Crime

Damage done: How KC detectives ‘dropped the ball’ for child abuse victims

After a 3-year-old girl accused a Kansas City man of molesting her in 2013, lab tests linked the man’s DNA to a semen stain on the girl’s underwear, court records say.

Yet the man, Parrish Smith, remained free.

Nine months after the DNA match, in summer 2014, three other girls accused him of touching them inappropriately.

Smith still remained free.

Another year passed before a 2015 phone call to a grandmother of two of the victims offered a glimpse into the troubled Kansas City Police Department’s Crimes Against Children unit — troubles one police commander called the biggest systemic failure he had ever seen.

“I am picking up the Parrish Smith case because someone dropped the ball,” said the caller, whom the grandmother recalled as being a detective or Jackson County prosecutor.

The problems were so deep that the Police Department launched an internal affairs investigation and in January suspended seven of the unit’s eight detectives entrusted to seek justice for raped, molested or otherwise abused children.

The Smith case is one of scores touched by those detectives winding through the courts, warts and all. Between those cases, and ones never charged, obstacles abound in obtaining justice, The Star found in a new analysis of the fallout of the unit’s failures.

The Star first revealed the severity of the unit’s problems three months ago, showing that the department in late 2015 identified nearly 150 “severely mishandled” cases, including “gross negligence” and even possible police deceit.

In its followup analysis, The Star interviewed prosecutors, talked to victims’ families, examined court cases, obtained police reports and studied hundreds of pages of internal police documents so sensitive they’ve been sealed from public view by judges.

Among the findings:

▪ Prosecutors’ frustration with slow and inadequate detective work and then a troubling phone call between Jackson County’s top prosecutor and one detective triggered the internal investigation that consumed the unit.

▪ Detectives torpedoed their own investigations with long delays, lost evidence, incompetence and attempts to cover up mistakes, police memos show.

▪ Delays in cases left suspected child molesters free. At least one later hurt more kids.

▪ Fallout from the unit’s problems continues to jeopardize prosecutions of suspects.

Police Chief Darryl Forté has said the department made significant changes within the unit to ensure that crimes against children are thoroughly investigated in a timely and appropriate fashion. Because the internal review is not complete, he said he could not comment further.

The internal investigation might not conclude until March, months later than originally expected, court records show.

Until then, the detectives — identified in the internal police documents as Gleanice Brown, Latondra Moore, Tamara Solomon, Amy Klug, Robert Roubal, Travis Menuey and James Foushee — remain employed with the department, reassigned since February to patrol units.

Police Department policy forbids the detectives from commenting while an internal affairs investigation is underway, according to an email from Roubal, who declined to comment further. No other detective responded to certified letters seeking comment.

The investigation could clear some detectives while costing others their law enforcement careers.

Internal police documents show that the severity of allegations against each varies. In court filings arguing that the internal affairs documents should not be released to defendants, police said the allegations against detectives had not been substantiated.

If Forté recommends any of the seven be fired, the detective can appeal to the police board. If the board upholds Forté’s recommendation, the detective can appeal to the circuit court.

“Until it’s finished, it would be premature and irresponsible to make any comments based on an incomplete internal investigation,” Brad Lemon, president of the Kansas City Fraternal Order of Police, wrote in an email to The Star. “… At this time, as the investigation continues no evidence of wrongdoing has been brought to our attention. These officers deserve due process before being tried and convicted in the media.”

Meanwhile, prosecutors are dealing with damage from years of failures in the unit.

In one reported crime, detectives waited about two years to arrest a man accused of raping a neighbor girl, said Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker. During the trial, jurors took that delay to mean the detectives didn’t believe the girl. The jury might have convicted instead of acquitting the defendant if not for that delay, several jurors told prosecutors.

“I have had to look at these victims before and tell them I wasn’t successful, I didn’t quite get there,” Baker said. “And I have crushed them. I have crushed them. … I had a kid say to me, ‘So they didn’t believe me?’ And I said, ‘Well, it is more complicated than that.’ 

Problems revealed

For years, prosecutors had been concerned. Detectives finished cases too slowly. And they diverted too many physical abuse cases to city court, which could mean less work for police but also lighter consequences for abusers.

Prosecutors’ complaints simmered until one troubling phone conversation last year between a prosecutor and a detective led to the Police Department’s scrutiny of the unit — scrutiny that eventually revealed a backlog of cases, misplaced evidence, possible deceit and at least one detective’s personal and professional dysfunction.

The spark came on a Sunday morning in September, after a bullet grazed a 7-year-old child inside a Kansas City home.

Normally, police alert prosecutors in Baker’s office of such incidents. But that hadn’t happened. Baker started making calls to find out why and eventually reached Detective Solomon.

The conversation did not go well.

