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Child abuse allegations trouble rural community

October 20, 1995
Web posted at: 3:45 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Don Knapp

WENATCHEE, Washington (CNN) -- A storm of allegations of child sexual abuse rages in the remote mountain community of Wenatchee, Washington. Accusations, prosecutions, and convictions based on remarkable -- some say incredible -- stories of a few children. Teddy

"We had several homes where there was incestuous behavior going on," said Chelan County prosecutor Gary Riesen. "Those people happened to know other people. And the kids kind of crossed the line from one house to another ( 147K AIFF sound or 147K WAV sound) ."

Beginning with charges against two families, investigators charted sex rings of adults and children, naming more than 100 adults in incidents dating back five years. They tallied thousands of charges -- 3,200 incidents of child rape charged to one woman alone.

Child Protective Services (CPS) has sent 50 children to foster homes since the investigation got under way in early 1994.

"There were so many children they had to stand and wait their turn to begin sex acts with adults," said Det. Robert Perez of the Wenatchee Police Department ( 109K AIFF sound or 109K WAV sound).

The enormous scale of accusations and charges stunned Wenatchee area residents. Some began to question the investigative tactics of the police and CPS. Even Washington's governor joined in the foray, asking U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno for a federal investigation.

Prosecutor Riesen said that his office has gone by the book. Riesen

"In my office, we have not charged every person that's been arrested," he said. "The only cases we've filed is where there's been corroborative evidence, not an accusation based on one child. It's based on multiple children, based on adult witnesses corroboration."

Police in two counties have arrested an estimated 41 people resulting from the investigation. Twenty-two were convicted or pleaded guilty, charges were dismissed against eight, two were found not guilty, and nine other await trials.

Pastor Robert Roberson of the Pentacostal Church of God laughed about the nine-hour police search of his church, looking, authorities said, for sex toys. The state crime lab reported finding no evidence of sexual acts.

Still, Roberson and his wife Connie were jailed on charges of molesting their own four-year-old daughter and other children. The allegations were made by a young girl from their church who told stories of regular Friday night orgies at the church.

Roberson contends he was arrested after he spoke out in defense of former church member charged with sexual abuse. And Sunday school teacher Honnah Sims claims she was arrested after she spoke out in defense of Roberson. Handcuffs

"If somebody doesn't stop them soon, there will be nobody here in Wenatchee," said Sims, who was acquitted at trial. "We'll all be in prison ( 55K AIFF sound or 55K WAV sound)."

One fact troubles many in Wenatchee. Two children from one of the early sex abuse cases lived in the home of the chief sex crimes investigator -- Det. Robert Perez -- as his foster children. By some accounts, those two children have accused as many as 50 people of abusing them.

In April of this year, one of the girls was taken by Perez and two case workers from CPS on a ride to identify places where she was allegedly assaulted. The girl pointed out 23 locations.

A jury in another case convicted the parents of five of abusing their 10-year-old daughter, sentencing them to 11 years in prison. Sixteen-year-old Sarah "Sam" Doggett said that CPS pressured her younger sister to testify against her mother and father ( 111K AIFF sound or 111K WAV sound).

"They've ruined my family," says Doggett, a foster care runaway. "They've ruined my life." Sam

Sam claimed CPS sent her to a mental institution to persuade her to testify, but a spokeswoman for Washington's Department of Social and Health Services defended CPS.

"It would not surprise me to have some of these children need mental health treatment considering the severity of the abuse that they've had," said Kathy Spear.

Doggett's attorney has threatened a civil rights lawsuit, charging the state, through CPS, with kidnapping. And that may be just the beginning. While the prosecuting attorney says that the investigation is closed, some of those who were arrested but never tried or tried and found not guilty are planning lawsuits of their own.


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