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Friday, March 01, 2013 11:16 PM

Video: Man accused in child sex case says he can’t explain abuse because it ‘never happened’

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer

Eric Scrutchfield told police detectives during a nearly five-hour interrogation in late May 2011 that he could not provide them with details about a sexual assault he is alleged to have committed against a then 4-year-old girl at his wife’s day care because the incident never happened.

Jurors on Friday watched a little more than four hours of that recorded interview before a DVD equipment malfunction prevented them from seeing the last segment of the interrogation. The interview started about 8 p.m. May 26 and ended at 1 a.m. May 27.

Scrutchfield’s trial entered its fourth day Friday in Franklin County District Court, presided over by District Judge Eric W. Godderz.

Three Ottawa Police Department officers conducted the May 2011 interrogation, led by the department’s former senior detective Rick Geist, who conducted the bulk of the interview regarding the alleged assault, which was said to have occurred sometime between early March and late May 2011. Geist retired later that year after 30 years with the department.

About three hours into the interview, Geist informed Scrutchfield he was under arrest on suspicion of rape, aggravated criminal sodomy and lewd and lascivious behavior in connection with the sexual assault, which is alleged to have occurred at the Yvonne Scrutchfield Day Care Home, 607 N. Cedar St., a business run by Scrutchfield’s wife. The day care was closed in late May 2011 by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment because of the allegations.

But before those charges were filed, Geist spelled out the accusations that the girl had made against Scrutchfield, who worked as a computer support specialist for Franklin County before his arrest. The allegations included that he inappropriately touched and licked the girls’ crotch area, while also exposing himself to her.

Geist told Scrutchfield that the girl’s description of the incident was so detailed that “a 4-year-old girl couldn’t make this up out of the blue. Something happened.”

Geist and Sgt. Bobbie Hawkins, with the Ottawa police department, repeatedly encouraged Scrutchfield to tell them what happened while the three sat in a nondescript interrogation room at police department headquarters.

Scrutchfield told the officers that the reported victim had grabbed his crotch and asked him if it was “his front” on a previous occasion. He said the girl was overly affectionate toward him, even calling him “Daddy” on one instance even though she barely knew him. Scrutchfield also admitted he “adjusted himself” in her presence once, but said nothing was exposed. He repeatedly told officers that he was trying to recall any instance that would give her a reason for making such a claim. He outlined other encounters.

Once, while lifting the child over a safety gate, Scrutchfield said he accidently brushed her crotch area. He also said he rubbed her back on one occasion, when she asked him to do so. He also said he blew raspberries on her belly as well as some of the other children’s bellies at the day care in a playful way.

Scrutchfield said he also wiped the girl’s bottom once when she asked for help after she had a particularly messy bowel movement.

He also said he had kissed the girl on the head and patted her head.

But the defendant said he never touched her in “a sexual way” and that his interaction with the girl and the other children at the center was in a parental-type manner.

Geist told Scrutchfield several times during the course of the five-hour interrogation that all the events Scrutchfield had described were leading up to the one event that he refused to tell the detectives about — the alleged sexual assault.

“That’s because it never happened,” Scrutchfield continued to assert.

Geist admonished Scrutchfield for not reporting the overly affectionate actions of the girl, if that had in fact happened, because those incidents should have been documented in that licensed day care setting. The detective also told Scrutchfield he should have taken great care to avoid such encounters with the girl, because they could only lead to increasingly inappropriate behavior.

Geist asserted that it was that type of behavior that led up to the illicit encounter between Scrutchfield and the girl.

Scrutchfield continued to counter that he didn’t have any details to give about the alleged assault because “this didn’t happen.” He said he didn’t have any explanation for why the girl would make such a claim.

Hawkins told Scrutchfield that she thought the alleged touching and licking of the girl’s private parts had happened just one time, and that he really hadn’t intended to do it. It just happened. It had been an accident, a mistake, Hawkins said.

“Some mistakes don’t get made,” Scrutchfield told Hawkins. “You don’t do the things [the girl] is alleging by mistake. There are some lines you don’t cross, and I would never cross that line.”

Hawkins told Scrutchfield the girl had said he had an erection, and she had described how Scrutchfield had pulled aside her clothing and underwear to touch and lick her.

Little 4-year-old girls wouldn’t be able to describe those details unless something had in fact happened, Hawkins said.

Scrutchfield said that on the prior incident when the girl had grabbed his crotch she had made the comment that “his front should be up,” implying that she already had previous knowledge of what an erection looked like.

“That was months before this [sexual assault] supposedly took place,” Scrutchfield told the detectives.

“We only have your word for that,” Geist told Scrutchfield, “because you didn’t report it.”

Scrutchfield, who admitted to having had alcoholic beverages earlier that night before he talked with officers, grew visibly more fatigued as the night went on. He didn’t waiver from his original statement that he could not provide details because the alleged sexual abuse never happened.

At one point Hawkins and Geist told Scrutchfield the girl had been crying when she reported to officers what had happened. But that did not change Scrutchfield’s testimony.

After Geist’s portion of the recorded interview was played for the jurors, John A. Boyd, Scrutchfield’s defense attorney, told the detective that the girl in fact had not cried once when she described the assault to officers.

Boyd asked Geist if he always told lies as part of his interrogations to try and extract a confession.

“Every time,” Geist replied.

Prosecutor Jim McCabria, assistant Douglas County attorney, asked Geist to explain why detectives will withhold certain information or, in fact, lie about details to try and extract a confession from a suspect.

Geist explained that the technique can be effective in extracting confessions. In this case, the detectives tried to imply the girl was crying, Geist said, to see if that would play on any emotional attachment Scrutchfield might have for the girl which would have caused him to confess. Detectives also told Scrutchfield they knew it had just been an accident or a mistake, in an effort to get the defendant to open up about the alleged abuse.

But neither approach worked in this case.

Boyd asked Geist if he was aware the girl had initially told her mother repeatedly that the incident had been a dream before saying it had happened.

“No,” Geist said.

Boyd also asked Geist if he was aware the girl was exposed to a pornographic movie depicting oral sex before he conducted his interrogation of Scrutchfield.

“No, I was not,” Geist said.

“Were you aware that the girl told detectives that Mr. Eric [Scrutchfield] could fly” when she was being interviewed about the alleged assault.

Geist said he did not see that portion of the girl’s interview.

The Douglas County District Attorney’s Office filed the charges against Scrutchfield in June 2011 and is handling the case because of Scrutchfield’s previous employment with Franklin County. McCabria tried to defuse Boyd’s assertion that the girl had witnessed oral sex in a pornographic movie when she walked in on her 17-year-old masturbating in his bedroom months before she began going to the Scrutchfields’ day care.

The girl’s uncle took the stand Friday morning, telling jurors that he was masturbating while watching the movie and the girl had walked in on him, but that his midsection had been covered with a blanket. He said he told the girl to leave his room in a stern voice when he first noticed her, and she did. He told jurors he thought the girl had only been in the room a few seconds.

Under Boyd’s cross-examination, the uncle said he could not say for certain how long the girl had been in the room before he noticed her. He also testified that an act of oral sex was taking place in the movie at the time he noticed the girl in the room.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday in Franklin County District Court. Judge Godderz delayed the trial until Tuesday so one of the jurors could attend the Monday funeral of a family member.

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