“She was upset that I was calling and asking questions,” Baker later told internal affairs investigators, according to documents obtained by The Star. “I was just aghast that she seemed annoyed at the phone call.”

In an interview, Baker told The Star, “I got the distinct impression the case was not being handled with the kind of priority that I believe a 7-year-old who gets shot should get. And in my jurisdiction, I was not going to sit back and allow that.”

Baker complained to police officials. The next day, commanders sent a new sergeant and four detectives into the unit. They began to uncover the problems that eventually led to the detectives’ January suspensions.

For Solomon, the January suspension was the second levied in less than two months.

In early December 2015, police went to her home on a domestic violence call. Although police arrested Solomon, prosecutors did not file charges against either adult in the home.

The investigation, however, turned up information that altercations between Solomon and her spouse had escalated to hitting, choking and threats with a loaded handgun, according to a letter Baker sent to Forté.

Baker told The Star she was concerned for the safety of the three children in the home, so she called the child abuse hotline.

Police suspended Solomon. By then, supervisors already had listed 31 of Solomon’s cases — more than any other detective — among the 156 “mishandled” cases they’d documented. In their memos, they noted that two of her cases possibly involved deceit or suspicious activity.

With Solomon suspended, co-workers looked through her desk to see what work other detectives needed to pick up.

They found dozens of pieces of evidence, including many children’s interviews on DVDs, that hadn’t been properly logged. They found reports of crimes, delivered by other police agencies, that Solomon had ignored. And they found requests from Clay County prosecutors and Jackson County Family Court for more work on cases that Solomon also had ignored, the documents say.

Questioned in writing by a supervisor, Solomon repeatedly answered, “I have no explanation,” according to a copy of her responses. But she also cited as distractions a long list of personal issues, including a problem pregnancy, other medical challenges, a troubled marriage and her father’s illness and death.

“To this day, I still feel lost, alone, scared, emotionally/physically drained and incomplete,” Solomon wrote on Dec. 22, 2015.

All the turmoil made it hard to do her job properly, she wrote.

Because of the domestic violence incident, Baker cited a conflict of interest that left her office unable to use Solomon as a witness on cases she had investigated. Baker asked the court to appoint a special prosecutor. As a result, the Missouri attorney general’s office inherited 21 cases. Many remain pending, and some face challenges because of Solomon, court records show.

Among them is a child molestation and sodomy trial in which the defense wants Baker to testify about Solomon’s domestic violence arrest and the conflict of interest situation.

That defense attorney, James Anderson, also wants police Capt. Todd Paulson to testify about Solomon’s 2015 performance evaluation, which he scored “below expectations” before changing it to “unsatisfactory,” according to court records. Prosecutors oppose allowing Baker and Paulson to testify.

In a separate statutory rape case that Solomon investigated, the defense attorney requested a trial delay until after the internal affairs investigation ends.

Police have “discovered an extensive pattern of dereliction in the performance of the Unit’s investigation work, as well as a possible pattern of dishonesty by various members of the Unit in attempting to cover up the abuses,” the attorney, Curtis Winegarner, wrote in a September court filing.

If internal affairs investigators determine that the lead detective in his client’s case “engaged in professional misconduct or dishonesty,” the information could help him discredit the detective’s testimony, Winegarner added.

“Defendant believes this is necessary to ensure that he receives due process, a fair trial and a meaningful opportunity to confront the evidence and witnesses against him,” Winegarner wrote.

The trial is set for May.

Steady improvement

Since new Kansas City police detectives began working cases from the Crimes Against Children unit, they have completed many more cases. The quality has been superior as well, with prosecutors charging many more defendants.

‘It’s over for them’

As the unit came under scrutiny in September 2015, detective Moore worked late into the evening, including once until 11 p.m., trying to get old cases off her desk.

Among her mishandled cases was a statutory rape by three men of a 12-year-old girl nearly three years earlier.

Police memos obtained by The Star detail how Moore’s “gross neglect,” mistakes and actions that called her integrity into question crippled the pursuit of justice for the girl. Supervisors cited this as one example of the unit’s failings.

Only when a Star reporter called in October did the girl and her mother learn that the three men had escaped charges.

“I want an explanation of why they felt it was OK to just drop it,” the girl’s mother said. “What if these guys come back? They need to be punished. And if they’re not, then shame on the Police Department.”

The girl had run away from home on Jan. 15, 2013. She met three men at a gas station. She told them she was 23. All three had sex with her. Back at home two days later, the girl told her mother. They called police.

“These guys passed her around,” the mother told The Star. “I mean, this is going to affect her for the rest of her life.”

Detectives Moore and Foushee went to the girl’s home to investigate. Later, the girl recorded a video interview with a child interview specialist. She also identified one of the men in a photo lineup.

