Speaker 1 (00:03):
Telling it like it is bringing the community together and working for justice attorney Travis McConnell talks, politics trending news, and how you can make a difference. You’re listening to, We Trust Travis. Hi everyone. I’m Sarina Fazan. I’m a journalist, host, and producer. Thank you so much for joining us for this episode of the We Trust Travis podcast. Travis McConnell is a personal injury attorney with a huge passion for the community, and he has a lot of insight to share. So let’s get to it. Travis McConnell is right here to my far left in the middle. Is Paul Sisco as special guest on your podcast today, Paul Sisco is a prominent criminal defense attorney in Tampa, Florida. And he’s also a former prosecutor. Travis, you invited Paul on because we’re talking about a very important case. Why don’t I let you take it from there?
Speaker 2 (00:51):
Yeah, yeah. So we have a civil case that we filed that has criminal implications, or at least we feel like it should, there haven’t been criminal charges filed yet, but I filed a civil case against the Pierceton Woods Academy, which is a facility in Pearson, Indiana on behalf of a client who was abused by former staff that used to work there. And there’s also been a cover up and a conspiracy counsel alleged that our case that is battery against the abuser negligence against the facility and entities in charge as well as conspiracy among the people. But the real interesting part is just that this has been going on for quite some time and that our local prosecutor hasn’t filed charges. And there’s been lots of questions I know from people about the corollary between the two different civil criminal, how they’re different, how they relate with each other.
Speaker 1 (01:35):
And Paul, do you have questions then about the case because you’ve reviewed the civil lawsuit?
Speaker 2 (01:40):
I did. I’ve seen Travis his suit and you know, every time I read a case of similar facts, I think that I really always have an admiration for the prosecutors that have to make decisions and sex-related cases. They’re tough oftentimes, and you know, the stakes are frankly higher than in most criminal cases because the consequences of being wrong are so much greater than in your average criminal allegations. You’re either going to not charge someone who is essentially committing acts of pedophilia sex batteries against minors, or you are charging someone who didn’t have this grief and the stigma that comes with those kinds of cases. I mean, the disparity between those two things is, is great. And candidly, when I was a prosecutor, I never wanted to be a sex crime prosecutor because I always felt there was another factor too. I was felt that if it was righteous and that I have a defendant who I have a case file against, who’s done things to children, such as that I’m going to have a hard time keeping my emotions in check. That was the younger me as a prosecutor. But now as I look at it, the bigger problem is, well, I would hate to be wrong.
Speaker 1 (03:01):
Absolutely. And tell us about this case specifically, Travis, why don’t you fill us in, on some of the details of this case?
Speaker 3 (03:10):
Yeah, so I represent an individual who was placed at Pierceton Woods Academy, which is a residential placement facility for boys and only boys. And it’s run by a couple of corporate entities. One’s lasting change, the other one’s lifeline, a youth and family services. And over the course of his time there, he had someone who was basically acting as a counselor without the counseling background who groomed him. And by that, I mean, basically one has trust and then started to promise him things and then do sexually inappropriate things initially touching and holding hands fondling, but ultimately the plan was to have sex as a, and there’s multiple witnesses that lay this all out, that we’ve spoken with them, that there’s been an investigation. And fortunately she was caught before she had sex with my client. However, there are other victims that that happened with according to witnesses and documents.
Speaker 3 (04:04):
And yeah, so the big issue is while this has happened, she was also had a similar investigation three years prior that no protective measures were put in place and she was allowed to keep her job and was actually promoted. And the facility has a few policies. They’re just generic. Like don’t sleep with residents that are overly meaningful. And they have other policies that would be simply very easy to have that would prevent the sort of thing from happening like the children that are there are allowed a lot of the facilities there’s cameras and so many things are recorded. And so one simple policy could be, you’re not allowed to take the kids off camera or you get in trouble. There’s, that’s not a policy that exists. Kids are taken off camera for extended periods of time where things can happen and they’re not recorded.
