BLADEN COUNTY, NC (WWAY) -- In this week’s Troubleshooters report, we have an unusual story about a local 16-year-old who was molested by his uncle. He's upset with Bladen County authorities, over the way they handled the case. Even though the uncle was convicted of engaging in a sex act with the teen, he's serving no active jail time, and will not be required to register as a sex offender. Making matters worse, the victim was arrested too, at school, in front of his friends.
Because of his age, and the nature of the story, we won't identify the teenage victim in this case.
We're going to call him Matthew. He and his sister were staying with their uncle, Jerry Squires, for a few weeks last summer while their mom was out of state. Squires is a respected member of the Bladen County community, and before this happened, he served as the head deacon of Natmoore Baptist Church.
Matthew says on several occasions while staying with his uncle, Squires made inappropriate advances towards him, and ultimately forced him to engage in sex acts. "After I told him no, that's when he grabbed my like this (puts his hands around his throat), and he said if you tell anybody, he said he would kill me and chop my genitals off," Matthew recalled. "I was wondering why. I mean, he was like a father figure to me, and the whole time, I kept blaming myself, maybe it's me, maybe it's me.”
Matthew says his uncle told him the sex acts were payment for staying under his roof. After Matthew's mom got back to town, he says he broke down and told his family what had happened.
"The whole time, I was thinking I was going to hell, and you know, God would never forgive me - how could he forgive me for something like this"
Matthew's family convinced him to go to the authorities. He told his story to Detective Sue Lutz with the Bladen County Sheriff's Office, and says right off the bat, he got the feeling he wasn't being taken seriously. "She told me that even though I was choked and he threatened my life, that he did not have a weapon, a gun, knife, shovel, something physical, so basically, it was consensual,” Matthew said of his conversation with Det. Lutz.
Matthew says he was told if he pressed charges against his uncle, he would be arrested too for engaging in the sex act. So Matthew opted not to press charges. A few months later, out of the blue, Matthew says a sheriff's deputy showed up at his school to arrest him. "I got arrested, put behind bars, I was the one that was facing 15 months. It was like everything was happening to me - but he was the one that did everything. But it was like, I'm the victim here, I'm the one that came forward, but y'all are punishing me for it."
Squires was also charged with a sex offense while in a parental role. When the case was handed over to the District Attorney's office, the assistant prosecutor quickly decided to drop the charges against Matthew. “Based upon what I thought, as opposed to maybe what the charging officer did, I felt it was in the best interest of justice to dismiss the case against the young man - and to proceed on the adult,” explained prosecutor Elaine Kelley.
Jerry Squires was indicted by a grand jury, but before the case went to trial, the prosecutor offered him a plea deal, and Squires pleaded guilty to Crimes Against Nature.
Although Matthew told us what happened with his uncle was not consensual, the detective said it was. That's what she wrote in her report that she handed to the D.A. "I look at what I'm going to be able to use to convince 12 reasonable people in this community - unanimously, of someone's guilt,” explained Kelley. “The willingness of the victim to participate, according to what my evidence was, played a strong role in [offering the plea].”
But according to the law, even if Matthew had agreed, consent is no defense to sexual activity by a substitute parent. Even though the prosecutor secured a felony conviction, Jerry Squires was not required to serve any active jail time, nor is he required to register as a sex offender. The victims family says that's not good enough.
“They protected the criminal, and I'm very, very angry. I want this man behind bars,” Matthew’s mother told us.
The prosecutors office never interviewed Matthew for themselves about what happened.
Matthew's family is also concerned because they say Squires has a relative who works in the Bladen County Sheriff's Office, and several employees of the Sheriff's Department are members of Squires’ church.
We spoke to officials with the Bladen County Sheriff's Department about the victims concerns, and had hoped for some kind of response by now, but we didn't get one. Jerry Squires declined our request for an interview.