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Ohio University stood trial in the Ohio Court of Claims last week as Alison Arocho, 32, sought to prove the university liable for repeated sexual abuse she suffered by an OU police officer from 2005 to 2006.
Arocho was 15 at the time.
Arocho’s attorneys argued that OU’s employment of then-officer Robert A. Parsons enabled his abuse of Arocho. Arocho testified that Parsons’ employment as an officer made her feel she could not seek recourse against him and that he used his status to threaten her and her family into complying with his demands.
Parsons — who was previously sentenced to six months in the Southeast Ohio Regional Jail on criminal charges related to his abuse of Arocho — testified that he never threatened her. He also disputed many other aspects of her testimony, including her statement that the two had 60-100 sexual encounters. Parsons put the number at three.
As the trial concluded, Judge Dale A. Crawford asked the attorneys the central question in the case: “What was OU supposed to do and when were they supposed to do it?”
Senior Assistant Attorney General Heather Lamardo, representing OU, said that in 2005 Parsons’ abuse of Arocho was “not reasonably foreseeable.” Lamardo also emphasized Arocho’s lack of connection to the university. Her co-counsel, Assistant Attorney General Tim Miller, noted in his closing statement that Arocho never reported the abuse to OU.
“What more could OU have done? Nothing,” Miller said. “Once they found out, they took action, and they fired him.”
Arocho’s attorney Jon Little argued in his closing statement that OU should have done more to investigate a 2001 complaint against Parsons. Little said OU should have terminated Parsons or supervised him more closely following that incident.
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“They could’ve supervised him better, they didn’t supervise him at all and that lack of supervision led to the exploitation of my client,” Little said.
OU’s actions pertaining to the investigation into and termination of Parsons in 2005 were inadequate, Little continued.
Arocho told the Independent, “I have created a beautiful family and a beautiful life but I am still haunted by my past every single day. If there is an ounce of justice to be served, OU would take responsibility for their part.”
Carly Leatherwood, interim chief of staff for OU President Hugh Sherman, declined to comment for this story.
Crawford said he hoped to announce a decision on OU’s liability within 30 days of the Nov. 21 trial.
The 2001 complaint
A 2001 investigation conducted by Athens County Children Services pertained to an allegation “similar” to those made against Parsons in 2005, according to a 2005 OU memo. The memo states the 2001 complaint alleged Parsons “tried to initiate sexual relations with a juvenile female.”
The 2001 investigation revolved around an incident in which he gave his daughter’s friend a ride home, Parsons claimed. He said he reached over his minor passenger to open her car door because it did not open easily. He said the child viewed this action as a “pass,” or sexual advance.
Arocho’s attorneys attempted to utilize this investigation during the trial and submitted a subpoena to Athens County Children Services. Judge Patrick McGrath, who presided over the case at the time, quashed the subpoena following a request by ACCS and the office of Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn. Judge Crawford said during the course of the trial that he would have granted the subpoena had he presided over the case when it was issued.
An OU interoffice communication from then-OUPD Chief Tony Camechis to Parsons from 2001, introduced as evidence in trial, said the 2001 investigation into Parsons was “inconclusive” and no disciplinary action was warranted. In court filings, OU said it no longer possesses documents related to the investigation per OU’s retention policies.
Parsons testified that he did not remember OU investigating the 2001 incident at all. Camechis testified that he remembered an investigation, but not any of the specifics.
Arocho’s attorneys argued OU should have done more to investigate the incident, pointing specifically to Camechis’ inability to recall what OU did to investigate.
Judge Crawford pointed out the 2001 investigation occurred 21 years ago. In response, Little argued, “We’re saying they did nothing; they have the duty to come in here and show us they did something… The burden to justify doing nothing is on them.”
OU’s attorney disputed Little’s reasoning. “No one can remember the specifics of the investigation, but that doesn’t mean an investigation wasn’t done… It’s their burden to show that somebody breached a duty,” Miller said. “They’re asking the court to infer that because the investigation was inconclusive, that therefore must mean that it is somehow insufficient or negligent in some way, and that’s just not the standard.”
Arocho’s attorneys argued that the 2001 complaint should have prompted OU to more closely supervise Parsons.