Speaker 3 (04:54):
And who knows what’s happening. In addition to that, they’re allowed to take the kids off of the property, actually off premises on outings to the movies, things like that. And there used to be policies where two staff members had to be there, which would be ideal to whether it’s, you know, accountability, especially maybe two staff members of the opposite sex or something like that. But the policy was specially cut back due to cost-saving measures and one staff member could take different kids out yet to hit take multiple kids which you referred to as the multiple victim rule is what ended up happening. So, yeah,
Speaker 1 (05:30):
Well back when the the investigation first started the criminal investigation, what I thought was very interesting in a previous podcast that what you and I talked about is that the chief of police of this town actually went to investigate the case personally. Correct. Do you mind filling in the audience who may have not have seen the first podcast and Paul on what happened in that situation?
Speaker 3 (05:53):
Yeah, so my understanding is, and I don’t remember if the P the told me this, or from documents that I read or witnesses is the chief was involved in the 2017 incident, I think prior to him becoming chief potentially. And so he ended up handling this himself directly because she didn’t want her to get away with it again, it was basically long story short.
Speaker 1 (06:13):
So Paul, the case right now is the the prosecutor’s office is reviewing the case, but they have not filed criminal charges. And I know you cannot speak probably directly about the case, but can you explain that process to us?
Speaker 2 (06:27):
Yeah, well, it probably is. Travis will tell ya, it starts with the difference, you know, in terms of burden of proof you have in a civil case versus a criminal, you know, in a criminal case, almost everywhere because it’s provided for them, the US Constitution. You have to be able to convince someone of someone’s guilt beyond into the exclusion of every reasonable doubt, which is that’s the highest burden that exists in the wall, in any, in any form on the civil side. I imagine this is a preponderance of the evidence case, which means there’s, you know, if you’re thinking of the scales of justice, there’s one more grain of sand on this side. That’s, that’s your burden, you know, that, that scales like this in a criminal case. And so Travis, frankly, and it’s, it’s a benefit to his client has a, has a smaller burden of proof than a prosecutor has, but bearing those in mind, the prosecutor gets the information, if he’s doing his job or her job they’re going to review any statement.
Speaker 2 (07:25):
They have, they’re going to ask law enforcement if they need more statements or more evidence that is there to get, go get it for me. Because as I said, you want to make sure you’re making the right decision in this case. Either someone’s being abused or someone’s going to be wrongfully accused, and that golf is horrific, if you’re wrong. So go out, you know officer so-and-so, please go talk to this person, ask the parents of this child, if we can interview them about this topic. Were there cameras there where they were their recordings that took place? Are there materials we can get through a freedom of information act, request? Candidly, Travis has done one of the things that often brings evidence to you in this case is once you file that in, particularly once it gets some media attention, if there’s victims more than one, and there tends to be because of the type of person that generally would commit these types of offenses, they start coming out of the woodwork. I’ve, I’ve seen that happen personally, where someone I never would have believed candidly was capable or involved in this was accused of an incident with victim one and victims two through 10 started coming forward, you know, and that multitude sort of gives credibility to the case also
Speaker 1 (08:41):
How long typically. And I know each case is different and unique, but how long do prosecutors need to take a look at a case like this before they make a decision on filing criminal charges?
Speaker 2 (08:52):
Well, the prosecutors I know, and, and of them are very good and they act in good faith, but sometimes I’m amazed at how long they will say they need to look at a charge. There’s different complexities to cases, you know, the number of witnesses involved and, you know, sex cases often have DNA evidence and forensic evidence. Something like this isn’t necessarily a long-term investigation though. I mean, this is one that on the outside, I think you could have, at least the investigative part wrapped up to the point where, you know, which way you’re going with it within three or four months anything longer than that, frankly, and somebody either made a decision not to file it unless something, you know, hot evidence wise happens, or they’re not diligently going through that file. In my experience
Speaker 1 (09:42):
Now with the, with an institution or a place like this, you know, this home, they get a lot of state funding. Now, if there are no criminal charges filed and is, but does the perception never go away? I know as a journalist, I can tell you, you know, you do stories, you and you talk about things as you just talked about Paul, you know, you’ve got to make sure to be right, but no matter what this story, this case has made national news. So what are the implications?
