Forensic interviews with students key in Springboro teacher case

Advocacy centers formed to limit repeated interviews with potential child victims.

The case filed last week against a former Springboro teacher now accused of inappropriately touching dozens of students came together after forensic interviewers became involved in the investigation.

Interviewers working for the Child Advocacy Center of Warren County questioned first- grade students who took gym classes at Clearcreek Elementary School.

The interviews contributed to the indictment of their former teacher, John Austin Hopkins, on 36 counts of gross sexual imposition, according to Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell.

Hopkins, 25, of Springboro, was released on house arrest Friday after his family posted $50,000 in cashiers checks, the 10 percent he was required to post for his $500,000 bond. He has pleaded not guilty.

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A three-month investigation resulted in the charges being filed against Hopkins, a teacher at the elementary school as well as at Springboro Intermediate School before his resignation in March.

The interviewers could be called by prosecutors or defense lawyers in hearings or at a trial.

“CAC has trained forensic interviewers who specialize in interviewing potential child victims in a non-leading manner,” the prosecutor said in a response to questions. “We will then review those interviews, and based on the child’s statements, as well as any other evidence that we have in the case, will make a determination as to whether or not charges might be appropriate.”

“CAC’s give everyone a neutral interview, eliminating the need for my assistant prosecutors to go back and re-traumatize the child through yet another interview,” Fornshell said.

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While acknowledging the interviewers’ professionalism, defense lawyer David Chicarelli said, “That is one of the main issues we will be looking at.”

“I’ve had cases before where I felt where the interviews were grossly suggestive. I’m not saying that’s what’s going on here.”

Chicarelli said it was difficult to cross-examine alleged child victims and indicated a forensic psychologist might be hired to review the forensic interviewing process in the Hopkins case.

Forensic interviewers complete a 40-hour certification course provided by the National Children’s Advocacy Center in Huntsville, Ala., established in 1985 as a result of efforts sparked through the work of then-Madison County, Ala., Prosecutor Bud Kramer.

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“Kramer was seeing children at the end of their case to prosecute their perpetrator and felt that his cases were being compromised by how many times the child had to tell their story. His cases were falling apart, and Kramer realized the need for a more coordinated response. He began the first children’s advocacy center and the movement began to spread,” according to the story of CARE House in Dayton, which is Montgomery County’s CAC.

Today, there are more than 1,000 child advocacy centers across the U.S.

“We also use the interviews in some cases where Children Services is needing to remove children from their homes due to abuse, dependency or neglect issues,” Fornshell said.

The Warren County CAC is a non-profit managed by Amy Fornshell, who is married to prosecutor David Fornshell and who is an employee of Dayton Children's Hospital. The hospital provides five staff members in the Lebanon center and serves as fiscal agent for CARE House and Michael's House in Fairborn, Greene County's CAC.

The Child Advocacy Center of Warren County opened in 2008. It helped 350 children last year “as a result of allegations of sexual and physical abuse, neglect, and witness to violence or drug endangered homes,” Amy Fornshell said in response to questions.

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About 55 percent of those cases related to sexual abuse allegations, and 63 percent involved children 12 years old or younger, she said.

“A children’s advocacy center works with a team of professionals including medical and mental health professionals, law enforcement, child protective services, prosecution and victim advocacy to provide a coordinated response to abuse or neglect allegations and minimize the traumatic impact on the child,” Amy Fornshell added.

Services range from forensic interviews, medical evaluations, victim support and advocacy to trauma-focused counseling, investigative and prosecutorial services and community education.

“The ultimate goal of the center is for children to be able to come to one place that is comfortable, safe, and child friendly,” Amy Fornshell added.

Beyond the staff provided by the hospital, the CAC “relies solely on grants, private contributions, fundraising, and in-kind donations. Children will receive services through the CAC regardless of ability to pay. The medical and mental health services provided within the CAC are conducted by Dayton Children’s Hospital employees who are specifically trained in child abuse examinations and trauma focused counseling.”

Two family-service coordinators are trained in forensic interviewing through the National Children’s Advocacy Center course.

“The long-term impact of trauma can vary depending on whether the child disclosed, how they were responded to, protective factors,” Amy Fornshell said. “Trauma can affect a child emotionally, behaviorally, physically and cognitively. It can impact a person’s ability to form healthy relationships, learn effectively, and maintain stable employment.”

She said there is an increase in drug abuse and suicidal behavior with people who have experienced childhood trauma.

Based on forensic interviews, the children and families are referred to professionals and other resources. An outreach awareness specialist focuses on awareness and education of child abuse prevention.

The center set up a support group for children and families affected by the Hopkins case.

Last week, one alleged victim’s mother indicated her family has been affected by the case.

“We kind of had a big issue last night,” she said after her daughter saw Hopkins had been arrested.

She acknowledged the support group had been set up, but indicated she and her family had been unable to attend sessions due to time conflicts for working parents.

“For families who are unable to make the offered counseling session, they can call CAC Warren County to work out a time that works for them,” Stacy Porter, public relations director at Dayton Children’s Hospital, said in an email.


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