A split Indiana Court of Appeals decided Wednesday that former Muncie Central High School principal Christopher Smith’s Class B misdemeanor conviction for failure to immediately report child abuse or neglect should be tossed out.
In November 2010, 16-year-old high school student G.G. reported to school officials that she had been raped in a bathroom by 16-year-old student S.M. Smith and other school leaders decided to investigate the claim before alerting police or the Department of Child Services because G.G. had allegedly previously faked a seizure and they did not want to ruin S.M.’s reputation.
The school immediately called G.G.’s guardian Youth Opportunity Center, as G.G. was placed there years earlier by DCS, so they could get consent for medical treatment. Smith believed by contacting YOC, DCS would also be notified. G.G. was taken to the hospital and evidence showed sexual contact. Smith called DCS approximately four hours after learning about the incident and told the agency he wasn’t sure if he was reporting abuse.
S.M. initially denied the claim, then said the sex was consensual, but eventually confessed to raping the teen.
Police initially investigated Smith for obstruction of justice, but later charged him with failure to immediately report child abuse or neglect. He was convicted as charged and on appeal argued that he and the other administrators involved didn’t think the incident involved child abuse since it was between two teenagers.
Judges Elaine Brown and L. Mark Bailey reversed in Christopher Smith v. State of Indiana, 18A02-1204-CR-331, pointing to evidence that Smith had another administrator contact YOC, which immediately contacted DCS. They also found that a reasonable investigation into the claim made in good faith of such an allegation before making the report is not improper and doesn’t deprive Smith of statutory immunity.
Judge Nancy Vaidik argued in her dissent that Smith had reason to believe G.G. was a victim of child abuse and failed to immediately report it. She didn’t accept Smith’s claim he notified DCS immediately by virtue of the call to the YOC or the majority’s decision that permits verification of a child’s allegations of abuse before making a report.
“I believe such a verification process is contrary to statute and, if permitted, may have the highly undesirable result of suppressing or deterring reports of abuse,” she wrote.