Speaker 2 (10:10):
Well, and that’s the, that’s the exact danger of it too, to me. And it’s changed a little bit because, you know, recent studies show that stories in our modern media are out of people’s attention quicker than they used to be. But you know, this isn’t being accused of, you know, paying your mortgage late. Now, this is an accusation that you know, you’ve had improper relations with someone’s child or children that doesn’t go away. I mean, and in law school, they teach you there’s, there’s certain types of things per se, or defamatory. One of them are, are claims of sexual impropriety and so on for obvious reasons. So, yeah. It’ll stay in the news and people will remember the name of this Academy, whether Travis is right or wrong.
Speaker 1 (10:56):
So Travis, you know, for you pursuing, and here’s something that I Travis and I also talked about in the, in the first podcast that we did about this particular case, you’re going to continue to pursue the civil case, but is it stronger when there’s a criminal aspect to it as well? Like you could still pursue the civil aspect, correct?
Speaker 2 (11:17):
You can, the two are independent of each other. I think that if there was a criminal investigation going on at the same time, maybe it gives some additional credibility. The fact that there’s not, it seems a little odd maybe, but they’re really two separate things because of the different burdens involved in the different timelines. But yeah, well, I can, I can tell you that happens frequently. You know, you’ll have people are always quick to tell you they’re separate, but they’re real. They’re not in many ways. They’re not certainly in the victim’s eyes. They’re not in the eyes generally if someone defending the person in a criminal case, because, you know, Travis’s allegations in this case whether he’s right or wrong. And I’m keep saying that just because I’m being careful, but because of that, you know, at some point just those allegations being made have presented a problem for somebody who’s potentially a criminal accused or defendant at this point.
Speaker 2 (12:16):
And if you’re representing that person, you know, frankly, the one way to make sure they don’t say something that’s potentially harmful to them is to not say anything well, that presents a problem. And frankly, it presents a benefit to a plaintiff’s lawyer in a civil situation, because if, if an accused or a person who’s been sued, chooses not to answer for most States, and I’m sure Indiana is the same. If you don’t answer you can draw an inference that the allegation that you made is supported by their lack of information, denying it. Okay. You can actually use their silence against them in the civil case, right? You can’t in the criminal case, right? Because in the criminal case, of course you have fifth amendment, right. To remain silent. And you know, candidly, there’s another one of the sorta, you know public vernacular things, TV type law stuff that people perceive versus what happens.
Speaker 2 (13:08):
People oftentimes think when somebody takes the fifth and won’t answer a question because they have the constitutional right. Oh, they must be guilty that that happened. But the reality is there’s many instances in which, because you’re in the zone of danger of being charged you know, who somebody is going to evaluate your credibility. Okay. Well, you know, they might not like my credibility and I’m still going to get charged and I should’ve just kept my mouth shut, even though I might be wholly innocent. There’s a great US Supreme court case called Riner out there that talks about it’s a shaken baby case. And as it turns out the Reiner, the defendant in that case, I believe it was the father or the stepfather of the child that ended up deceased. Well, the babysitter was a target of the investigation. At one point, she knew she wasn’t involved in any way, but she rightly asserted her fifth amendment rights. And you know, here’s an innocent person asserting their rights cause they’re in the, what they called the zone of danger. So it’s a, it’s a complex question. And these cases, there’s not an easy decision in a sex related case. Every one of them is kind of like this. Am I going to have them answer the complaint? Am I going to have them answer? And then we’re going to obviously maintain the same statement throughout the criminal prosecution. If there is one it’s very complex and frankly keeps you up at night.
Speaker 1 (14:28):
Well, and Travis, please feel free to, to answer. I had to ask Paul questions about this because what I’m interested in as well, how important is it to take the witness statements and the depositions right now? Because cases, as we all know, could take several years to get to court. And especially now with this COVID climate and this unprecedented time in this crisis, who knows what’s going to happen with the court system,
Speaker 3 (14:54):
We plan on moving forward pretty quickly. So I think it’s important to get the testimony to get it recorded, probably do videotape just in case people move, people die. You never know what could happen. So it’s good to get, to get that evidence preserved as soon as possible.
