BY BENJAMIN J. GOHS, EDITOR
Missing evidence, an uncertain timeline, and serious allegations against a local educator are making for a complex criminal sexual conduct case in Charlevoix’s 90th District Court.
James William Ploe, 34, of Boyne City, has been accused of fondling two students at the Round Lake Education Center in Charlevoix numerous times between April and October of 2016.
According to court documents, two students between the ages of 16 and 18 told Charlevoix Police Deputy Chief Scott Hankins they had been inappropriately touched.
“(Accuser) informed Dep. Chief Hankins that, at various times during April – October 2016, James Ploe had touched (accuser) numerous times on (accuser’s) butt and in one particular instance placed his hand over (accuser’s) crotch area and cupped (their genitals) and said words to the effect of, ‘Does this make you uncomfortable?’ (alleged victim) then told Ploe (they were) uncomfortable and requested he stop,” it is stated in the affidavit of probable cause.
The second accuser gave a similar account of Ploe’s alleged behavior toward them.
A third student interviewed by Hankins said they witnessed Ploe inappropriately touching both of the accusers.
However, according to Ploe’s attorney Bryan C. Klawhun, the accusers have had difficulty recounting the timeline of the events; and, video footage from the school’s security system—which may have revealed what really happened—has disappeared.
Ploe was arrested on July 27, and a preliminary examination on the matter was begun on Aug. 29.
“The case is kind of in limbo right now,” Klawhun told the Boyne City Gazette on Monday Sept. 11. “The kids testified, and I don’t think it was very convincing testimony. But, prior to that, there was some surveillance video from the security cameras in the school we had asked for initially in the investigation and they said they were going to get that for us and when we went to actually get it they said they didn’t have it because it had been overwritten.”
He added, “Obviously, I’m quite upset. And the next step is arguing a motion in front of the judge to dismiss the whole case.”
While the alleged incidents occurred as early as April of 2016, the Charlevoix City Police Department was not notified until Oct. 19, 2016.
According to Klawhun, the school’s video surveillance system records over itself every 30 days.
Still, Klawhun said he was concerned that potential evidence was not properly secured.
“I’m not assigning blame to either one but somebody—the school or the police—didn’t preserve evidence that was exculpatory of Mr. Ploe,” Klawhun said. “I’ll be arguing a motion in October on why we believe the case should be dismissed.”
He added, “Then, we’ll have a second hearing where Scott Hankins from the Charlevoix PD and John McLean (Round Lake High School Administrator) are going to testify under subpoena why the evidence was not preserved.”
Deputy Chief Hankins told the Boyne City Gazette he preferred not to comment on the matter because the issue was currently being argued in court.
Ploe is charged with two counts of fourth degree Criminal Sexual Conduct.
According to Klawhun, his client has a long and exemplary record of working with children.
“That’s why I’m absolutely frustrated by this case right now: it typifies the belief that if somebody is accused, they must have done it,” Klawhun said. “The fact is, people lie—people fabricate. Jim Ploe has never even had a write-up and now he’s vilified for having an accusation made against him.”
Ploe, who worked for the school through an educational staffing company, remains on administrative leave.
The feature photo is a picture of the Round Lake Education Center which appears at http://www.chxsharp.com/round-lake-education-center-rlec.html