Officials disagreed on youth sex case
County leaders were not certain crime was committed
When the head of Blair County Juvenile Probation Nancy Williams eventually talked to Altoona police about an alleged sexual encounter in 2011 between an intern and a 16-year-old boy under juvenile probation supervision, it was March 2012.
The 20-year-old intern was fired immediately after the alleged incident came to light in early May 2011, but it was never reported by the county to an outside agency for investigation. The boy’s parents said they were satisfied with the firing of the intern and counseling would be unnecessary.
When Williams was asked by Altoona police Detective Mary Hogan what she would have done had the boy’s parents wanted further action taken, Williams said, “other than professional counseling, she didn’t know, but would have consulted with the DA’s office,” Hogan noted in the incident report.
If the parents had wanted further legal action, Williams told Hogan she would have told them to contact the DA’s Office, and she would have made a follow-up call.
Williams also pointed out to Hogan that she had met with then-Blair County President Judge Jolene Kopriva and the county commissioners, along with Chief Clerk Helen Schmitt, to talk about the allegations against the intern and was told to document the incident.
Hogan asked if she was told to call police, the DA’s officer or Blair County Children, Youth and Family Services, and Williams said, “They did not think it was a crime.”
‘Did not think it was a crime’
Williams told Hogan none of the commissioners, including Terry Tomassetti, who is a former assistant district attorney, suggested it was a crime, and they even told Williams “they did not think it was a crime.” Williams said she was not told to notify anyone.
In the interview with Hogan, Williams asked what crime would have been committed, and Hogan told her it would be a first-degree misdemeanor corruption of minors.
Hogan even asked Williams if she thought it was unusual that Childline had not notified CYFS, but Williams said she had called them once before and never heard anything back, so she didn’t think it was unusual.
At the end of the interview, Williams asked Hogan what she should do if this kind of situation occurred again, to which Hogan told her to follow-up with CYFS to see if a referral was made and to contact the District Attorney’s Office.
Hogan, now retired, said she recalled the name of the juvenile but not details of the investigation given the time that had passed and the volume of cases she investigated during and after that time.
Blair County District Attorney Richard Consiglio said last month he didn’t recall the case, but he pulled the file to go over what had been done after it was submitted to his office by Altoona police.
Consiglio said then-Assistant District Attorney Dan Kiss would have been the prosecutor who received the case from Altoona police, but since charges were not filed and the length of time that has passed, he could not say what happened to the case.
Consiglio did say he likely would not have charged the intern given the close age gap between the boy and her and the consensual nature of the incident.
“It might have been corruption of minors,” Consiglio said.
He said the parents did not want to pursue criminal charges, and that was a factor.
“It might be something that would be looked at closer today,” said Consiglio, adding he would have to look at all the facets of the case before he could say with certainty.
When asked if it was a case that should have been referred to the state Attorney General’s Office because of the involvement of Juvenile Probation, Consiglio said he didn’t know and would want to look at the case further.
He agreed there would have been a mandatory reporting requirement at the time and said while society may apply a double standard to sexual offenses where teenage boys are exploited by adult women, he said he doesn’t differentiate when looking at a case.
Kiss said he remembered the case and that it was one he decided at the time had to be reviewed by higher-ups in the DA’s office before charges could be filed.
“I can’t say I remember all the details,” Kiss said. “We got a Childline report and sent Altoona police out to do an investigation. They went out, and it was a very lengthy, thorough investigation. They did a heck of a job on it.”
Kiss said he was unsure when Altoona police brought in their completed investigation, but it was likely late summer of 2012.
He got the file, looked at their investigation and determined because potential witnesses would be courthouse employees and because details of the case could have created a conflict of interest for the DA’s Office, he thought someone above him needed to look at it.
“I figured this was not one I could make a call on myself,” Kiss said.
Shortly after that, he received a job offer and left the DA’s office for private practice.
Tougher laws in place
Jackie Bernard served as Deputy Assistant Attorney back in 2011, and in 2014, she was one of a dozen people appointed to serve on the statewide Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection.
The task force report led to the passage of tougher laws to protect child victims and more stringent reporting standards. In 2014, The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape honored Bernard with its Vision of Hope award for her work on behalf of children.
Bernard said earlier this month she recalled the case but was not involved in handling it and referred the Mirror to District Attorney Rich Consiglio. (This story was edited on Dec. 21 to correct inaccurate information previously reporting that Bernard did not recall the case.)
Cathleen Palm, founder of the Pennsylvania-based Center for Children’s Justice, said when it comes to reporting and the law, now and in 2011, a mandated reporter doesn’t have to know with certainty if what occurred is a criminal offense before reporting something, only that there is “a reasonable cause to suspect.”
The report will start the investigations by police or county child welfare agencies or both, she pointed out.
Palm also pointed out the mindset in an organization that someone else has it covered and that it isn’t reportable was prevalent before Sandusky.
And while changes have been made to the law to hold people accountable by listing and enumerating who has an obligation to report such incidents, there is room for improvement, she said.
Palm noted that there has been a push to create a state-level child protection ombudsman in Pennsylvania as an independent advocate for children involved in the county operated child welfare system, whether it be foster care, the juvenile justice system or other facilities and programs serving the needs of children.
“Too often it becomes an adversarial thing,” Palm said of when someone tries to look at the policies and actions of publicly funded agencies.
An impartial ombudsman dealing with matters of child protection would ultimately make the lives of children better and give them a third-party advocate to turn to and provide a certain degree of accountability and oversight, as well as transparency, in the system, according to Palm.
Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.
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