|Daniel M. Acker Jr.|
It comes about 20 years too late, but The Birmingham News actually is producing some decent journalism in the story of Daniel M. Acker Jr., the politically connected teacher who was allowed to go on a child molestation spree in Shelby County, Alabama.
We learned yesterday that two additional charges of first-degree sexual abuse have been filed against Acker, bringing the total to six. A few days before that, reporter Veronica Kennedy produced a compelling story about a counselor who worked with the first abuse victim and suffered an emotional breakdown when she learned in the early 1990s that Shelby County officials would take no action against Acker. Kennedy's story provides insight into the suffering experienced by at least one victim, her family, and those close to her.
Higher-ups at The Birmingham News, however, are not anxious to answer questions about how the Acker story floated beneath their radar for about two decades. Some curious aspects of the story make us wonder if a cover up, perhaps designed to protect prominent Shelby County officials, still is in play. For good measure, we have learned about another case of child sex abuse in Alabama, and it gives you an idea of how quickly action can be taken when an alleged perpetrator is not politically connected in the way that Daniel M. Acker Jr. was in Shelby County.
Allison Black Cornelius is the counselor who tried to assist Acker's first victim, and Veronica Kennedy provides details about her background:
Leon Albert Prince raped Allison Black in 1972 in Birmingham when she was 7 years old. Prince was her Sunday school teacher.
In 1991, Black testified against Prince, who was convicted and served 15 years of a 30-year sentence. She was 26 years old and on her way to becoming an advocate for children who have been sexually abused.
That was just a few months before Daniel M. Acker Jr. was first accused of molesting a fourth-grade student and neighbor. Acker's alleged victim was the first child Black counseled.
Cornelius has gone on to found a consulting firm called Blackfish Strategies, and she vividly recalls the devastation she felt when a Shelby County grand jury refused to indict Acker and the school board returned him to the classroom:
When Black heard that a grand jury had declined to indict Acker, she recalled that she collapsed from the emotional trauma she felt. "I know an ambulance came to pick me up, and I was in the hospital for a week," she said.
Since then, Black--who lives in Birmingham and now goes by her married name of Allison Black Cornelius--has related her experience on national talk shows and traveled the world as the head of her consulting firm Blackfish Strategies.
Wherever she goes as a speaker, she talks about the emotional scars that linger from sexual abuse, whether they are her own or those of another victim. She said her talks often include that first child from 1991.
Do real people--innocent people--suffer when public officials ignore signs of wrongdoing? The answer clearly is yes. Could a cover up still be unfolding? We think it might be.
Consider this from Veronica Kennedy's article:
At the time, Acker denied touching the girl inappropriately. Last week, Alabaster police said he confessed to molesting her.
Not only that, but Acker confessed to molesting 20 other girls. How strange is that? Here is a guy who lied about his activities some 20 years ago, and that strategy worked; he got off. So why is he now confessing to all sorts of sexual abuse. If anyone in North America claims they were sexually abused as a child since World War II, I now expect Daniel M. Acker Jr. to raise his hand and say, "Hey, I did it."
|Allison Black Cornelius|
What happens to an alleged child molester in Alabama when his daddy is not a prominent county commissioner? Perhaps the answer comes from a breaking story about a Gadsden man named Dale Emmett Ramsay. From The Gadsden Times:
A Gadsden man was arrested and charged with sodomy and sex abuse, according to a news release from Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin.
Dale Emmett Ramsey, 63, is charged with one count of first-degree sodomy and one count of sex abuse of a child under the age of 12, Investigator Carla Carroll said in the release.
Both charges are felonies.
The abuse allegedly took place in December 2011 to an 8-year-old female at Ramsey's residence on Fairview Road.
Ramsey is being held in the Etowah County Detention Center on $25,000 bond.
Let's review: Mr. Ramsey allegedly sexually abused a child in December, and he wound up in the slammer roughly one month later. Mr. Acker, whose father is a county commissioner, allegedly abused a child in 1991 and wound up in the slammer in 2012--some 20 molestations later. Gee, do political connections pay off in postmodern America?
We would put that question to some of the big dogs at The Birmingham News, but they seem to be in no mood for questions--at least not from me. We have noted the stunning irony of Columnist John Archibald calling out Shelby County officials for their fumbling on the Acker case, even though Archibald, Editor Tom Scarritt, and others at the News have ignored wrongdoing in the county for years.
I sent Archibald and Scarritt an e-mail on Tuesday and invited them to explain their myopic coverage on criminal matters in Alabama's wealthiest and most conservative county--a county that features public officials who seem to be uniformly white and Republican. I'm still waiting for a reply.
Here is a copy of my e-mail, raising issues that Archibald and Scarritt apparently do not want to touch:
Tue, Jan 17, 2012 at 12:55 PM
To: John Archibald
Cc: Tom Scarritt
I am baffled by the outrage in your Sunday column about the failure of Shelby County officials to act on early signs of misconduct involving Daniel M. Acker Jr. As you know, Acker now has confessed to molesting at least 21 girls--and these crimes date to the early 1990s, when county officials passed on an opportunity to put a stop to it.
Why am I baffled by your Sunday piece? You might recall that you and I met in Sept. 2008 at the Safari Cup in downtown Birmingham to discuss issues connected to the Shelby County Sheriff's Office. The meeting was at your invitation after you had written a critical column about the sheriff's department, and I responded that I had witnessed events showing that Sheriff Chris Curry and his officers play fast and loose with the law. You indicated that you'd received a number of similar complaints from other citizens, and that was one reason you wanted to meet with me.
As I recall, we had a fairly pleasant visit, but you showed no interest in looking at documents I had or in pursuing a story about the unlawful conduct I had witnessed. You stated that you were working on another big story regarding Shelby County, one that involved apparent "high crimes." More than three years have passed, and I've seen nothing about that story.
Why are you outraged about Shelby County officials allowing wrongdoing to slide when you have done the same thing? And you aren't the only one at The Birmingham News who has taken this approach. I met with Tom Scarritt in probably 2003 or 2004, and I told him about indisputable evidence of criminal acts involving judges and lawyers in Shelby County. He showed no interest in pursuing the story and didn't bother looking at documents I had that proved the wrongdoing.
In my view, your newspaper shares in the blame for what has happened to 20-plus girls in Shelby County. I know from first-hand experience that you take a "see no evil" approach to coverage in Shelby County, so it should not be a surprise that Daniel M. Acker Jr. thought he could get away with it.
If you or your editors would care to offer an explanation as to why you now voice outrage about the Acker story, having ignored clear evidence of serious problems in Shelby County for years, I would be happy to run it on my blog, Legal Schnauzer.
For the record, the judicial/legal corruption in Shelby County has only gotten worse since you and I met. I've become aware of grotesque violations of law in cases that do not involve me, causing profound hardship for citizens.
I assume the News will continue with its "see no evil" reporting in Shelby County. But you should not be surprised when the ugliness surfaces, and the public wonders why you let it slide.