Speaker 2 (15:09):
Well, and they changed their minds. You know, they, they lose their, you know, and these kinds of cases too, you know, what they’re willing to do on Wednesday might be changed by Friday. And, and there’s the emotional baggage that goes with being abused, you know, is part of that. You know, they have to relive that they have to involve their family in it. You know, while Travis is, is being a warrior for his client, I’m sure. He also reminds them that he’s part of the he’s part of this whole thing that happened to me. And they, they would have preferred I’m certain that the whole thing never happened.
Speaker 3 (15:42):
Of course. Yeah. I mean, that’s what any of my clients on any of their cases, if they could go into a jury and asked the jury to wave a magic wand and make it never happened, and that’s what they would prefer. You know, people wait, it doesn’t work that way. Instead of we have money to images, which is not anywhere close to perfect. Yeah.
Speaker 2 (15:57):
And, and to Sarina Fazans question, I know Travis, you’re probably the same way that the quicker you can get those statements taken and the quicker, you know, that the more elbow grease you can put in and the first part of the case, the better that case is, and you can, you know, you can’t always have better facts than the other side, although many times you do, but you can always outwork them, you know, and, and part about working them is getting on their doorstep at six 30 in the morning with your investigator and saying, Hey, I heard this happen. Would you, would you mind talking to me? And I’ve been surprised over the years thinking to myself, I can’t believe this. Person’s talking to me.
Speaker 3 (16:33):
That’s how we’ve talked to half dozen or more witnesses. And that’s you mentioned like victims coming out after the woodwork and we’ve had witnesses reach out that saw it in the press, which is sure, surprising as an attorney, because a lot of times you get witnesses that don’t want to cooperate. And on this one, I think due to how horrific it is, people are trying to be protective and be like, yeah, no, this needs to stop and I will come forward. And I will tell you what happened
Speaker 2 (16:58):
Well, to that point too, you know, the initial whistle blowers, the true, true brave person, right. They break through that door and it makes it easier for each success of witness to come forward. You know, if, if, if she did this, I’m following behind her, in fact, because she did that. I have a duty now to tell my story. Right.
Speaker 3 (17:15):
Yeah. Letting people know, Hey, if you’ll talk to us, you’re not alone. Right. You’re one of several that’s right. Yeah.
Speaker 1 (17:21):
How often do you see cases like this? Are they more, more common than we think
Speaker 2 (17:28):
There? Far more common than I thought when I decided I was going to go to law school instead of going into broadcasting well, long time ago, Sarina Fazan, maybe that was a bad mistake, but they’re way too common. You know, I hear about them all the time. We get calls on them all the time there because they’re hard to prove. Typically you don’t, you don’t hear about them near enough. The other side of that is they get sensational sometimes too, you know we haven’t gotten past in this country, the idea that the attractive school teacher makes a great story. We still see that. And you know, you still hear the comments about, Oh, what’s that guy complaining about that kind of thing. And, and to the extent there’s humor left in that, you know, you’ve got to remember, these are, these are sexual batteries generally against minors. You know, whether it’s male or female, and there’s this strange sort of dichotomy in the sentencing between male and female teachers. For example, we got to get past that. We’ve got to realize this happens also. That’s the other part of it. Yeah. We act like because it’s uncomfortable, this doesn’t happen. And so it’s probably been happening, you know, time and Memorial.
Speaker 3 (18:42):
Well, that’s a big part of our lawsuit even is that the facility had these, this culture and these policies that basically suppress the reporting, tried to ignore it as much as possible when they couldn’t ignore it, then cover it up. Yeah. And it’s just a horrific cause. Exactly what you’re saying. And right. One thing that’s come in too, on this case in particular, that’s made it harder is that this is a placement facility for children that have issues themselves. And so it’s the perfect place to work if you’re a pedophile, because you can just say, well, don’t believe that kid look at their history, why they’re clearly aligned. And that that’s something that, you know, it’s going to be an issue for the prosecution as well as for us as well. You can’t believe these kids
Speaker 2 (19:24):
That’s right. It’s a, it’s a built-in defense generally. And you know to the extent of genuine pedophile exists in these cases they’re looking for places obviously where minors are present, certainly in a facility like that, they’re also looking for mental or physical disabilities that they can exploit because of the very thing you’re talking about, or who’s going to believe them, this person has a history of bipolar disorder or fabricating, or you know, a losery type conduct where they’re talking to strangers that don’t exist. You know candidly average lawyer or poor lawyer is going to use that to their advantage and let alone a good one.
