Mandatory-report-failure charge is likely Johnson County's first


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A Broadway Neighborhood Center director is facing Johnson County's first charge for allegedly failing to report a sexual assault against a minor.

According to a police complaint, Susan Freeman-Murdah has been charged with failing to fulfill her legal duty as a mandatory reporter after hearing evidence that a child in the Headstart Program — which Freeman-Murdah oversees — had been sexually abused.

A teacher reportedly told Freeman-Murdah a parent had approached Head Start directors with concerns her daughter had been sexually assaulted in December 2011.

Police said the alleged victim was under 12 years old.

Social workers, school personnel, law-enforcement officers, and other officials can face a simple misdemeanor for failing to report child abuse.

Yet Johnson County Department of Human Services spokesman Roger Munns said the county has never had an individual facing these charges until now.

"The fact that nobody [at the Department of Human Services] can remember a similar charge makes it pretty unusual," he said. "It is a simple misdemeanor, meaning that might be one of the reasons prosecutors haven't pursued it in the past — some may have felt it was a low priority."

There may now be a heightened interest in child-abuse report cases following former Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno's alleged failure to alert authorities of such abuse, he noted.

Iowa City School Board member Karla Cook, a former teacher whose training required her to become a mandatory reporter, said she is not aware of any instances in which Iowa City school personnel have faced such charges.

"I was a mandatory reporter, and I guess I just assumed that it was the law, and if I saw it, I needed to do it," she said.

Cook also believes the Paterno allegations have brought the issue into the public eye.

"I'm beginning to wonder if it is that uncommon," she said. "Technically, isn't that what they tried to fire [Joe] Paterno for? Not reporting?"

According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County executive director Brian Loring released a statement Thursday saying the Department of Human Services had investigated and found no evidence of child abuse.

"We have cooperated fully with law enforcement and the Department of Human Services and will continue to do so," he said in the statement. "The health and safety of children has always been, and remains, our top priority."

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