Barron, in his sixty years, never had contact with the law. His girlfriend’s daughter, TL, dramatically changed that. After five years of being apart their family, Debra’s fourteen-year-old daughter, TL, alleged that on two occasions, during August and September of 2012, Barron sexually abused her.
This startling revelation came about on Christmas Eve, 2012. After getting dressed to go to the mall with her mother and older sister, TL came downstairs to the kitchen where the family was gathered. Her shocking outfit led to ridicule. Especially mad at Barron for laughing, she cursed at him and ran upstairs. Only then did she disclose the “abuse” to her sister and her mother, Debra.
TL was interviewed by a psychologist, who was mandated to report the allegations to Child Protective Services (“CPS”). TL was thereafter interviewed by a CPS caseworker, and eventually by the police.
Barron was arrested for various sexual abuse and forcible touching crimes. The criminal charges were dismissed, leaving only the Family Court proceeding.
The fact-finding hearing took place in Family Court over three days. TL did not testify. In Family Court, out-of-court statements made by the child are admissible in evidence.
They must be corroborated to support a fact-finding determination of proof by a preponderance of the evidence. As such, prior to the proceeding, Dr. Anne Meltzer was appointed as a “validator” to interview TL and make a determination as to whether she believed sexual abuse occurred. Dr. Meltzer provides independent evaluations of children alleged to have been sexually and/or physically abused. She met with TL on two occasions. As per the Court’s Order, said meetings were recorded. Those recordings were later introduced into evidence at the trial.
Following the two sessions, Dr. Meltzer opined, to a reasonable degree of psychological certainty, the child’s status was consistent with a child who had been sexually abused.
Dr. Meltzer described that following a child’s sexual abuse, there is the “secrecy” stage wherein the perpetrator somehow threatens the victim to keep the act a secret. The defense showed how this case involved no such stage. Dr. Meltzer backtracked, that the secrecy stage can be an important part of the abuse syndrome, but not in all cases. The defense impeached Dr. Meltzer with a transcript of her previous testimony before a Brooklyn Court, where Dr. Meltzer testified the secrecy stage was very important.
Dr. Meltzer’s own report was used to impeach her credibility at the fact-finding hearing. In said report, Dr. Meltzer quoted TL’s statements made during her interview, indicating she may have changed pronouns (ie. from “she” to “her”). Cross-examination revealed those quotes were not in the recordings. When confronted, it was irrefutably shown by the defense Dr. Meltzer totally misrepresented purported “quotes” by TL. For example, Dr. Meltzer’s written report indicated TL never told any big lies. A review of the video revealed Dr. Meltzer asking TL if she had ever told any big lies. TL responded, “no, not really.” TL explained to Dr. Meltzer about a time where she had lied.
Dr. Meltzer’s report also indicated that after the alleged abuse, TL placed a lock on her bedroom door. Dr. Meltzer’s report omitted a highly relevant fact. TL indicated she placed the lock on her door because she felt that since she was getting old, she needed more privacy due to the fact that her mother and older sister were always coming into her room, that the lock had nothing to with Barron. Other such misquotes followed, leading the Court to directly question Dr. Meltzer on the subject.
TL was a fourteen-year-old honors student with no psychological issues. During Dr. Meltzer’s interview, TL was unable to describe anything regarding the alleged events with any degree of certainty. As such, TL responded to Dr. Meltzer’s questions with, “not really,” “I’m not sure,” or “maybe.” TL also stated the alleged incidents could have been a misunderstanding. The defense proved to the Court how Dr. Meltzer purposely omitted this information from her report!
While it is advised that a Court appointed validator gather secondary information, Dr. Meltzer did not do so. She did not obtain CPS records, the notes from TL’s therapist, or conduct any interviews other than a brief session with Debra, TL’s mother.
In rebuttal, Dr. Eileen Treacy was called as a witness in Barron’s case. Dr. Treacy had an opportunity to review the video tapes of Dr. Meltzer’s interview with TL. She claimed Dr. Meltzer did not follow the protocol of, “New York State Children’s Justice Task Force Forensic Interviewing Best Practices,” and criticized Dr. Meltzer’s methodologies.
Dr. Treacy opined Dr. Meltzer did not employ proper questioning methodology, using leading questions, closed questions, and often putting words in TL’s mouth. Nor did Dr. Meltzer sufficiently explore the issue of “secondary gain,” or “motive.” The time of disclosure was after Barron made fun of TL. The Court found the timing of the disclosure as curious. Further, TL disclosed that her mom, Debra, was all over him (Barron). TL explained how Debra paid a lot of attention to him (Barron). TL also expressed how her mother did more stuff for him (Barron) and herself. The Court believed TL was upset at her mother for paying so much attention to Barron.
Dr. Treacy also believed Dr. Meltzer did not adequately explore an alternative hypothesis. Such alleged touching may not have been sexually oriented. Dr. Meltzer did not seek information regarding this issue at all.
Dr. Treacy testified TL was an honor student, yet could not be sure what actually occurred. She found this to be suspicious due to a fourteen-year-old child’s ability to remember and communicate. TL explained, “I think it was a misunderstanding,” “I don’t really know,” “maybe,” and “I’m not sure.”
Ultimately, Dr. Meltzer offered an opinion to corroborate the child’s out-of-court statements. She opined that to a reasonable degree of certainty the child’s status was consistent with that of a child who was sexually abused. Dr. Treacy concluded there was insufficient evidence to declare, with a reasonable degree of psychological certainty, that the child had been sexually abused.
Due to numerous flaws in Dr. Meltzer’s questioning of TL, flaws in her written report, and her inconsistent testimony, as well as the rebuttal testimony of Dr. Eileen Treacy, the Court disagreed with Dr. Meltzer’s opinion.
The Court determined Dr. Meltzer had not corroborated the statements of TL and the statements made by TL to Dr. Meltzer were inconsistent. The Court dismissed the allegations against Barron.