Director of Broadway Neighborhood Center: Child abuse never occurred

BY BETH BRATSOS | MAY 11, 2012 6:30 AM

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

The Broadway Neighborhood Center director charged Feb. 1 with failing to report sexual abuse testified during her trial at the Johnson County Courthouse Thursday that the alleged sexual abuse never occurred.

Susan Freeman-Murdah expressed numerous times throughout the trial her and her staff's utmost confidence that Colleen Varney, the teacher accused of sexual abuse, did not commit the act — nor did anyone else at the center.

"I thought [the mother] believed it," Freeman-Murdah said. "But I didn't think it happened."

Attorneys said a mother of a 3-year-old child in the center's Headstart Program first went to teacher Michael Crowley in December 2011 with concerns her daughter had been sexually abused by Varney. The mother first came to staff with her concerns after her child sat on her lap and "kissed her passionately." When the mother asked the child where she learned to kiss like that, the child repeatedly answered "Colleen" — in reference to Varney.

Crowley then informed Freeman-Murdah. Freeman-Murdah, as a mandatory reporter in her position, is required to report allegations of sexual abuse to the Department of Human Services within 24 hours.

But Assistant County Attorney Meredith Rich-Chappell said during the trial that Freeman-Murdah's speculations about what did or did not happen should not override what the child's mother reported her daughter had said.

"So you were not able to take on face value what a mother had said that her daughter reported?" the attorney asked Freeman-Murdah.

Rich-Chappell then asked Freeman-Murdah if she was required to take any specialized training as to whether child abuse has or hasn't occurred, and Freeman-Murdah — other than mandatory reporter training — said she had not.

The mother was revealed earlier in the trial to have experienced sexual abuse herself as a child.

Freeman-Murdah's attorney Leon Spies discussed a prior statement Freeman-Murdah made that this fact may have partially triggered the feelings and reactions the mother had toward her daughter's reports.

"We find working with women [who have been sexually abused] that things will trigger," Freeman-Murdah said. "That it leads to some immediate conclusions that other people might not make based on her experience."

Brian Loring, the executive director of the Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County, testified that although staff members are required to report allegations of sexual abuse to Human Services and not rely on personal investigations to determine if abuse occurred, he and other Neighborhood Center staff were under the impression the issue was resolved after Freeman-Murdah met with Varney in mid-December.

"We wouldn't hesitate if we believed there was abuse to report," he said.

When Spies asked Loring if he believed Freeman-Murdah deviated from any responsibilities over the course of the matter, Loring said, "I do not believe so."

The jury also heard testimony from Sarah Swisher, an AmeriCorps member who works at the Broadway Center, Valerie Kemp, a probation officer whose office is located in the center, and Rod Sullivan, a Johnson County supervisor. All three spoke to Freeman-Murdah's character in a positive way. But Rich-Chappell said in cross-examinations that none of them had firsthand knowledge of the specific case at hand.

After the jury of seven was dismissed, Spies said the state did not prove Freeman-Murdah guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and asked 6th District Judge Stephen Gerard to acquit her.

The jury is expected today to hear closing statements from both attorneys and begin deliberations.

If convicted, Freeman-Murdah would be the first person in Johnson County to possibly serve time for failing mandatory-reporter duties.

In today's issue:

comments powered by Disqus

Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

Copyright © The Daily Iowan, All Rights Reserved.