Tuesday, September 7, 2004
Last April, a Routt County Sheriff's deputy was terminated after allegations surfaced that the 34-year-old deputy had sex with a 17-year-old girl he met through a school program. The case was turned over to the District Attorney's Office, which still has not determined whether to charge the deputy with a crime. Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James has said the case remains under investigation, and that he wants to turn over every stone before filing charges or making an announcement that there will be no charges. District Attorney Bonnie Roesink, who is unopposed in the November election, has said the case is St. James' to decide.
We can appreciate the thorough approach St. James has taken with the case; however, it is concerning that nearly six months have passed and the District Attorney's Office seems no closer to a decision. We think a decision is not only in the best interest of those involved but also of the community as a whole.
Sexual assaults are difficult cases to prosecute. They often boil down to "he said, she said" arguments. Unfortunately, the alleged victims in such cases often are victimized again by the judicial process. The recently dismissed case against Kobe Bryant is a perfect example.
It is hard to feel sympathy for Bryant. At best, he showed an enormous lack of judgment; at worst, he sexually assaulted a teen. Conversely, it's hard not to feel sympathy for the woman, whose sanity and decency were questioned because of the accusation she made. Her life will never be the same and the resulting message -- that the deck is stacked against women who make sexual assault allegations -- is sad indeed.
There is a world of difference between Kobe Bryant's case and that of the Routt County deputy. By all accounts, the relationship between the deputy and the teen was consensual and involved multiple encounters. It is not even clear that the teen considers herself a victim.
Colorado's Criminal Code indicates that, depending on the circumstances, it is not a crime for a 17-year-old to consent to sex with a 34-year-old. However, it is a crime for an adult in a position of trust in a relationship to a child younger than 18 to have sexual contact with that child. The question in the deputy's case is whether he was in a position of trust to the teen. That's the question for the District Attorney's Office to determine.
We do not presume to know the details of the investigation. What we do know is that the district attorney's lack of action on the case could send an unintended and unfortunate message. Absent charges or an explanation of why there will not be charges, the District Attorney's Office sends a signal that the community is ambivalent when such behavior is alleged.
The Bryant case ended as a debacle. The victim decided not to testify and the prosecution, which had lost at nearly every legal turn, was left with no choice but to abandon the case.
Perhaps the District Attorney's cautious, patient approach in the Routt County deputy's case will ensure that the decision will produce justice rather than a judicial mess. We believe that decision should come sooner, rather than later, for the sake of those involved, as well as the community.