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17-year-old commits suicide in group home after assault at DOC halfway house

Corrections won't explain lack of monitoring

MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin Department of Corrections officials would not explain to News 3 why daily monitoring was not done of sex offenders at a home where a 17-year-old girl reported a sexual assault last year.

That young woman later died inside a group home in Dane County that also closed following citations from the state.

News 3 has spent the last year investigating the case and supervision in both homes.

The sexual assault was reported in July of 2016, at 3150 St. Paul Ave. in the town of Blooming Grove.  The area, while seemingly in Madison, is under the jurisdiction of the Dane County Sheriff's Department.


"We learned there had been a party hosted at an apartment that was actually housing individuals under DOC supervision as sexual predators," said Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney.

Court documents show the 17-year-old girl smoked weed and took Ecstasy and was taken to the party by a man on the Dane County Bail Monitoring program.  Investigators say she was told by the three men who lived at the house, who were all registered sex offenders, that "she wanted this" and she reported being repeatedly raped. 

One offender who was arrested for the crime, James Phillips, told investigators the four men were "taking turns," that the girl was "tossed around like a rag doll" and estimated she was assaulted 11 times.

The apartments where the incident happened were emergency housing for recently-released sex offenders, a place the DOC says was used for offenders at risk of homelessness.

Documents released to News 3 by the DOC show that regular daily monitoring of the offenders at the home did not happen.

"You had to rely upon one another, one predator in charge of watching another one," Mahoney said of the situation his investigators found.  "So kind of like putting the wolf inside the henhouse."

Those probation and parole documents show that the sex offenders were only seen in occasional home visits over the year prior to the assault.  The offenders largely also knew when agents were coming, as nearly all visits were scheduled ahead of time.


There was an agent at the home the day of the alleged assault on July 7.  She was meeting with Reginald Patton to move him into the house.  Patton was later one of the four men charged in the case.

Another offender charged, Stephon Hiler, has already pleaded guilty to his role in the assault.  His attorney says he has cognitive issues, and DOC documents from the day he was placed in the home show he was "low-functioning" and could not read or write.

"It's a travesty what happened, but part of the blame lies in them putting this cognitively disabled person inside this facility with no one to supervise them," said attorney Michael Covey.

Covey says he will ask for a shorter sentence for Hiler in part because he says the DOC bears some responsibility for what happened, and they set his client up to fail.

"There were drugs being used, lots of sex happening in this building and that's from police reports and witness testimony," Covey said.  "It was animal house."

The Department of Corrections declined News 3's repeated requests for interviews.  In a statement, a spokesman said the department discontinued the lease on the home and was no longer using any emergency housing locations in Dane County.  Instead they're using "transitional housing" programs and have a policy that requires additional monitoring beyond monthly agent visits.

"Contracted staff must conduct three site checks per day in addition to regular home visits from probation and parole agents," said spokesman Tristan Cook in an email.

But the question remains why the Department of Corrections wasn't regularly monitoring the residence before this happened, especially given that it is just more than half a mile from the St. Paul Avenue house.  Department officials would not tell News 3 if anyone was disciplined or fired and would not release any internal investigation results. 

The second home connected to this young woman, though, is where she met her end.

The victim had been living at a group home in Dane County called the Spohn Avenue House for Girls, which has since closed.


Jennifer Ginsburg, program manager at Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center, is familiar with this case and the victim.

"We have a teenager that was victimized by two failed systems," Ginsburg said.

According to documents provided by the Department of Children and Families, the victim reported the rape to a staff member at the home at 1:30 a.m. on July 8.  It wasn't until she told the group home director nine hours later that police were called, as is required by the state.

Then one month later, on Aug. 5, 2016, the victim of this sexual assault hung herself from a rod in her closet at the group home.  She later died at the hospital.

"We know that kids who are sexually assaulted are much more likely to have suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, and it's awful," Ginsburg said.  "A group home should be a place where we're able to stop a suicide from happening."


The group home was cited by the state in August of last year for violating abuse and neglect reporting requirements for not reporting the sexual assault immediately.  In October, the nonprofit that ran the home was issued another order saying the home "failed to provide a safe, stable and humane environment" and ordering it to correct the environment or face sanctions.  Rather than take corrective action, Orion Family Services, which ran the group home, chose to close its doors.

The executive director of Orion Family Services, Hugh Myers, declined to be interviewed by News 3, but said that discussions to close the home were already underway at the time of the order.  He also disputed findings in the state documents, saying they reflect "a highly inaccurate assessment of the situation."

Those in the community say their hope is that the right people are watching next time.

"I know that the only way for this tragedy to not be completely in vain is for there to be changes," Ginsburg said.

News 3 reached out to the family of the victim, which declined to comment but said they had retained an attorney.


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