Speaker 1 (20:07):
Well, Paul, you brought up something that I’m glad you brought up because there is we, and I don’t know if it’s more common now or people just did not talk about it, but the females that are accused of sexually assaulting or abusing these, you know, young men that it could happen in reverse, but we still live in a society. I feel like that people don’t take it as seriously.
Speaker 2 (20:33):
They, they absolutely don’t. In fact, you’ll get into courtrooms or the courthouses. And you know, when the, when the record is on and people are talking about it, you know, there’s much discussion about equality of sentencing, and we’re going to be proportional about this. I guarantee you it’s been a year or two since they looked at the stats, but in the teacher cases, in particular, if you looked at the male versus female sentencing, it’s, it’s more than double. If it’s a male accused, then it is a female,
Speaker 3 (21:01):
Correct? Yeah. I mean the, the, the jokes and things, female. Yeah. I want to give the kid a high five. I wish my teacher was like that things like sure. When, when, when the victim is a male,
Speaker 2 (21:11):
The same as Saturday night live skit about it, in fact, going back a few years. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Speaker 1 (21:15):
So are those cases then even harder to prove as well then because of this image that we have in society,
Speaker 3 (21:21):
I don’t know if it’s harder to prove on the criminal side, but I think the bigger issue is people diminish the effects, which is going to diminish the damages award on a civil case, for sure where it may come into effect the bill, you said about the sentence is worse in the criminal case, in a civil case, if the victim was a female, they’d probably award more money than if it was a male, potentially it’s going to be an impact in the civil cases, unless you can really get through to people that, Hey, you need to move past this and really explain it really well. You’re gonna have that extra hurdle to get past otherwise there’s going to be that diminished effect. Yeah. And I think
Speaker 2 (21:54):
That probably goes back to in incorrect notions that have existed that females, historically in these cases, they’re, you know, more physically vulnerable. They’re you know, they can be overcome by the greater size often of males. And so, and so I, I think it probably comes from that historically, but not only does that need to change, it continues to have an effect on these kinds of cases.
Speaker 1 (22:20):
It seems to me, and again, maybe we’re just hearing it more, but we’re hearing more about alleged female perpetrators. Is that in my imagination, in our, our, our, our wait, are we seeing more of them?
Speaker 3 (22:32):
I feel like there’s been an increase. Yeah. I think that just, there’s been a more, I think people are realizing we need to move past this issue. And so there’s an increase in an uptick. Yeah.
Speaker 2 (22:41):
I, I can tell you this you know, I’ve done it for 30 years or so, and I’m not, I’m not nuts about candidly, about sex-related cases on the criminal side, either way, because of that same, you know, you’re right or wrong and you want to be right. But, but what I’ve seen over the years is you, you develop a certain sense of pedophilia behavior in this, in this regard, I had a female teacher one time accused very, very similar, not in a private polder institution involving adolescents, but one involving daycare. And, you know, first through third grade type situations. And it was the accused was a female teacher and the accuser was the mother of a female child who was six. And, you know, there’s this strange thing that happens where you start saying to yourself, this one doesn’t make sense to me.
Speaker 2 (23:39):
This one doesn’t fit. You almost have to take on the persona of what are this person’s preferences, or, and as it turns out, that’s a rare situation. A female pedophile does not prey generally upon a female, you know, younger in age. Well, in that particular instance we had, because of an early statement we had taken, we found that the mother had made the exact same allegations regarding another female teacher in another city in the Southeast. And so the stakes are high. They see money. Oftentimes I’m not, I’m not trying to play devil’s advocate in Travis’s case, but you know, one of the things he’s going to have to look out for on this too, is they’re going to say, well, yeah, you come off after the sort of age old private institution here. Cause we’ve got some money, you know, and, you know, you run into that in every civil case, but as Travis knows the way you beat that is with good facts and, you know, good, good preparation.
