Less than two weeks after a Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority police officer was indicted on multiple sexual battery charges, accused of abusing five teens in a police mentoring program, the agency is asking for the public's help with its investigation. It comes as News 5 uncovers that such programs have a troubling history nationwide and continue to be plagued by problems.
The man at the center of CMHA's investigation is Officer Christopher Collins, a three-year veteran of the force and an advisor of CMHA's police explorers program. The program offers training to teens and young adults, ages 14-20, who are interested in a career in law enforcement.
Collins pled not guilty to the charges brought against him. He is set to appear in court for a pre-trial hearing Monday morning.
News 5 requested an interview with CMHA's Police Chief Andres Gonzalez regarding the status of the investigation and details about the explorer program but was denied.
In a statement, the agency said it is continuing its joint investigation with the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office and encourages anyone with information to contact the police chief. That answer was in response to News 5's question as to whether there are more victims in this case.
A spokeswoman for the agency also said CMHA has suspended its explorers program, which is funded by the police department, indefinitely.
Explorer programs are nationwide and run by a Boy Scouts of America organization called Learning for Life. There are more than two dozen explorer programs in Northeast Ohio, according to the Boys Scouts' website, including two at CMHA.
The programs are supposed to give teens an opportunity to gain interest in a career early on. But News 5 discovered that in some cases, it's also a program that puts participants in danger at the hands of their advisors.
A Kentucky man recently filed a lawsuit, alleging he was sexually abused by two of his advisors when he was a teenager in the Louisville Police explorers program. Those advisors were both police officers at the time.
"The thing that was so awful about this was that they were his heroes," said David Yates, the plaintiff's attorney. "He just wanted to be a police officer, and they took advantage of that."
Published reports detail similar cases of sexual abuse allegations within law enforcement explorer programs in California, Texas and Connecticut.
News 5 requested an interview with the Boy Scouts of America regarding the Collins case and problems within explorer programs but they refused. Instead, the organization sent the following statement:
“The behavior included in these allegations is abhorrent and runs counter to everything for which Exploring and the Boy Scouts of America stands. It appears this individual violated Exploring policies and very strict youth protection guidelines that are in place to protect youth from abusive behavior. Upon learning of the allegations we took immediate action to remove this individual and preclude him from any further participation in the Scouting program.
"The safety of our youth members is of paramount importance and we seek to prevent abuse through a comprehensive program of education on the subject, the leader selection process, criminal background and other checks, policies and procedures to serve as barriers to abuse, including no one-on-one activities involving a leader and youth, and the prompt mandatory reporting of any allegation or suspicion of abuse.
“The BSA offers assistance with counseling to any Scout, former Scout, or the family member of any Scout who suffered abuse during their time in Scouting. The BSA has a toll-free help line (855-295-1531) and email contact address (firstname.lastname@example.org) for these sensitive matters.”
News 5 tried to speak to CMHA's other explorer advisors but they could not be reached.