Ohio University found not liable for officer’s 2005 abuse of a minor

An Ohio Court of Claims judge ruled last week that Ohio University is not liable for repeated sexual abuse Alison Arocho suffered by one of its police officers in 2005. 

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ATHENS, Ohio — An Ohio Court of Claims judge ruled last week that Ohio University is not liable for repeated sexual abuse Alison Arocho suffered by one of its police officers in 2005. 

Arocho is exploring options to appeal the decision, said her Athens-based attorney, Michael Fradin.


OU faced claims related to its retention and supervision of then-OU police department officer Robert A. Parsons, which Arocho alleged facilitated the abuse she suffered when she was 15. Judge Dale Crawford issued a judgment in favor of Ohio University on all claims.

Arocho testified that Parsons’ employment as an officer made her feel she could not seek recourse against him. Arocho further testified that he used his status to threaten her and her family into complying with his demands.

Arocho estimated that Parsons assaulted her between 60 and 100 times from 2005 to 2006, including in his university cruiser and at least once on Ohio University’s campus. She said he frequently intoxicated her before sex. In contrast, Parsons claimed he and Arocho only had sex three times, without coercion and never on campus, in his cruiser or while intoxicated. 

Crawford dismissed Arocho’s testimony, writing in his decision that “the Court believes Arocho’s estimation of the number of sexual encounters is greatly exaggerated and the Court does not believe any encounters took place on the University’s campus.” Crawford did not explain why or how he reached these conclusions. 

“I’m stunned that the Court appears to believe that the timing and location of the encounters that Parsons admitted to were the only encounters and that OU is not liable for the abuse,” Fradin said in a statement. “We believe that whether there were 3 encounters or 100 encounters or some number in between, OU should have been held accountable.”

Parsons told the Independent in an email that he disagreed with the framing of his sexual encounters with Arocho as abuse. He wrote, “you keep leaving out the word ‘alleged’. It’s ‘alleged abuse arocho suffered.’ Except for what I plead no contest to, every other allegation is alleged” (sic). 

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Parsons pleaded no contest to unlawful sexual conduct with a minor in 2007. He was sentenced to six months in the Southeast Ohio Regional Jail. At the trial against OU, he acknowledged having sex with Arocho multiple times while she was 15. Arocho framed the encounters as abuse. Likewise, under Ohio law, minors under age 16 are unable to consent to sex with adults.

Prior allegation

Arocho’s attorneys argued OU should have been on notice that Parsons was likely to engage in sexual conduct with minors.

Crawford found that a separate 2001 allegation and Athens County Children Services investigation around Parsons’ conduct with another minor was “not sufficient for the University to terminate Parsons,” since the findings of the 2001 investigation were inconclusive. 

An OU memo described the investigation as revolving around Parsons’ alleged attempt to “initiate sexual relations with a juvenile female.” However, Arocho’s attorneys were not able to introduce evidence from the 2001 investigation directly. 

Judge Patrick McGrath, who presided over the case before Crawford, quashed a subpoena for the investigation following a request by ACCS and Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn. 

Crawford said at trial that he would have granted the subpoena had he presided over the case at the time. Yet, despite the inaccessibility of the actual investigation, Crawford referenced Parsons’ testimony that the investigation focused on his having made a “pass” at a minor child as being factual.

Arocho’s attorneys argued in their post-trial brief that the 2001 incident should have prompted greater supervision of Parsons, noting that he was able to present at a career day at Arocho’s high school and contact her from his work computer. She testified that Parsons was able to visit her in his police cruiser and with his gun, though Parsons disputed this.

Crawford disagreed with Arocho’s arguments about OU’s oversight and found that the university adequately supervised Parsons following the 2001 investigation. He cited a letter from Parsons’ supervisor warning Parsons to provide notice when his “actions may bring recognition to Ohio University and the Ohio University Police Department.” 

Crawford did not address any of Arocho’s other specific claims about the inadequacy of Parsons’ supervision.

Actions in 2005

Crawford also found that OU took appropriate action after learning of another ACCS investigation into Parsons in 2005 that involved his conduct with Arocho. 

