Chesterton Tribune



Man admits sexually battering mentally disabled women at church, gets probation

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A Liberty Township man who admits sexually battering three mentally disabled women over a period of several months last year, during a weekly Bible study at Liberty Bible Church, has been sentenced to probation.

On Monday, Thomas Stanley Cooperider, 24, with a listed address of 844 Mirmar Drive, avoided any further jail time when Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford sentenced him to six years in the Indiana Department of Correction--two years for each of the three counts of sexual battery filed against him--but then suspended the whole of that sentence, excepting the 252 days which Cooperider spent in the Porter County Jail awaiting disposition. The balance of the sentence Cooperider will serve on formal probation.

In addition to the three counts of sexual battery--a Level 6 felony punishable by a term of six to 30 months--Cooperider was also originally charged with two counts of rape, a Level 3 felony punishable by a term of three to 16 years. The rape counts were dismissed as part of a plea agreement negotiated with the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

Bradford also ordered Cooperider to undergo a sex offender’s Project Pro evaluation and complete any recommended treatment; to register as a sex offender; to submit to HIV testing; and to observe no-contact orders with his victims, which will remain in effect for the duration of his sentence.

Bradford did not order Cooperider to pay restitution. He did order him to pay a $250 sexual assault victim’s fee.

According to the probable cause affidavit filed by the PCSP, on May 1, 2015, the coordinator of the Liberty Bible Church’s Safety Team, Jim Reeder--the Ogden Dunes Town Marshal--informed PCSP Commander Eric Jones by e-mail of a possible incident of sexual battery at the church.

Reeder stated in the e-mail that he’d been contacted at home by Pastor Ben Polhemus, after a leader of a Bible study group advised him that three young women in the group--all of them with special needs--reported being touched inappropriately by Cooperider during the Bible study’s Tuesday night meetings, starting apparently in January.

One of the women, diagnosed with mental retardation, has a tested IQ of 57 and due to her disability has a stated-appointed guardian, the affidavit stated. Another also has a stated-appointed guardian, is “unable to care for herself” as determined by a court, and has tested skill levels “no higher than a tenth-grade level and as low as a second-grade level.” The third has been found to be “incapable of handling her person because of fetal alcohol effect and ADD,” is considered “mildly mentally retarded,” and has state-appointed guardians.

Each woman told a similar account of her dealings with Cooperider, when interviewed--in the company of her guardian--on May 4 by the PCSP. Cooperider, identified as a “former member/junior leader” of the Bible study group, would lead her to an isolated or secluded area of the very large church, the basement or the food court, and there touch her intimately, the affidavit stated. Cooperider would do so without asking permission and without having their consent, the three women all advised police, in sessions which two of them estimated to last as long as 45 minutes.

On May 6, the affidavit stated, a Liberty Bible Church pastor informed Cooperider that he “would no longer be allowed on church property” during the PCSP’s investigation. Cooperider asked the pastor why he was banned and the pastor told him about “a complaint made against him by some women at the church.”

Cooperider’s response, as quoted by the pastor: “Oh, okay. I was worried about that,” the affidavit stated.

On May 15, the PCSP received a video surveillance record from Tuesday nights at the church, from Jan. 20 through March 3. That footage shows Cooperider, “at different times and different locations with each of the girls,” “walking to and from secluded areas of the church with them, consistent with their statements,” the affidavit stated.

On May 8, Cooperider was interviewed by the PCSP, at which time he advised that “Everything that did happen was consensual between adults.” Cooperider initially denied knowing that the women were mentally disabled, then admitted that he did know that two of them were “before pursuing them sexually.” He did not know that the third woman was mentally disabled, Cooperider advised, but after he “realized” that she was, he “continued to have sexual contact with her at least two more times,” the affidavit stated.

All five counts originally filed against Cooperider allege that he had intimate contact with a person who “is so mentally disabled or deficient that consent” to such contact “cannot be given.”

During the interview, Cooperider told investigators that he graduated high school with a GPA of between 3.5 and 3.8; had scored 22 and 23 on the ACT test; and had been accepted to Liberty University, where he planned to study law.






Posted 3/31/2016





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