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The Accused

Colorado keeps an extensive list of suspected child abusers, but is anyone checking it twice?

"Are you mad at me?" she asked him.

"Yes," he answered.

"Are you really mad at me?" she pushed.

Susan and Clifford Brown say they'll never be foster parents again because of the Central Registry.
James Bludworth
Susan and Clifford Brown say they'll never be foster parents again because of the Central Registry.
Attorney Rowe Stayton has worked on more than 300 Central Registry cases.
James Bludworth
Attorney Rowe Stayton has worked on more than 300 Central Registry cases.

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"Yes," he said again.

"Well, do you want to get in the back and have sex?" she asked.

She said this just as Clifford was pulling into the driveway. Dumbfounded, he answered, "Hell, no." But before he had a chance to ask her why she would say such a thing, Carol was out of the van and heading into the house, where she stormed off to her bedroom.

"That blew me away. She just said that out of the blue. I didn't know where that came from. I couldn't conceive of anyone saying something like that to me," Clifford says now.

A few days later, on August 6, Carol told her caseworker that Clifford had fondled her during that van ride. She said Clifford had allowed her to sit on his lap and steer the van while he touched her on the outside of her underwear. She also said that Clifford had a jar of Vaseline in his van and that, while he didn't use it, he explained that it "could be used on the private parts," according to court documents. She went on to explain that Clifford was drinking Crown Royal in the van and that, in fact, he drank whiskey every day. She also accused Clifford of two other instances of sexual abuse and said he'd assaulted another foster daughter.

The first time he'd touched her, Carol claimed, was during a pre-placement visit several months before. She said that after everyone had gone to bed, Clifford slid his hand into her underwear. Clifford denies this, and Susan says Carol was never alone with Clifford during that visit. The other incident Carol reported didn't involve any touching; she told her caseworker that she helped wash the dogs every Saturday morning and that Clifford would always splash water on her T-shirt so he could see her breasts.

The day Carol reported the alleged abuse to her human-services caseworker, the therapist from the Jacob Center finally called Susan back about the list of problems Susan had had with Carol. The therapist told Susan that, based on the girl's past behavior, Carol was probably "getting ready to blow." It was a warning that came too late.

Later that day, Susan picked Carol up from school, and the girl mentioned that her caseworker was planning to call the Browns at 4 p.m., but she offered no reason. Susan assumed it was a routine check-in. When the caseworker called, she instructed Susan to help Carol pack her clothes because the girl would be leaving the Brown home. The caseworker didn't mention the allegations Carol had made; Susan figured the Jacob Center had passed along her complaints about Carol to Human Services and that another placement had been found. She was relieved that Carol was finally going somewhere else.

But when Susan went downstairs to help Carol pack, she discovered that the girl had already gathered her belongings and run away. Susan went to the local police station and filed a runaway report; later that night, an officer found Carol. She'd gone to her boyfriend's house, and when she left his place, she'd taken a dog out of a neighbor's yard; the neighbor called the police, who found Carol roaming the neighborhood with the dog. Since Susan knew the caseworker was planning to remove Carol from their home, she referred the officer to the Jacob Center.

That same night, Carol's biological mother called to speak to her daughter. Susan had met Carol's mother before, but she never knew exactly why she didn't have custody of her daughter. She guesses that it might have been because the mother didn't have a stable home; the woman had gone to a shelter for a while to get away from her abusive husband, and another daughter of hers had been placed in a separate foster home. When Susan told Carol's mother that Carol was no longer living with her, the woman revealed how badly her daughter had been abused: Carol's father had sexually assaulted her since she was three years old, and he sometimes invited his friends to take turns with her. Her father always told her that she deserved the abuse, that it was her penance for being bad. When Susan heard that, Carol's outrageous comment to Clifford in the van kind of made sense: The girl must have equated sex with punishment.

And Carol's mother told Susan other things that explained past events. Carol once had pet guinea pigs that drowned to death after she and some friends had given them a bath. Had the Brown's puppy almost met the same fate? Then there was the time Carol turned the gas all the way up on the kitchen stove in an attempt to asphyxiate her mom and sister. Had she been trying to kill the Browns and the other foster daughters when she set that fire in the basement? Once, Susan had found a knife in Carol's bedroom; Carol had said she was using it to cut a cake she'd made in an Easy-Bake Oven in the basement. After she left the Browns' home, Susan discovered a second knife in her room. Could Misty's earlier prediction have come true?

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