NO TRIAL: TODD FORT ENTERS A PLEA IN SALINE COUNTYPosted by Jack Howser on Friday, September 16th, 2011 @ 11:28 am.
SALINE CO.—Facing a jury trial on Monday, Todd Fort, the former Saline County chief deputy and Harrisburg Schools Board of Education president has entered a plea of guilty in his 17-count criminal sexual abuse and official misconduct case.
Fort, 44, appearing stoic and not at all as if any of this bothered him in the least, told Judge Walden Morris this morning after a scheduled 11 a.m. hearing that he agreed to the terms as negotiated and put forth between the defense, Bryan Drew, and the state, represented by State’s Attorney Mike Henshaw and Assistant State’s Attorney Eva Walker.
The negotiated contents of the plea are as follows:
Fort pled to a charge amended today which incorporates elements of the previous original 10 criminal sexual misconduct charges, but is enhanced by the word “Aggravated”: Aggravated Criminal Sexual Abuse, a Class 2 felony. The count charges that Fort, between May 1 and July 19, 2010, committed the offense in that being 17 years of age or older, as chief deputy, held a position of trust, authority or supervision in relation to BJC, the victim, whose age was 17 at the time the acts were committed, and she was an employee of the Saline County Sheriff’s Department, in that he committed an act of sexual conduct with BJC by knowingly fondling her vagina and anus for the purposes of sexual gratification or arousal.
In exchange for the plea, Fort will be sentenced to 3 years DOC. As a sex offender, he must complete 85 percent of his sentence, translating to 30.6 months of a 36-month sentence. However, he has been given “time served.” This has already amounted to almost 14 months. That means Fort will have to spend 16.6 more months behind bars—a little more than a year. It’s unclear whether all that will happen. However, Fort has been remanded to the custody of the Saline County Sheriff’s Department for immediate transfer to the Illinois Department of Corrections, so when he gets input into the system, we’ll see what his sentence ends up being officially and in print.
Upon discharge from DOC, Fort faces two years mandatory supervised release (parole), as well as possible probation, that to be determined at a later date depending upon how he’s doing, it’s assumed.
Further, Fort must pay a $10,000 fine, a $500 sex offender fine, a $200 sexual abuse fine, a $200 DNA fee, along with all other mandated court costs and fees. His bail of $25,000, posted by family and friends, has been revoked and will be applied to the fines and fees…so as predicted, those who contributed to that ‘fund’ are never to see their money again.
But perhaps the most impactful term of the sentence is this: Fort must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. This means that Fort will essentially be out of circulation of children and any and all activities they may be involved in….he can’t go to fests or county fairs; he can’t go to his 13-year-old daughter’s school events (he can’t even go to any parent-teacher conferences); if it’s his turn to have weekend visitation with his daughter, she can’t bring any of his friends around. He will be prohibited from working in any field that brings him in direct contact with underage people. Since he has spent a lifetime making a career out of public service, he’ll basically be starting from scratch.
The following point needs to be made VERY CLEAR: This plea was NEGOTIATED. That means that the state sat down with the victim and her family, and with Drew supposedly on the line, worked this out. All parties agreed to it. In fact, Henshaw read a statement as issued by the family—the Carrigans—today after the hearing, which we’ll print in full here in a bit.
But prior to the issuance of the statement, Morris went through all the formalities, ensuring that Fort wasn’t under any kind of threat or coercion, wasn’t under any kind of mind-altering substances such as prescription medications, and totally understood his rights. Fort answered each of the judge’s questions in a deep and clear voice, remarkably devoid of anything that sounded even remotely close to remorse. That may simply be his style….but it was noticeable, and people pointed it out as they exited the courtroom.
Further, Morris ensured that the state had their say, and Walker synopsized the case they had against the former chief deputy.
She laid out that their first witness would have been Sheriff Keith Brown, who would have testified that as sheriff, he appointed Fort to the position of chief deputy in December 2006, and in that position Fort supervised every employee in the department except the sheriff.
