WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (WETM) – The New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division has unanimously affirmed a Schuyler County Family Court order which found that a local man had sexually abused his four-year-old daughter and neglected his three minor children.
According to the appellate court decision “Matter of Lawson O,” dated Thursday, Oct. 17, the Schuyler County Department of Social Services had charged the man in family court with abuse and neglect following receipt of a child protective services hotline report in January 2016.
According to testimony before the family court, the daughter had been discovered acting out sexually and then disclosed to a family member that her father had been having oral sexual contact with her.
Following a fact-finding hearing in 2017, Family Court Judge Dennis Morris determined that the girl’s out-of-court statements regarding the alleged sexual abuse were sufficiently corroborated and that the father had abused the daughter, derivatively abused her two siblings and neglected all three of his children. Therefore, the family court entered an order of protection, directing the man have no contact with the children, other than supervised visitation and communications reviewed and approved in advance by DSS, and directing him to enter sex offender treatment.
The father, through attorney Dana Salazar, appealed, alleging that the family court’s finding of abuse was not adequately established by the evidence.
The DSS was represented on appeal by Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman. Getman asked the appellate court to uphold the family court findings.
Getman argued that that the girl had demonstrated an “age-inappropriate knowledge of sexual activity” through her behaviors prior to the disclosure, supporting her description of abuse. He also cited evidence of prior sexual abuse allegations against the father involving other family members, and the father’s admissions that he spent approximately eight months in jail stemming from an earlier sexual abuse charge related to a niece.
Getman also pointed out the father had admitted on the stand to lying to law enforcement officials, thereby showing a propensity for dishonesty.
Following submission of the party’s papers and a review of the record, the appellate court agreed with DSS, finding “a sound and substantial basis exist[ed] in the record to support Family Court’s finding that respondent abused the daughter.”
The court’s decision does not name the father or the children, using pseudonyms to protect the children’s privacy.
The father has approximately thirty days to seek leave to appeal the decision to the New York State Court of Appeals.
The Schuyler County Department of Social Services is the lead civil investigative agency for cases of alleged child abuse and neglect. The Schuyler County Attorney is the prosecuting attorney for all county agencies involving civil cases, including family court matters involving abuse and neglect.
Both agencies were assisted in the investigation of the case by members of the Schuyler County Sheriff’s department.
A complete copy of the court’s decision can be found here: http://decisions.courts.state.ny.us/ad3/Decisions/2019/525645.pdf