The lead investigator in the Tonya Craft case, under lengthy cross-examination on Thursday, said one of the child accusers of the kindergarten teacher told him she had been promised a toy for again speaking with him.
Sgt. Tim Deal said the girl had first not told him she was inappropriately touched by Ms. Craft, but on this interview she said Ms. Craft touched her "inside my panties."
The girl said she had "forgot" that information before.
Ms. Craft is standing trial in Catoosa County’s Superior Court in Ringgold on 22 child molestation charges.
Sgt. Deal performed several of the forensic interviews where the little girls claimed they were touched inappropriately by Ms. Craft, who vigorously denied her guilt prior to a gag order being put down in the case.
The detective testified that he had been involved with somewhere between 500 to 1,000 interviews. However, defense attorney Scott King immediately began to attack many key points of his actions during the investigation.
One of assistant prosecutor Len Gregor’s first questions went back to June 9, 2009, some 16 days into the investigation if you use May 24 as the beginning. Mr. Arnt asked of Sgt. Deal, “At this point why is there still no arrest?” The detective replied, “I was still gathering evidence and didn’t want to make a premature arrest before all of our evidence was confirmed.”
Sgt. Deal told of another parent not involved with the trial calling him to request an interview with his daughter. The daughter was in Ms. Craft’s kindergarten classroom.
This interview was conducted at the Fort Oglethorpe Children’s Advocacy Center, as several others were. During the interview it was made known that the girl had been to the Craft home quite a bit and was friends of several of the child witnesses. The child had played the boyfriend/girlfriend game and knew of one of the alleged victims allegedly touching another girl.
It was also on June 4 that a girl previously interviewed wanted to talk to investigators again, as she had something else to tell. This interview was scheduled for June 11, 2008.
The investigator recalled the Team Review meeting held around this time. Neither prosecutor – Chris Arnt or Len Gregor - were present at the meeting. However, a representative from the ADA’s office was there, along with Officer Keith, other detectives, and Brandon Boggus of DFCS. It was after this meeting that the results of the medical examinations were available, along with the videos and their transcripts.
Sgt. Deal said he was notified on June 10 by the DA’s office to take out a warrant on Ms. Craft. Ms. Craft was notified and Sgt. Deal said plans were made to have her report to the sheriff’s office to be arrested.
On June 11, (name withheld) was re-interviewed by Sgt. Deal. It was at this interview that the young child told the detective that Ms. Craft had touched her saying, “She touched me inside my panties.” “Who did?” he asked. “Tonya,” she said.
Sgt. Deal then asked, “Why didn’t you tell me this before?” The girl answered, “I just forgot.”
Sgt. Deal continued with his questions with the young witness, having her recall her experiences with Ms. Craft and the alleged touching episodes.
At one point the little girl exclaimed that she was going to get a toy as a reward. The detective stopped his questions and immediately began to inquire about the reason she was to receive this toy, trying to clarify that the toy was not being given for her telling him anything specifically, but just talking to him. “She didn’t tell you you would get a toy for coming to tell me this did she?” “Yes.”
After several more attempts at questioning her about the toy, the little girl finally said that she was just getting a toy for coming to talk to him.
The interview closed with her telling him again ‘Miss Tonya’ had touched her.
After a few more questions from Mr. Gregor, it was the defense’s time for cross-examination.
Mr. King, an Atlanta-based attorney, opened the cross-examination with questions regarding Detective Deal’s training concerning courtroom demeanor and the fact that he had taken like courses multiple times.
Attorney King asked Sgt. Deal to identify portions of his sheriff’s department training record. He described the contents of the training and went on to answer a question regarding his turning to face the jury prior to answering every question that had been put to him. He said, “It is important for this panel of jurors to understand as they are deciding the outcome of this trial.”
“You’ve seen at least two cases where the child made up the charges just for spite, haven’t you?” “Yes, I have, but it is usually older children as younger children have a harder time remembering a false statement.”
After the defense attorney asked several more questions, basically going to the same point, Sgt. Deal asked attorney King, “Are you having memory problems today?”
Following more questions, Sgt. Deal had to admit to the defense counsel that younger children are indeed more susceptible to parental interference and having their memories contaminated.
The law officer then explained the difference between forensic interviews and therapeutic interviews. He testified that he conducted forensic interviews for use in court cases.
Questions then moved to the relationships between the girls’ families and the initial officer assigned to the case, Steven Keith. Officer Keith’s children attended the same school and he had a relationship with the mandated reporter that made the initial report.
“Ideally, yes, it is best for the lead investigator to not have a relationship with the families,” testified Sgt. Deal. He then told the court that Officer Keith did not do anything without asking him first.
Attorney King then asked about the witness's relationship with one of the families. “My relationship with the family was only as an acquaintance, I didn’t socialize with them.” “But yet you told (name withheld) that you taught her daddy in Vacation Bible School, didn’t you?” “Yes, but I was just trying to establish a relationship,” he answered.
“You thought enough of the relationship though that you had Officer Keith make the call to the family to bring the daughter down for an interview?” “Yes, I did,” he answered.