Arocho and her sister both testified that Parsons visited Arocho often in his OU police car. Arocho said he visited her wearing his OU uniform and armed with his OU-issued firearm, and that he once took her to have sex in an OU building. She said Parsons generally got her intoxicated before sex. Parsons denied each of these claims and said he had to leave his OU keys at work while he was off-duty.
Camechis, the former OUPD chief, said general OU policy was that vehicles had to stay on campus, and said officers were responsible for communicating their mileage to OU via radio at the beginning and end of each shift. Little pointed out, however, that OU did not produce any mileage logs to demonstrate Parsons was not using his university vehicle to visit Arocho.
Camechis testified officers had freedom to come and go in uniform and take their uniforms home.
Arocho’s attorneys also said the university should have more closely monitored Parsons’ computer activity.
Parsons’ termination notice said Parsons used his OU computer to communicate with “two female juveniles a total of 43 times.” Then-OUPD Lt. Chris Johnson carried out the internal investigation. In 2013, Johnson was briefly suspended from OU for not being truthful in an investigation, among other violations; he also faced a sexual harassment investigation in 2015, though OU found his behavior did not rise to that level.
Parsons testified at trial he did not communicate with any minor other than Arocho on his work computer. He claimed his prior admission to Johnson that he made sexual comments to multiple minor females from his computer may have been in jest.
Arocho’s attorneys also noted Parsons was allowed to attend a career day at Arocho’s high school while in uniform in 2005, despite the 2001 complaint against Parsons. This was not disputed, although Parsons said he did not communicate with Arocho during the career day.
Actions in 2005
Arocho’s attorneys said OU should have more quickly terminated Parsons after learning of her complaint in 2005.
One week elapsed between OU’s notice of Arocho’s complaint and their placing Parsons on paid leave. Little suggested the length of time Parsons spent on paid leave prior to termination — two months — was also inappropriate. Records establish that the university carried out internal investigations into Parsons during this time.
OU’s attorneys also pointed out Parsons’ employment was subject to a union contract, though they did not produce the agreement or cite specific provisions that would have governed his paid leave.
Crawford, the judge, said at the trial that a union contract and internal university policies would affect what actions were warranted and appropriate and said OU’s attorneys should have introduced these materials as evidence.
In addition to concerns about the timing of OU’s actions, Arocho’s attorneys pointed to differing reports as to whether OU ultimately required Parsons to surrender his gun, keys and badge. Parsons was notified he was required to return the items, but Arocho’s attorneys pointed to the lack of records demonstrating the return took place. Parsons said he vividly remembered turning in these items to Camechis and Johnson; they both said they had no memory of this.
Little said Parsons’ ongoing access to university property and employment by OU during this period allowed Parsons to continue coercing Arocho into sex through his status as a police officer.
Miller, however, said different actions by OU may not have limited Arocho’s perception of his authority.
“What [Arocho and her sister are] really trying to say is: ‘Mr. Parsons told me I was a cop, and I believed he had authority,’” Miller said.
Little also argued OU should have done more to aid the Athens County Sheriff’s Office’s criminal investigation against Parsons, pointing to Johnson’s testimony that he did not interview the juveniles Parsons contacted on his work computer or turn that computer over to authorities.
Arocho’s attorneys sought to discredit Parsons’ testimony, which differed from Arocho’s on many counts.
Little impeached Parsons on the witness stand over his comment that Arocho was the only minor he contacted on his work computer.
Arocho’s attorney Michael Fradin also asked Camechis, “Do you think Parsons is a dishonest person?” Camechis said only, “He was dishonest during that investigation with Lt. Johnson.” Fradin then pointed to Parsons’ termination letter, which stated that Parsons was fired in part for his dishonesty about investigations against him.
When Johnson was questioned by Arocho’s attorney, he said his first interview with Parsons during the course of his 2005 administrative investigation “made no sense.” Parsons then “changed his story” in the second interview, Johnson said.
Parsons told the Independent he had “reason to lie” at the time, to protect his job, but said he has no reason to lie now.
Parsons also faces a civil lawsuit into his personal liability for the harm suffered by Arocho. Attorney Michael Fradin, who represented Arocho in this trial against OU, also represents Arocho in that case, which will be heard in the Athens County Court of Common Pleas.
The full transcript of the trial is available here.
Further reading: An interview with Alison Arocho
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