Arocho’s attorneys argued that OU did not act swiftly enough to place Parsons on leave or terminate his employment after this second ACCS investigation, allowing Parsons to continue using his position as a police officer to intimidate and abuse her.

However, Crawford wrote, “it is extremely difficult to believe that there were any encounters in December or January while an internal investigation and police investigation were ongoing.” 

Crawford did not explain further why he doubts Arocho’s testimony on this point. As evidence that there were no encounters between Parsons and Arocho during the course of the investigation, OU noted in its post-trial brief that Arocho did not inform ACCS at her second interview “that Parsons had continued to have sex with her after her first interview” with ACCS.

Crawford found that OU moved quickly to investigate Parsons in 2005 and took appropriate steps to prevent his ongoing abuse of Arocho. 

“Firing Parsons without an investigation or hearing would have been unreasonable and probably a violation of his union contract,” Crawford wrote.

In their post-trial brief, OU’s attorneys noted that Parsons was terminated from his employment well before he was criminally indicted for his conduct.

Crawford concluded that Arocho and her attorneys “failed to prove any negligence on the part of the University that could have proximately caused Plaintiffs emotional distress.”

Parsons’ credibility

Arocho and Parsons’ testimony diverged in several crucial respects at trial. These discrepancies involved Parsons’ use of his OU cruiser to visit Arocho and drive past her house, use of university facilities for their encounters and his carrying his OU weapon when he visited her, all of which is relevant to the question of OU’s liability. 

Other discrepancies would have been relevant to the amount paid out to Arocho, had Crawford found OU liable. As a result, Arocho’s attorneys attempted to prove Parsons’ testimony was not credible. 

Her attorneys pointed to evidence and testimony that Parsons was repeatedly dishonest during the course of previous investigations and attempted to obstruct the investigation against him in 2005. 

Parsons told the Independent he had reason to lie when allegations first arose about his conduct with Arocho “because I was trying to save my job and reputation,” but he said he had no reason to commit perjury at trial. 

“My dishonesty over a decade ago did nothing to affect my truthfulness now,” Parsons said in an email. “During this long span of time I have made myself right with the community, I have worked with victims assistance in obtaining protection orders for victims of crime, I have testified as an expert witness in a murder case and done numerous other noteworthy actions.”

Fradin said Parsons’ admissions at trial “will likely lead to summary judgment in favor of [Arocho] and against Parsons” in a separate, ongoing lawsuit Arocho filed against Parsons in the Athens County Court of Common Pleas. 

Although Parsons previously pleaded no contest to criminal charges related to the actions he acknowledged at trial, a no contest plea does not hold the same legal weight as a direct admission — “so these admissions are important and a long time coming,” Fradin said.

Crawford’s judgment repeatedly cast doubt on Arocho’s testimony — including on the number, location and timing of encounters with Parsons.

Parsons called Arocho’s claims “outrageous,” said the civil action was motivated by “greed” and said Arocho lied about “nearly everything,” including the difficulty of her recovery. Arocho testified and told the Independent in an interview that she went through addiction, suicide attempts and “horrible relationships” as a result of the ordeal, and that her “recovery really still hasn’t ended.”

“The court did not apply my dishonesty over a decade ago to whether I was being truthful now,  it applied the facts of the case and logic,” Parsons wrote. “In the end I’m glad the court seen (sic) through these false accusations.”

Fradin said, “OU’s reliance on Parsons to challenge [Arocho’s] testimony was, in my opinion, very disappointing. The Court’s apparent determination that Parsons’ testimony was more credible than [hers] feels even worse.”

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which represented OU at trial, did not return the Independent’s request for comment by press time.

“The University is pleased that the court of claims, like the federal court in a companion case, properly found that the University was not at fault in this unfortunate matter,” said Carly Leatherwood, interim chief of staff for OU President Hugh Sherman.

Arocho also had sued OU in federal court, claiming violation of civil rights under Title IX. The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit dismissed those claims in March 2022.

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