The detective at first identified the SANE nurse as the primary person to gather evidence, but admitted that there were other types of evidence. When asked about why a search warrant had not been obtained for the Craft home, Sgt. Deal said, “The review team nor the DA’s office thought there would not be enough evidence to obtain a warrant.”
“You didn’t think it was important enough to look into the first report that was made to DFCS?” “I didn’t know it existed until the trial started,” was the detective’s reply.
Sgt. Deal then testified that he didn’t think it was important enough to interview the para-pro who served in Ms. Craft’s room every day.
Attorney King asked, “You have heard that (name withheld) continued to come back and visit Ms. Craft’s room the year after she was in her class?” “Yes, for the year after her kindergarten year.” “Did you speak with any teachers about this?” “No, I didn’t think it was important enough.”
“You testified on direct that it was normal for perpetrators and victims to be smiling when they are around each other; wouldn’t that be indicative of innocence, as well?” “Yes, I imagine it would.”
Sgt. Deal also said that the final decision not to interview any of these other potential witnesses was made by the district attorney’s office.
“The investigation did not lead you to the school, did it?” asked attorney King. “I went where the investigation led me, I didn’t not go on a witch hunt; that would not have been fair to the defendant.”
“Did you talk to the kids’ pediatricians?” “No, that’s not something we would normally do unless the doctor is the mandatory reporter,” replied the detective.
The investigator said he did not approach (name withheld)’s doctor because he was not told that she went to the doctor. “So you just assumed she didn’t?” “I would have been told if she had.”
Sgt. Deal told the defense that he did not speak to the father of the first girls to report the molestation, even though he would have seen the alleged victim on a daily basis.
“When did you interview (another father of one of the girls)?” “I still haven’t. His wife told me he was not a disclosure witness.”
Sgt. Deal next admitted he had failed to document a key piece of evidence from an interview.
“Does the Catoosa County Sheriff’s Department have a protocol for child interviews?” “No, we’ve signed off on the protocols identified by the Lookout Mountain Judicial District (LMJD).”
“It is critical that we get these interviews on tape, isn’t it?” “Yes, it is.” “It keeps us from going back and having to paraphrase statements doesn’t it?” “Yes, it does,” said Sgt. Deal.
Concerning (name withheld)’s going into a fetal position and sucking her thumb, Detective Deal said that he’s never seen a child do that during an interview.
Moving on, Attorney King asked, “Don’t you think it would have been a good idea to have spoken with every child who was there all the time?” “I didn’t know everyone who was there all the time,”Sgt. Deal stated.
The only interviews brought into evidence at this point by the prosecution are those pertaining to the ones identified as alleged victims.
Detective Deal testified that the original family to report later refused to cooperate in the investigation.
The young witness never divulged being touched by Ms. Craft. It was only after another child reported that another child had touched this girl did investigators know about Ms. Craft allegedly touching the girl, he said.
Attorney King continued his line of questions regarding this matter up until noon, when he advised Judge Brian House that he was ready to move on to another subject and that it might be a good time to break for lunch. Judge House agreed and the court was recessed until 1:15.
Asked if he recalled whether (unnamed) had started keeping a journal in her third grade year. Sgt. Deal replied that he didn’t think it would be proper.
“Don’t you think that journal might have been helpful in trying to figure out what had happened?” “Yes,” he replied in a drawn-out manner.
“It might’ve contained information about whether she had received a reward for what she told you, right?” “Yes, it could have.”
Sgt. Deal also told the defense counsel that he had not received a disclosure that there was anything about pornography involved. Mr. King next produced an affidavit for a search warrant in the custody case between Ms. Craft and her first husband, Joel Henke.
“Now you said you had no allegations of pornography, correct?” “That is correct.” “And you received information on how the house was arranged, where the rooms were?” “Yes, sir.” “But you didn’t feel any need to check out any of this to make sure it could have happened as it was described?” “I didn’t feel I had probable cause to get a warrant,” said the investigator.
“Ms. Craft was arrested in early June, right?” “I believe it was June 11th.”
“And she was arrested based in part on the medical exams, correct?” “Yes.”
“And Dr. Carmichael testified during this trial that she now thought her analysis might not have been accurate on (unnamed), correct?” “I don’t recall that,” Sgt. Deal replied.
When Mr. King asked about the (unnamed) interview, the detective could not find the interview summary. “This would have been something you would have wanted isn’t it?” “Yes, it is.”
“What did (unnamed) tell you about the words written in chalk at the pool?” “That they said ‘sex and kissing xoxoxo,” the investigator said. “No mention of the word ‘love?’” “No.” In previous testimony, one of the mothers said that the girl had written ‘sex, LOVE, and kisses.’”
When asked about the boyfriend/girlfriend game, Sgt. Deal said the girl responded that they were laughing, smiling, etc. “As I said earlier, just because they were laughing and smiling doesn’t mean they weren’t touching one another.”
“Regardless of my motives (if I talk to my child about being touched) I might taint her story with suggestions as to what may have happened. Is that correct?”
Sgt. Deal replied that even as a forensic interviewer and a parent "I might be tempted to talk to my child.”