More than a year passed. The girl and her family heard nothing more from police or prosecutors. They assumed the men had been arrested and jailed.

Then into the Crimes Against Children unit came a squad of new detectives.

That is when Moore, who also has used the name Moore-Harrison, opened her file again and wrote a report saying that, nine months earlier, a Kansas City man had confessed to the sex. When he learned the victim’s age, it “made him feel sick,” Moore wrote.

After adding this note, Moore sent the case file to Jackson County prosecutors for the first time.

Prosecutors rejected the case, noting that the file lacked the video of the girl’s 2013 forensic interview.

Three months later, after police commanders suspended Moore and the other six detectives, a supervisor found the video on Moore’s desk among other pieces of misplaced evidence.

New detectives submitted the case again, but prosecutors declined to file charges. Moore’s decision to add a confession to the case file nine months after the fact could, by itself, have severely damaged an already difficult case, Baker said.

“First of all, her (Moore’s) credibility is on the line,” Baker said.

Baker became so concerned about Moore and one other detective, Brown, that she wrote a highly unusual letter to Forté declaring the two detectives unfit for police work. Baker demanded that neither detective respond to 911 calls or handle evidence.

“It’s over for them,” Baker told The Star.

“I have a responsibility to keep them away from any of my cases … because their credibility has already been impugned. Not by me, but by the Police Department themselves.”

Supervisors accused Brown and Moore of mishandling a total of 51 cases, including 34 that showed signs of suspicious activity or possible deceit.

The memos allege:

▪ Brown mishandled 29 cases. Eighteen sat untouched for at least a year. In nine, she mishandled evidence or didn’t follow procedures. Twenty-one, including some she inherited from other detectives, contained signs of deceit or suspicious activity.

▪ Moore mishandled 22 cases, including seven that she did not work on for a year or more. She mishandled evidence or didn’t follow procedures in five cases. Thirteen showed signs of possible deceit or suspicious activity.

Cases like that of the 12-year-old show how the detectives’ sloppy work leaves behind a sense of injustice on top of damage done by rapists.

The girl felt traumatized, numb and lifeless, she said. She endured medical tests for possible sexually transmitted infections. She began therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. She spent a year in a group home and now attends an alternative school. The lack of charges tells her that no one cared, she said.

“I would say I’m curious and furious,” said the girl, now 16. “Curious, like ‘Why not?’ And furious like … what more evidence do you need? What is it going to take for these people to be behind bars?”

Devastating delays

In some cases, suspects who were allowed to remain free harmed other children while detectives did little or nothing to get them away from society.

“We know this about many child sex offenders, and that is that they reoffend,” Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd said. “So the quicker that we can, where possible, bring charges against an offender and very possibly take that offender out of the community, the more likely it is that we are going to safeguard other children from abuse.”

Consider the case of Jordan Lomas.

On a July day in 2014, two girls separately told Kansas City police that Lomas, then 18, sexually molested them.

Both girls recounted specific details of their assaults in videotaped interviews with social workers.

A 5-year-old girl remembered being asleep in her Tinker Bell pajamas when Lomas began touching “her wrong spot.” Lomas was on his knees trying to hug the child when she woke up, the girl said.

A 12-year-old girl detailed three assaults.

When Lomas’ mother heard about the 12-year-old’s accusations, she confronted Lomas.

“He ran out of the house because he did not think he could survive in jail,” a Platte County court document says. “He said he left for a month and when he returned, his mother did not talk to him about it again.”

Weeks later, the Child Protection Center sent DVDs of each girl’s interview to Roubal. Yet nothing happened with the case.

Seven months passed — and another victim came forward.

This time, the mother of a 3-year-old girl alerted Kansas City police that Lomas had touched her daughter’s crotch.

Police arrested Lomas two weeks later.

When Roubal asked Lomas why he thought he had been arrested, Lomas began listing possible accusers: the 3-year-old, two 5-year-olds, a 6-year-old and the 12-year-old.

A few weeks after Platte County prosecutors charged Lomas in one case, the mother of the 12-year-old asked that Lomas serve jail time and get counseling.

The incident, she wrote, “has caused emotional distress on my daughter as well as the whole family.”

In January, Lomas pleaded guilty to statutory sodomy. Prosecutors agreed not to file additional counts that could have labeled him a sexual predator and kept him behind bars for life.

He is serving a 15-year prison sentence.

Justice denied

Problems exposed in the unit have enraged victims and frustrated prosecutors and judges.

“We had lost some cases we felt we should have won,” Baker said. “We had holes in our evidence we couldn’t explain.”

Earlier this year, a grandfather accused of molesting a boy walked out of Jackson County Courthouse a free man, acquitted by a judge who criticized the quality of the police investigation. Police hadn’t interviewed all the witnesses, which left prosecutors with too little testimony or evidence to gain a guilty verdict, said Christopher Accurso, the assistant Jackson County prosecutor who tried the case.