Speaker 1 (24:39):
So in this case prosecutors are weighing all the evidence. Well,
Speaker 3 (24:46):
Well, it’s, it’s been eight months at this point. Maybe longer by the time we air this, but they’ve had it longer than the time period that we talked about them. We’re starting to get anxious and concerned so
Speaker 2 (25:00):
Well, and you know, there are instances where it takes over a year or even two years. You have criminal statutes of limitation, just like you do on the civil side. Also, you know, Travis has to bring his case within a certain period of time or you’re out of court. Well, the same for a prosecutor. And in most instances, the clock starts to run the moment the authentic occurs. And the question then becomes well, what was the authentic cause there’s different statutes of limitation, you know, in Florida, for instance if you commit a sexual battery, which is essentially a rape you know, your statute can be as long as life or 25 years. In some instances, if that same behavior, the prosecutor would rather charge us, say a felony battery, you have a much shorter period of statute of limitations.
Speaker 2 (25:51):
So all of that weighs in, but when you say, what are they doing there? You know, I wonder what the prosecutor is doing. We don’t know, you know, you don’t know what are the motivations, particularly in a small town. I get a little suspect, you know Tampa’s a big town and, and we know a lot of people here and you think this person knows that person, is there some kind of strange influence going on here? Does this law enforcement agency have a protection, you know, at work with this Academy, you know, what’s the beef here, you know? And oftentimes there is one. So you never really know. Hopefully you have an honest prosecutor, that’s all you can ask for. And they’re really looking.
Speaker 1 (26:29):
And Paul, what are the prosecutors do you think though, saying to these anxious family members that want answers? I had a chance to talk to the father of this young, yes. Of this young man in this case. And the father is very anxious and you know, he’s very angry right now. He’s, he’s angry. So wha how do prosecutors handle those types of situations?
Speaker 2 (26:50):
I’ll tell you this, there’s a, there’s a double-edged sword of filing suit, you know, which is this, you know, I know Travis has thought of this, which is once you file suit, take some of the pressure off that prosecutor. Okay. Because the prosecutor saying, okay, well, this is not my neck on the line. Now Travis filed his suit on his dime. Now he’s going to go out and take these statements and let’s see what he comes up with. The other thing is this, if it was Florida and I imagine it’s the same way in Indiana, once they answer the suit, he’s going to be able to sit them down for discovery, depositions, and so on. And they’re either going to start showing up or not, you know, and if they do start showing up and I’m asserting their fifth amendment rights, maybe that prosecutor saying, you know, maybe, maybe there’s a fire where that smoke was Travis saw, you know, and it, it gives credibility. And frankly, the press comes into play too, because they’ll report on how Travis his case is going and, and, you know, person a came in and they asserted their fifth amendment rights. And so Travis is going in front of the civil judge to get a default judgment potentially, or the inference that, you know, he was right. And you know, it’s, the machine works. It works slowly sometimes, but the machine works,
Speaker 1 (27:58):
I believe in it too. I mean the wheels of justice, right. The wheels of justice matrons slowly, but they do turn. Yeah.
Speaker 2 (28:06):
And sometimes they go off the track, but, but they generally, you’re right. They’re turning slowly and they’re, they’re running straight, downhill slowly. You know,
Speaker 1 (28:16):
Certainly any time there is a child involved and then especially also throwing in any type of sexual allegation or abuse, it does seem more difficult. Travis, do you have any questions for Paul as we close this podcast?
Speaker 2 (28:31):
I think a little bit we’ve talked about, so just thanks for being here and anything else you want to share or, well, listen, I, I wish you luck and I hope whatever the outcome is that you get to the right result, meaning, meaning, and I know that’s what you want. He also, even if you were wrong, I don’t think you probably are, but you know, if, if if you’re right Godspeed at the end of the day, we just want justice, you know? That’s what everybody, I think ones and hopefully we’ll get it. So the system works generally, good luck. Just feed the guy on the high road. We wouldn’t do what we do if we don’t believe in this since that’s right.
Speaker 1 (29:11):
I commend you about, well, we will be following this case. I mean, it’s made already national news, not only just because of the allegations, but there’s also connections to vice president Mike Pence. Now we talked about that in a prior podcast. So I encourage you to tune in to a previous episode of we trust Travis as always everyone. Thanks so much for watching.
Speaker 2 (29:32):
Thanks everybody. Thank you. Thanks. Good job.
Speaker 1 (29:38):
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