A small Oklahoma town is reeling after learning that a teaching assistant is accused of sexually molesting at least fourteen 10-13 year old girls at an elementary school. Even worse, they say at least two staff members, including the principal, knew about the allegations and did not report them to authorities.
Earlier this month, Arnold Cowen, 85, was arrested and charged with multiple felony sex crimes involving 10 girls at Perry Upper Elementary School, which encompasses third through sixth grades. Police in Perry say Cowen admitted to touching the girls inappropriately, identifying some of his victims by name and others through photographs. The former teacher's assistant has been charged with 19 counts of lewd or indecent acts with a child under 16, two counts of lewd or indecent proposals to a child under 16, and one count of possession of child pornography.
Perry police say that Cowen has been "very cooperative" in their investigation, admitting to the molestation and describing how he was able to take advantage of situations in class and in the hallway to fondle the girls.
Other school employees, they say, were not so forthcoming. In fact, principal Kenda Miller, 51, and fifth-grade math teacher Jeffrey Sullins, 51, are facing criminal charges for failing to report the accusations to authorities after several girls reported the alleged molestation in December.
According to the Perry Upper Elementary School Student Handbook, "Sexual harassment in any form will not be tolerated. If students, male or female, believe they are being sexually harassed, they are encouraged to report any incident(s) to their teacher, counselor, or Principal. Information received will remain confidential, and all sexual harassment complaints will be investigated."
However, the girls' families say that when they went to Miller and Sullins with their concerns, they were accused of lying. Miller even told police that allegations had been made against Cowen before, "but we determined they were fabricated by the students."
Cowen, on the other hand, told police that he had been fondling fifth- and sixth-grade girls at the school for at least a year, but the sexual abuse increased over the last three to four months.
Police say that when Miller and Sullins failed to report the alleged abuse, they gave Cowen the opportunity to molest at least 10 more students.
Failing to report the sexual abuse of students is more than a violation of the school handbook; it is a violation of the law:
A. 1. Every:
a. physician or surgeon, including doctors of medicine and dentistry, licensed osteopathic physicians, residents and interns, examining, attending or treating a child under the age of eighteen (18) years,
b. registered nurse examining, attending or treating such a child in the absence of a physician or surgeon,
c. teacher of any child under the age of eighteen (18) years, and
d. other person
having reason to believe that a child under the age of eighteen (18) years is a victim of abuse or neglect, shall report the matter promptly to the Department of Human Services. Such reports may be made by telephone, in writing, personally or by any other method prescribed by the Department. Any report of abuse or neglect made pursuant to this section shall be made in good faith.
. . .
D. 1. Any person who knowingly and willfully makes a false report pursuant to the provisions of this section or a report that the person knows lacks factual foundation may be reported by the Department of Human Services to local law enforcement for criminal investigation and, upon conviction thereof, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
As a misdemeanor, failure to report abuse is punishable by a maximum of one year in county jail.
For each count of lewd acts with a minor under 16, the suspect faces up to 20 years in prison. For each count involving a child under 12, he faces 25 years to life in prison.
Image credit: Perry Public Schools
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