A Highland County Children’s Services case involving a local Amish family was dismissed on Friday after the judge determined there was insufficient evidence presented at trial to indicate a 2-year-old child had been sexually assaulted.
Highland County Juvenile Court Judge Kevin Greer said that while there was undoubtedly enough reasonable suspicion for authorities to file the case, testimony and evidence presented during the trial couldn’t prove sexual activity had occurred.
As reported by The Times-Gazette, the case came about when Hannah Allard, a children’s services caseworker with Highland County Job and Family Services, filed a complaint alleging the child was sexually abused, neglected or dependent after the 2-year-old was taken by her mother to the hospital in August.
Greer said medical witnesses, including the nurse who initially examined the child, could not confirm an apparent injury was caused by sexual contact and could have been caused by the child scratching herself or falling down.
Test results later indicated there were traces of semen in the child’s underwear, according to Allard’s complaint, but Greer said testimony from investigators with the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation indicated only three sperm cells were found in the undergarments, and consequently, there was not enough DNA to prove whose it was.
“There is no evidence, none, that sexual contact occurred,” Greer said, but “there’s no question there was suspicion here.”
Greer said in order for the children to be permanently removed from their home, there must be “clear and convincing evidence” that abuse or neglect occurred.
“That burden has not been met by the agency,” he said.
Greer expressed sympathy for the family, and said while it’s unfortunate these types of cases must be pursued in the first place, authorities have a duty to investigate when there is suspicion of wrongdoing.
“I can’t imagine how tough this has been for you to go through,” Greer said to the parents.
The child and two siblings, ages 3 and 4, were initially removed from the home and placed in the care of a Mennonite foster family, and then were placed in the custody of their paternal uncle.
On Friday, Greer ordered the children be returned to their parents immediately.
Throughout the case, many people who appeared to be members of the Amish community attended court hearings, at times quietly lining the halls of the courthouse after the small juvenile courtroom reached capacity.
Job and Family Services Director Katie Adams said the demonstration was likely one of support for the family.
Allard, who testified at a prior hearing, said she received a number of threatening phone calls from some of those involved during the case, including one voicemail that said, “You’d better watch your step.”
Allard declined to comment to The Times-Gazette, but Adams said Allard and her supervisor both received threatening phone calls, although she added it’s not uncommon for caseworkers to receive threats in cases like this.
“I would say it’s not untypical for us to receive threats on our workers in the nature of the business they do, removing children,” she said. “You’re going to get threatened every once in a while.”
Attorney Kathryn Hapner represented the children in the case as guardian ad litem, while Denny Kirk represented the father and Kristy Wilkin represented the mother.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.