeanor charge of failing to report child abuse. Paul Willemstein, Anna George, and Harold "Frank" Sullivan pleaded no contest last Monday. Willemstein and George were each sentenced to thirty days in jail. Sullivan was given a one-year suspended sentence. John and Charica Daugherty pleaded no contest on Friday. A Tulsa County District Court judge determined that the couple had the least direct dealing with the victim and suspect, and gave them the option of thirty days in jail or five years of probation. Charica Daugherty is pregnant, and the couple chose extended probation over a relatively short jail stay.
In any criminal investigation, particularly in a sex crime investigation, it is important to remember that the accused is to be presumed innocent unless proven guilty. It is also important to balance the protection of victims and potential victims against the rights of the accused. In some cases, an organization may attempt to hide or cover up allegations of criminal acts in order to preserve the institution's reputation; in other cases, an innocent person may be accused and railroaded pending the investigation. If you or a loved one has been accused of sex abuse, visit Oklahoma-Criminal-Defense.com to find a sex crime defense lawyer in Oklahoma.
- Violation, in spirit or in letter, of any federal or state open-government law.