Falling Apart: Rockbridge County Edition

Robert E. Clark, 39, entered Alford pleas to nine counts of sexual abuse: not admitting guilt but acknowledging that there was sufficient evidence to convict him.

Here’s a story where America’s fraying social fabric intersects with near-criminal bureaucratic indifference. For context, read about the social breakdown of white America as described by sociologist Charles Murray in “Falling Apart.”

After seven months of investigation, a special grand jury has found dysfunction and incompetence “from top to bottom” at the Rockbridge Area Department of Social Services, reports the Roanoke Times.

“Don’t write up reports,” a child-welfare supervisor, who went unnamed in the article, allegedly said. “It takes a lot of work for us to enter that into the system and get it taken care of.”

Despite evidence that the supervisor had shredded call reports to lighten the work load, the grand jury concluded there were no grounds for criminal prosecution. Still, the investigation found that problems extended beyond one bad supervisor, the Times says:

Board members, supervisors and staffers all contributed to a breakdown in the department’s Child Protective Services Unit, which “failed in its primary mission to our community, that of protecting the safety and well-being of our most vulnerable population: The children of the Rockbridge/Lexington/Buena Vista area,” the report stated.

The supervisor, who was fired during an internal social services review, invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself more than 60 times during the grand jury proceedings.

An earlier article in the Roanoke Times described one especially atrocious case of neglect and abuse uncovered in Rockbridge County.

In 2015, Rockbridge County Deputy R.T. McCullough pulled his patrol car into a mobile home park to check a report about two girls, ages 3 and 8. As he approached the home, he was struck by the stench of urine and the sight of cockroaches crawling over the front porch and screen door. Inside, he found thousands of the bugs covering over the walls and furniture — and a three-year-old girl who sat crying at the kitchen counter.

Under questioning the girls revealed that they had been sexually abused by one Robert E. Clark. (It’s not clear from the article what Clark’s relationship to the girls was.) The Times continues:

The 8-year-old confided to her foster mother and a counselor that over a four-month period in 2015, Clark repeatedly raped and molested her and her 3-year old sister, forced them to have sex with one another and beat them with a belt while they were naked.

Clark’s sister, Samantha K. Simmons, is charged with sexually abusing two young boys in a junked Ford van that sat nearby.

The desecration of children is not a new phenomenon in our society. And a scandal in one Virginia county hardly constitutes proof of a growing problem. Indeed, a 2012 New York Times article indicated that child sexual abuse had plummeted 60% between 1992 and and 2010. The reasons for the decline were not clear, although the article pointed to a number of possible factors, such as greater public awareness, stepped-up prevention efforts, better training and education, specialized policing, and the presence in many cities of child advocacy centers.

While it’s possible that such practices have driven down the incidence of child abuse, I fear that the ongoing social disintegration of the poor and working class — chronic under-employment and under-employment, out-of-wedlock births, non-paternal boyfriends moving in with mothers and their children, substance abuse, and related behaviors — are creating the conditions for endemic child abuse. I expect that more recent statistics than those quoted in the NY Times would show that the incidence of child abuse is getting worse, not better.

That assumes, of course, that the statistics are trustworthy. If Rockbridge County social welfare workers were shredding call reports, who knows if their counterparts were doing the same thing elsewhere. Frankly, it’s hard to know what to believe.

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4 responses to “Falling Apart: Rockbridge County Edition

  1. “The destruction of records charge did not apply because while the paper trail had been eliminated, there was still the possibility that documents existed in an electronic format. “Without evidence that the documents shredded or secreted were the only existing records, this action alone does not indicate, support or prove an indictable criminal offense,” the grand jury concluded.

    A second charge of forgery was considered for reports in which dates were altered, apparently to make it appear that state-mandated deadlines were met. But the mere changing of a date does not amount to a material altering of a document under state law, according to the report.

    The third possible charge — child abuse or neglect — could not be filed for several reasons. The misdemeanor version of the law carries a one-year statute of limitations; all of the actions considered by the grand jury happened more than a year ago.

    To make the felony version of the law stick, there must be proof that the defendant was a parent or a guardian. “There was no guardian role for the agency because the children were never in the legal custody or care of the department,” the grand jury concluded.

    As part of its recommendations, the panel called for better laws to address the problems it found.”

    In the Dillon’s Rule fiasco that is the Commonwealth of Virginia all roads of ruin lead back to the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond. You can shred official documents pertaining to criminal activity but that’s not a crime because somewhere, somehow there might be another copy of the document. You can use willfully incorrect dates to fake compliance with state requirements but that’s not enough of a crime to constitute forgery. You can abuse children but so long as you don’t get caught for a year after the abuse – you’re scott free.

    Meanwhile, the negligence of the local social welfare board and the state lawmakers leaves a trail of broken children’s lives. Needless to say, nobody from the gub’mint can be held accountable for anything.

    Business as usual in America’s Most Corrupt State.

  2. re: Dillion – two sides to that coin.

    I think it’s safe to say that if it were not for the State actually mandating functions like Social Services – some counties would choose to not have them or choose to fund and resource them at even lower levels – with minimal accountability… probably was like that way back when… Virginia was largely a rural place with indentured servants and then slaves.

    There is a lot I don’t agree with – with Mr. Murray but unfortunately I think he might be right about a growing underclass that does not value neither education nor work… and yet they still have kids.. and Medicaid pays for them – birth to adulthood… where other “safety nets” take over.

    I question that we’ve not seen this kind of thing before..”trailer trash” is not a new phrase, another author in another even earlier time – wrote a book called The Jungle that described ” the harsh conditions and exploited lives of immigrants in the United States in Chicago and similar industrialized cities.”…. that was in 1906.

    and then I want to direct attention to the fact that we have millions of undocumented folks with minimal educations living in the shadows who seem to have a strong work ethic – to the point where they are accused of “taking our jobs” and as far as I can tell – not near the burden on Social Services…

    Many counties don’t well resource Social Services to start with. The work is overwhelming and the attrition rate is horrendous … from what I hear.

    So we can focus ire on the folks who shredded paper and took the fifth amendment but ultimately responsibility falls to the folks who run the county – just as they are expected to maintain law enforcement, fire and rescue and schools.

  3. This isn’t surprising. Va. state employees know of abuses I’ve submitted for Anthem BCBS. State Medical Board know of issues.

    They do nothing. THis costs taxpayers.

  4. I grew up in Lexington the County seat of Rockbridge County. When I left the county to join the Army 40 years ago something like this would have been promptly dealt with. Those running social services were respected members of the community. I am not sure what has happened? What I do know there is plenty of blame to go around.
    Several have hit on the underclass that exist. I have family who have no desire to leave Rockbridge County, who are smart and capable, and are willing to take whatever jobs that allow them to stay. Most of the manufacturing is long gone. Unless you work at one of the three colleges (Washington and Lee, VMI, and Southern Virginia) there are few high paying jobs left in the county. While I am saddened by this I am not surprise.

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