The Accused

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

Susan also learned during that phone call that Carol had fabricated numerous stories about herself. For instance, Carol had told Susan that someone once broke into her mother's house and shot her Rottweiler. But Carol's mother said she had always lived in apartments that didn't allow dogs. "There was no dog. There was no burglary," Susan says.

Susan realized that Carol was far more disturbed than she and Clifford had ever imagined. "I wish we'd known all that, because we wouldn't have taken her," she says. "Even though we went through a lot of training to be foster parents, we weren't equipped to handle that kind of severity. It was a roller-coaster ride with her; there was constantly something, and it really took a toll on us."

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.

The Browns never saw Carol again, and to this day they don't know where she ended up. After she left, Susan and Clifford hoped that things would return to normal. The four other girls who were living with them at the time were happy that Carol was gone, and Susan and Clifford finally felt they could relax.

Then the cops came.

On August 11, Colorado Springs police officers tailed Clifford's van as he pulled away from his home with two of the foster girls. They were going to pick up one of the girls' boyfriends and then go to a concert. But when Clifford got to the boyfriend's house, the officers approached him and told him to head back home; without any explanation, they took the girls in their patrol car and followed him. About five more police cars were waiting outside the Brown house when they arrived. The police asked if they could search the house and the van. Clifford still had no idea why they were there, and Susan was in such shock that she immediately complied. "We had nothing to hide," she says.

Several officers searched their home, but all they took was a bottle of Crown Royal. Next they went through the van, but they emerged empty-handed, so Clifford asked them what they were looking for. "They asked me if I had any Vaseline, and I said yes. I got it out for them from a side compartment," he says, explaining that he kept a jar in his van for his hands, which are always chapped from working with drywall and cement for his maintenance jobs.

"I was so bowled over by all the policemen in the house," says Susan, who can't recall precisely how many there were. "I asked what this was all about, and they said, 'We'll get to that in a minute.' They asked to speak to the girls, and I said they needed to check with the [Jacob Center] to get authorization. After they did that, they pulled one girl at a time into Misty's bedroom. They took me into another room, and that's when they told me about the accusations."

Clifford, who was in his bedroom with the police, still didn't know what was going on. An officer told Clifford to follow him to the police station in downtown Colorado Springs, but before they left, the officers removed all four girls from the home, including one who was emancipated from her biological parents and for whom the Browns had been awarded legal guardianship. The girls were eventually placed in other foster homes.

When they got to the station, the police finally told Clifford about Carol's accusations. Clifford didn't even have time to let the news sink in when they asked him to take a lie-detector test. Clifford didn't hesitate before agreeing. After all, he thought, "What have I got to hide?"

Clifford had suffered a closed-head injury from an auto accident two years before, and ever since, it's taken longer for him to process questions. If someone asks him several questions in quick succession, he will still be thinking about the first one even when he should be answering the third or fourth. He failed the test miserably. Susan and Clifford later found out that people who have closed-head injuries are highly likely to fail lie-detector tests.

Nevertheless, the police never charged Clifford with a crime. All of the other foster daughters had defended him, saying he'd never laid a hand on them and that such an assault would be completely out of character for him. The other girls also told police about Carol's history of theft and deceit.

Not long after the girls had been removed from her home, Susan received a call from Carol's court-appointed special advocate, who had heard that Carol was gone. When Susan confirmed that Carol was no longer at their house, the advocate asked if Carol had made an accusation; she went on to tell Susan that Carol had once falsely accused someone else of abusing her at a residential treatment center.

The caseworker to whom Carol had made the accusation about Clifford turned the matter over to another worker in charge of investigating such claims; that caseworker then questioned the other girls, who told her the same things they'd told police. And when she interviewed Carol, the girl explained that she had never wanted to live with the Browns because she liked staying at Devereux Cleo Wallace with her boyfriend and friends.

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