Misty Fulkerson, administrative assistant at the sheriff’s department, would have testified that the sheriff’s department hired BJC as a part-time administrative clerk in December 2009 and she was employed in that capacity until July 2010. Fulkerson would further testify that at that time, Fort removed BJC from Fulkerson’s immediate supervision, which was supposed to be the way clerks were supervised, and instead placed BJC under HIS supervision. Fulkerson would also say that the standard operating procedure manuals require that all employees were required to have a performance evaluation or appraisal conducted by their immediate supervisor, and that Fort did this for BJC in April 2010, with documentation being introduced at trial.
BJC was set to testify in verification of all this. She was also set to testify as to the sexual conduct perpetrated against her, noting that they occurred on the stated dates, and mostly during her lunch hour from the high school, where she was a junior. Neighbors and others in the area, including Kelly Hefner and Danny Gibbs, would testify as to observing her car going into Fort’s driveway, as described in detail in Disclosure‘s August 5, 2010 Special Edition (which is still available for purchase at Graf Ink Printing in Harrisburg, located at 24 West Church Street just up the way from the fire department).
BJC would also have testified about particular scars and tattoos on Fort that are ordinarily covered by clothing that others wouldn’t know about without having seen him unclothed. She would further have told about thousands of Facebook messages and phone texts between herself and Fort which detailed admission of his sex acts with her, in some cases in graphic detail. Her age was to be established by existing records showing that she was 17 at the time this went on (and just barely that, as her birthday is April 6), which makes the acts illegal if they’re with a person who is in a position of direct supervision, authority or trust.
Testimony would then be given by Illinois State Police investigator Stacey Kinter, who would present Facebook records and Verizon cell phone records detailing the conduct between the two.
Chris Carrigan, the victim’s father, would testify about seeing his daughter in Fort’s county squad car on July 19, 2010, and the ensuing high-speed chase he engaged in in an effort to prove what he’d already told Keith Brown about: that there was something going on between Fort and BJC. These speeds were in excess of 90 mph in residential areas of Harrisburg before Carrigan opted to end the chase in fear of someone’s safety being compromised.
But most interestingly, testimony was set to be given by Saline County Deputy Billy Duncan, who would say that Fort called him for assistance after Carrigan let up the chase, and wanted Duncan to meet Fort outside the city limits. When Duncan arrived, Fort directed him to stay with BJC until someone else could come and pick her up, then Fort did just last, leaving for parts unknown. According to a statement given by Duncan, Fort’s nephew, Alex Palmer, came to pick her up.
Walker called these “high points” in the state’s testimony, and indeed, they were.
Drew, when called upon by the court, acquiesced to the charge as leveled by the state and stated that his client agreed with everything that had been laid out. Walker noted that there was no prior record for Fort of delinquency or criminality. And the court found all of it in order, revoked Fort’s bail, remanded him to the SCDC and ordered him transferred to DOC. Before he closed the hearing, he did advise Fort of his rights to withdraw his sentence, and his right to an appeal within 30 days. We’ll see if the man decides to do this, now that he’s out of money and Drew has proven to have done little more than a public defender would do.
As an exiting remark, Henshaw, with the family of the victim surrounding him, read this statement to the press, directing that there would be no questions taken:
“The Carrigan family, including Bobbi, fully supports the plea agreement presented in open court today. Chris and Karla Carrigan, Bobbi’s parents, wanted to spare their daughter from the trauma of having to relive in open court in detail the graphic nature of the evidence that would have been presented and also to have the defendant acknowledge his guilt in the matter and be required to register as a sex offender for the period of his natural life. The plea agreement, they believe, accomplished both. It also allows Bobbi to continue on with her life without constantly being reminded of the events that took place in 2010.”
BJC was present today in the courtroom for the first time. She looked like the beautiful and bright 18-year-old that she is, and held her head high. She attempted to get Fort to look directly at her during at least a couple of occasions, just so he could see that she was no longer intimidated by him….but he would not. When court was over, she appeared relieved, as did her parents. So while many may be disappointed with the outcome, none should forget that while the people demand justice, the victim is the one ultimately who can pronounce that that justice is “just.”
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