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Appeal denied in Schuyler County sex abuse case

The New York State Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, has rejected a Schuyler County man’s latest attempt to appeal a finding that he had sexually abused his four-year-old daughter and neglected his three minor children.

On Thursday (April 30, 2020) the Court denied the man’s motion for leave to appeal an October 2019 decision of the New York State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division. That prior decision, “Matter of Lawson O.,” unanimously affirmed a Schuyler County Family Court order made by Judge Dennis Morris in 2017.

The Schuyler County Department of Social Services (DSS) had charged the man in Family Court with abuse and neglect of his children following receipt of a child protective services hotline report in January 2016. According to testimony before the Family Court, the man’s 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 hearing in 2017, Morris determined that the girl’s out-of-court statements regarding the alleged sexual abuse were sufficiently corroborated and that the father had abused his daughter, derivatively abused her two siblings and neglected all three of his children. Therefore, he entered an order of protection, directing the father 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 to the Appellate Division, 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.

The Appellate Division 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.” Therefore, it upheld the Family Court order in all respects.

The father, again through Salazar, thereafter moved for leave to appeal to the New York State Court of Appeals. The DSS, through Getman, opposed the motion, arguing that the Appellate Division’s decision was consistent with longstanding precedent.

In Thursday’s decision of the Court of Appeals rejected the father’s motion without comment, holding simply “Motion for leave to appeal denied.”

According to Getman, this decision effectively ends the father’s ability to challenge the Family Court’s abuse and neglect findings.

Neither the Court of Appeals nor the Appellate Division decision names the father or the children, using pseudonyms to protect the children’s privacy.

The Schuyler County DSS 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.