Officials disagree about plea bargains
Law enforcement officials and the District Attorney’s Office disagreed Wednesday about the recent handling of a prosecution involving an accused sex offender who was arrested for molesting his son.
Two weeks ago, Nevada County District Attorney Charles O’Rourke dropped four counts of child molestation charges against Jesse Rider, 19, a Grass Valley man who confessed on tape to sodomizing his 4-year-old son at least three times in 2004. Rider called the incidents “an accident,” according to police records.
“The D.A.’s office has a habit of reducing cases without consulting (law enforcement) prior to doing it,” said Grass Valley Police Capt. Dave Remillard. “This isn’t the first case, and it’s really disappointing.”
O’Rourke said a 2004 United State Supreme Court decision makes such cases very hard.
“What I did was appropriate,” O’Rourke said. “I don’t think a response to (police criticism) is constructive.”
The incident is the latest example of occasional tensions among law enforcement agents, prosecutors and the courts in Nevada County about the handling of criminal cases involving sexual offenders and drug dealers.
Drug offenders and petty criminals with multiple arrests especially annoy police, who call them “frequent fliers.”
The tension also comes as the District Attorney’s office faces a change in leadership. Cliff Newell was elected D.A. in June to replace longtime incumbent Mike Ferguson. Newell takes office Jan. 8, 2007.
On Oct. 20, Rider pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of child endangerment and is set for sentencing on Dec. 11 in Nevada County Superior Court.
Rider’s attorney, Michael Phillips, would not comment on the case. Phillips recently filed a motion arguing that Rider was coerced into his confession.
Disagreement on protocol
In explaining the plea bargain, O’Rourke cited the Supreme Court’s ruling in Crawford vs. Washington, which made prosecution more difficult because it allows the defense to examine any witness, including victims, before that witness’ out-of-court statement is allowed into evidence.
The child told investigators a year and a half ago – in graphic detail – that his father molested him, according to police records. But in a recent interview with O’Rourke, the child said he did not remember what he had said.
Based on that follow-up interview, as well as a discussion with the child’s mother, O’Rourke opted to drop the molestation charges.
The plea agreement has frustrated Grass Valley police investigators, who have spent more than a year working on the case.
“It’s our job in society to protect our children, and we do everything we can to do that,” Remillard said. “It was a good case.”
He said Rider will not have to register as a sex offender after he is released from jail, and it is possible he could regain custody of his son.
District Attorney-elect Cliff Newell defended O’Rourke’s decision.
“(O’Rourke) is a very experienced professional who takes his case load very seriously,” Newell said. “I’m not going to second guess him. If a prosecutor has a case he knows won’t prevail, and he’s certain evidence won’t be admitted, what’s the point of going to trial and traumatizing the victim?”
Grass Valley Sgt. Doug Hren, who was the lead investigator in the Rider case, said O’Rourke did not consult with him before meeting with the child for the second trial preparation interview.
“He didn’t notify me and give me, or a forensic interviewer, a chance to talk with the boy,” Hren said.
Hren said a trained interviewer with Child Protective Services, such as the one who initially interviewed the child in 2005, may have made the boy more comfortable in recalling his memories. Using a trained interviewer to talk with the victim about a traumatic incident is protocol, Hren said.
O’Rourke said that protocol only applies during an investigation – not for trial preparation. He added that consulting with police before offering the plea agreement is not required and is considered a courtesy.
Other public service personnel said they would like to see more courtesies extended between agencies such as the DA’s Office and police.
“My hope would be the D.A.’s Office, law enforcement and victim services could work more collaboratively and open up lines of communication,” said Rod Gillespie, project coordinator for Nevada County Victim/Witness Assistance. “It doesn’t happen as well as it could or should, and it has the potential to improve.”
To contact Staff Writer Robyn Moormeister, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4236.
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