The Accused

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

The Browns tried to get the girls back but were unsuccessful. "[Human Services] wouldn't return the girls to us since there was an ongoing investigation," Susan recalls. But later, when she spoke with the Jacob Center and pointed out that no charges had been filed, someone from that agency said that Clifford's name would go on the Central Registry. "They told me that as far as the department of human services is concerned, you're guilty until proven innocent and that when a child makes an accusation, they automatically take the child's side until proven otherwise. I can understand that, because for so many years kids weren't believed, but all of the other girls who were interviewed said, 'No way, not Clifford,' and yet they were going to put his name on the registry anyway."

The Jacob Center eventually revoked the Browns' foster-care license.

Susan turned to the Internet for help and found the Web site for VOCAL (Victims of Child Abuse Laws), a national organization with a chapter in Colorado. VOCAL recommended that Susan contact attorney Rowe Stayton. When she reached Stayton, he explained what the Central Registry is and how Clifford would have to attend a hearing before an administrative-law judge in order to avoid being placed on it.

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.

Although Clifford's status on the Central Registry was considered "pending," since he hadn't yet had his administrative hearing, the investigating caseworker tried to talk him into dropping his appeal. "She said, 'Oh, his name will only be on there for a couple of years, and no one in the public can access it,'" Susan recalls.

Even so, just knowing his name would be on a government list of child abusers when he had done nothing wrong made Clifford livid. "My name is important to me," he says. "I wasn't going to let them do that to me, because I wasn't guilty."

And so the Browns hired Stayton, gathered witnesses, including Misty and several former foster daughters, and began arguing their case before an administrative-law judge in Colorado Springs. The caseworker who "confirmed" the abuse told the judge that she hadn't read Carol's case file before issuing her finding. But according to court documents, she "believed that 'corroboration of witnesses was not important' because there was corroboration of the evidence by the jar of Vaseline and the Crown Royal bottle."

They completed the first day of testimony on May 12, 1999, but the hearing had to be continued until October 14 because of a full docket. The Browns had to take out a second mortgage on their house to pay $13,000 in legal bills. Susan had to move her real estate business into her home because she could no longer afford the rent or utilities in her office building.

Through a series of subsequent hearings, testimony from the other girls began to poke holes in Carol's story: They told the court that Clifford didn't drink every day, as Carol had alleged; they refuted Carol's claim that she washed the dogs every Saturday; and the other girl whom Carol had accused Clifford of molesting said he'd never touched her. During the hearing, Carol's caseworker said that the girl's behavioral issues included "anger-management problems, poor boundaries, lying, stealing, setting fires, no concern for the consequences of her actions, lack of conscience, poor peer relationships, and poor adult relationships."

Clifford's case was further bolstered when Kendall Scott testified; Scott was the home supervisor for the Jacob Center when Carol was staying at the Brown home and had had weekly meetings with the family. According to court documents, "Ms. Scott was concerned that [Carol] might make an accusation against Mr. Brown because of her history. Ms. Scott testified that it was not a matter of if, but when, [Carol] would make sexual-abuse allegations against Mr. Brown.

"Ms. Scott opined that standard foster-care training was not sufficient to train the Browns in dealing with [Carol]. [Carol] had a history of lying and manipulating. Ms. Scott believed [Carol] should have been placed in a more secure facility. Ms. Scott had concerns that the Jacob Center could potentially be liable because of [Carol's] placement at the Brown home."

That was the first time Susan and Clifford had heard that from Scott. "They knew this and they still placed her with us?" Susan says.

Finally, on February 9, 2000, Administrative Law Judge Cullen Wheelock ruled in Clifford's favor, finding that the El Paso County Department of Human Services had failed to establish that Clifford had abused Carol. "The fact that a jar of Vaseline was kept in the Browns' van and the fact that a bottle of Crown Royal was found at the Browns' house does not prove that Mr. Brown inappropriately touched [Carol]," the judge wrote. Carol's "motivation for creating false allegations against Mr. Brown could reasonably be construed as a way to be removed from the Browns' house and get back to Cleo Wallace.

"The county department and the Jacob Center placed [Carol] in the Brown home even though there was great risk that [Carol] might make some kind of sexual-abuse allegation based on her past history," Wheelock continued. "Based upon [Carol's] known history of abuse, lying, stealing, her history of behavioral problems, and the contradicted evidence from other foster girls, the ALJ concludes that [Carol's] allegations are not a credible basis on which the county department can rely in concluding that the report to the Central Registry is accurate."

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