“There had been allegations made about Sarah Henke and we made her leave the Green House nor did we give Joel Henke a copy of any reports,” said Sgt. Deal.
The lead investigator spoke about allegations made by Ms. Craft about her former husband and his wife being termed as ‘unfounded’ by a Hamilton County investigator.
Getting into discussion about a limo party, the defense brought up the fact that investigators did not speak to all of the children present at the party. He also told the attorney that he did not know the pictures of the party existed as he suspected they were Ms. Craft’s and he would have no way of knowing they existed.
He asked if the law enforcement officer was familiar with several studies that showed up to 46 percent of allegations by a child are false. Speaking to Mr. King, Sgt. Deal snapped, “Just like you haven’t presented any evidence to the contrary.”
The witness then asked if the defense would donate their books to him so he could read up and learn about this subject.
The child abuse investigator brought up the current abuse cases in the Catholic church as examples in today’s world.
Mr. King continued questioned Sgt. Deal about how the children’s disclosures changed from time to time as the investigation continued.
“You feel like you explored it until you were comfortable?” asked Mr. King. “I did,” replied Sgt. Deal.
Sgt. Deal also made the statement, “No parent would ever put their child through this garbage,” alluding to the fact that all disclosures by children are true.
Defense then went to questioning about (unnamed) being contaminated as a discloser of inappropriate touching. These questions all went to whether they generated enough evidence for an arrest. Much of what the little girl divulged had to do with medicine being placed on her vagina.
At one point as they were discussing interview techniques, Sgt. Deal told Mr. King, “If you hang around me long enough maybe you’ll learn to do it correctly.”
Following a 30-minute recess, Mr. King was still examining Sgt. Deal. At this point he moved on to another of the young children.
The defense counsel pointed out to the investigator that the child was returned to her mother prior to coming back to the interviewer and informing her that she had something else to tell her.
“As a forensic interviewer you might want to know if something happened to her to make her remember, correct?” asked Mr. King. “I would,” answered the peace officer.
“It was in this interview that (unnamed) disclosed that Tonya had touched her inside her clothes, wasn’t it?” “I believe it was, would you like to look that up in my case book? I wouldn’t want to speculate.” “We wouldn’t want you to speculate, either.”
After finding it, he replied in the affirmative.
The next few moments go to the disclosure of Ms. Craft allegedly inserting her fingers into her (the child’s) vagina.
Mr. King continues to question Sgt. Deal. “The reason I’m asking is that one note says she inserted her finger and the interview summary says ‘fingers.’ Which is it?”
“I don’t know.” Mr. King notes that the disclosure only happened when they are out of the interview room and the child had been asked 16 times if there was anything else.
Mr. King mentioned the fact of her interview being a lengthy process and Sgt. Deal responded, “I would think a lengthy interview would be keeping a child on the stand for over 10 and one-half hours.”
About this time the issue arose of (unnamed) speaking about Ms. Craft and calling her “the evil one.” Mr. King asked why the mother began to call her this and Sgt. Deal replied that he thought the child had started this.
Switching back to an interview with another child, Mr. King, asked why he told her three times that he was a policeman. His explanation was he was not wearing a uniform or a badge and he wanted her to feel comfortable.
“She clearly stuck to her guns on the fact that the touching was on the outside of the clothes,” said Sgt. Deal. “But,” said Mr. King, “That’s clearly inconsistent with what you said on June 11th.”
Later in his testimony the detective admitted under an intense barrage of questioning that he had modified an answer given by the girl.
In the midst of more questions, Detective Deal asked of Mr. King, “We’ve already gone over that, haven’t we?” Mr. King answered, “Well, we’re going to go over it again because I think we’re a little confused.”
Minutes later, in response to a question about touching, Sgt. Deal replied to the defense counsel, “I would certainly remember someone sticking their finger in my rectum, more than having a conversation with you.”
Pointing out that one of the young children changed her answer, Mr. King asked, “Isn’t that a contradiction?” “Yes, it is.” “Doesn’t that sometimes occur when children are asked the same question again and again?” “It can.”
After the jury viewed the third video of the day, Mr. Gregor assumed the role of asking Sgt. Deal questions on re-direct. “Sgt Deal have you ever had a perfect interview?” “No, sir.”
“Have you ever kept a child witness in an interview for 10 hours or more?” “No, sir.” Then as in yesterday’s exam of Ms. Long, he asked if he had kept a witness nine, eight, seven hours… down through two hours. The answer from Sgt Deal that he had never kept a young child more than an hour or an adult suspect over six hours with food and drink.
ADA Gregor then read from the affidavits for the arrest warrants for Ms. Craft.
Following a brief time with Mr. Gregor, Mr. King went back to re-direct.
Mr. King asked, “Did you know that according to the National Center for Child Abuse 65 percent of allegations are false?” “No, I did not know that.”
Court was adjourned at 5:30. It is due to re-convene Friday at 9 a.m. in the Superior Court of Catoosa County.
(You can email Dennis Norwood at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow hourly updates from the trial on Twitter at NewsieNoogan or Chattanoogancom)