Greg Kelley case highlights procedures for interviewing young victims


Tainted.

That’s the word one juror used to describe the case built against former Leander football player Greg Kelley involving the second boy who accused him of molestation at a Cedar Park day care.

The jury convicted Kelley, 19, earlier this month of two counts of super aggravated sexual assault involving the first 4-year-old boy. But when jurors shared their thoughts after the trial with the attorneys in the case, one juror explained they tossed out “everything” involving the second boy, who was also 4, because the evidence had been “tainted” by the way investigators handled the case, defense attorney Patricia Cummings said.

The case, which hinged on the testimony of the boys because there was no physical evidence, has put a spotlight on the interview techniques recommended for particularly young children. Experts and other local agencies say a young child should be interviewed only once, using nonleading questions by a trained interviewer who has established rapport with the child.

The second boy in the Kelley case, who first told his mother he had been abused, did not repeat those allegations until his third interview, when a Cedar Park detective stepped in. The boy then recanted during the trial.

“If a child has been abused, you know that everybody is going to want to talk to that child, and the more that goes on, the more confused a child will get,” said James Hord, a Florida psychologist who has testified in more than 2,000 child sexual abuse cases.

That’s why it’s important to limit the interviews and ask nonsuggestive questions, he said. “You want as much of a pure story as you can get from the child,” said Hord, who was not involved with the Kelley trial.

For those reasons, both the Austin Police Department and the Austin school district police said their policy is to have a trained counselor at the Child Protection Center interview a child only once.

“A second interview may be conducted on the child, but these rarely happen and only if there is a critical piece of evidence that was uncovered during the investigation that must be cleared up by the victim,” said Austin police Sgt. Tracy Gerrish.

“The forensic interviewers will be the ones to re-interview the child,” Gerrish added. “The forensic interviewers are specially trained to not ask any leading questions or to offer up any information concerning the case or what allegedly occurred.”

The Austin Police Department also doesn’t allow its detectives to interview children under the age of 13 in physical and sexual abuse cases, Gerrish said. The Austin school district police detectives are never allowed to interview children who allege sexual abuse happened at a school, said school district Police Chief Eric Mendez. They rely on trained counselors at the Child Protection Center to question the children.

Similar counselors conducted the first and second interviews of the second boy in the Kelley case. When he did not tell either of them he was abused, Cedar Park detective Chris Dailey conducted a third interview. He acknowledged during the trial that he went into the interview room with his gun on his hip and didn’t take the time to establish a rapport with the boy.

Kelley’s attorney, Patricia Cummings, asked Dailey if he had learned in training that it was not a good idea for a detective to interview a child in a sexual abuse investigation.

“Correct,” he said.

Later, Cummings asked Dailey what he said to another official after he finished interviewing the boy.

“Do you remember telling her that you knew the manner in which you interviewed with direct questions was going to cause problems with the case?” Cummings said.

“Yes,” he said.

But Cedar Park police officials said Dailey did not deviate from their policies on such investigations and said no review of his conduct is in order.

“The successful prosecution of a child oriented sexual predator does not signal cause to retool our investigative procedures,” Cmdr. Darlene Lewis, a spokeswoman for the Cedar Park police, said in a statement. She said the department, as it does with every case, takes “an objective look at what went right and what can be improved on.”

“We understand that it is the job of the defense to paint a distorted picture of improper police work in high profile cases, which becomes the low hanging fruit for follow-up stories,” she added.

When Cedar Park police handle a case involving accusations of sexual abuse for children under the age of 6, “we coordinate a multidisciplinary response with the Child Advocacy Center, prosecutors and (Child Protective Services) as appropriate,” Lewis said.

“There is nothing that prohibits a trained detective from interviewing a child in this multidisciplinary framework,” she said. Lewis said the Cedar Park Police Department tries to keep interviews of a child to a minimum “to avoid re-victimization to the child.”

“However when a credible outcry is made it is imperative that the truth be sought, both for potential prosecution or exoneration of the innocent,” she said. “This may require additional interviews to clear up inconsistencies.”



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