“We had no explanation that could carry us through that,” Baker said.

The losses are especially hard when a child has had to endure a trial.

“When they were brave enough to walk into a courtroom and face their bogeyman … that weighs on you because, man, we don’t want to do them more harm,” Baker said.

And the detectives continue to face scrutiny in court.

Prosecutors must turn over to defense lawyers any information that could potentially undermine the credibility of detectives who would be called as witnesses in court. The Police Department’s internal investigation into the seven Crimes Against Children detectives fits that bill.

Prosecutors subpoenaed their personnel files so they could turn over any questionable and damning material.

Police argued against releasing the files, saying they were confidential and contained reports from an unfinished internal investigation.

But judges have sided with defendants’ rights to some or all of the files. They ordered prosecutors to review the files and turn over anything defendants should have, with names of victims in unrelated cases blacked out. The number of criminal cases impacted has been “substantial,” prosecutors say.

“It’s unclear at this point how deep the wound is,” said Dion Sankar, the assistant Jackson County prosecutor now assigned full time to review, redact and disperse the records.

As the department’s internal affairs investigation lurches forward, the detectives’ personnel files continue to thicken. As of late September, one detective’s discovery file had reached nearly 500 pages, court documents show.

The many problems have compounded the already challenging work of obtaining a conviction in child abuse cases, where often there is little physical evidence, victims may wait years to reveal abuse and it’s a child’s word against an adult’s.

But good police work can overcome challenges, prosecutors said. And since a new crew of detectives took over, area prosecutors have noticed striking improvements in the quality and quantity of that work.

In January alone, unit detectives sent Jackson County prosecutors nearly five times as many cases as the previous January.

“We were getting clobbered with cases that we didn’t know existed before,” Baker said. “We worked with our staff … trying to keep them, you know, energized to do the work because we were not prepared for this influx.”

Overall, the number of cases sent to Jackson County has more than doubled this year — from 155 in 2015 to 325 through mid-November, according to data The Star requested from prosecutors.

And the percent generating criminal charges grew, too, from 41 percent last year to 50 percent this year.

Meanwhile, police and prosecutors continue to pursue convictions in some of the old cases. That includes the one against Parrish Smith, the man allowed to remain free many months after a DNA hit allegedly showed his semen on a young girl’s underwear.

It wasn’t until new detectives arrived at the unit that Smith was charged last December — 2  1/2 years after police first learned of accusations. Smith now sits in the Jackson County jail, awaiting a trial set for early next year on four child molestation and two sodomy-related charges.

The 55-year-old has pleaded not guilty.

Multiple detectives worked the case. Both Roubal and Solomon are listed in court documents as prosecution witnesses. Solomon’s and Menuey’s personnel records have been turned over to the defense, court records show.

And in August, when Smith asked the court to reduce his bond to $25,000 from $100,000, the judge agreed. Jackson County Judge John Torrence zeroed in on the long gap between accusations and charges.

“It took two years to get the case filed, and if it was … such a serious case and he is such a danger, I don’t understand why it would take two years,” Torrence said.

The 3-year-old girl’s grandmother and mother don’t understand either — especially in light of the DNA evidence, which they didn’t know existed until this year.

“If they would have told me in 2013 they had that in my child’s drawers, he would have been in jail in 2013,” the mother said.

Detective’s cases

After the Kansas City Police Department began uncovering problems in its Crimes Against Children unit last year, supervisors identified 156 failed cases, including 148 they called “severely mishandled,” internal documents show. Those included 90 cases involving sex crimes against children, 24 cases of child abuse and 43 other offenses. Fifty sat unworked for a year or more, 43 showed signs of possible deceit and 26 included mishandled evidence or improper procedures.

Here is a breakdown of some of the failed cases by detective, with some of the problems police uncovered. The data is based on police memos written in October 2015.

*Note: Cases representing multiple types of failures may be counted more than once in the breakdown - subtotals may not add up to the total.

Gleanice Brown: 23 years on the force, 17 years in Crimes Against Children, Total failed cases: 29

James Foushee: 21 years on the force, 9 years in Crimes Against Children, Total failed cases: 10

Amy Klug: 8 years on the force, 2 years in Crimes Against Children, Total failed cases: 25

Travis Menuey: 9 years on the force, less than 1 year in Crimes Against Children, Total failed cases: 15

Latondra Moore: 13 years on the force, 8 years in Crimes Against Children, Total failed cases: 22

Robert Roubal: 13 years on the force, 7 years in Crimes Against Children, Total failed cases: 24

Tamara Solomon: 11 years on the force, 3 years Crimes Against Children, Total failed cases: 31

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