Falsely accused finds hope in rare citizen's complaint

March 9, 2010 

A person's reputation is sacred.

And once it has been sullied, it's hard to repair the damage.

So we don't blame retired Hall of Fame coach Frank Teverbaugh one bit for trying to take back his reputation after being falsely accused of striking and swearing at an autistic child.

Teverbaugh recently filed a citizen's complaint against Heide Schultz, the 7-year-old boy's caregiver. He has also filed a $150,000 claim against the city of Richland.

Schultz levied the accusations against Teverbaugh after an incident at the Richland Library last summer, and Richland police charged the retired coach with misdemeanor assault.

The charges were dropped in November when video from the library's surveillance system supported Teverbaugh's version of the incident.

Teverbaugh had maintained his innocence all along. He said he saw Schultz struggling to take the boy out of the library, and the boy struck Teverbaugh as he passed. Teverbaugh admitted that on impulse he reached back and tried to swat the boy on the bottom. But he said he never struck the child or used the foul language that Schultz had claimed.

Once the library finally produced the video, Teverbaugh was cleared and the charges were dropped. But the damage already was done.

In this day and age, false accusations live forever on the internet. A quick Google search today still shows the original story and the criminal charges on autism-related websites.

With the criminal charges dropped, most folks probably would have thought there was nothing more Teverbaugh could do to regain his good name. But he's not willing to let it go that easily.

At age 76, he has spent a lifetime working with children, which no doubt heightened the level of public interest in the charges leveled against him.

So Teverbaugh filed the citizen's complaint in Benton County District Court against Schultz, requesting charges of malicious mischief or false reporting. And a judge agreed, finding probable cause for false reporting, a gross misdemeanor. Teverbaugh also is asking for $2,500 for his attorney fees.

A finding of probable cause is not a guilty verdict. Schultz may have accurately reported her perceptions of the incident and still been wrong. It's not unusual for sincere eyewitness accounts to be proved unreliable later by new evidence.

For now, she's presumed innocent. It will be up to the court to determine if the facts prove otherwise -- or it would be if anyone was sure how to proceed.

None of the Benton County judges can remember another citizen's complaint case. The matter will be forwarded to the Benton County prosecutor, but that doesn't require him to prosecute the case.

The whole unfortunate situation might have been avoided if the Richland Library had promptly turned over the video to police. Teverbaugh's lawyer had to subpoena the tapes to get the library to produce them.

The encounter at the library happened Aug. 14. The video didn't become public until Nov. 3. Nearly three months seems like a long time to delay video footage that could exonerate a man being vilified in some circles.

We're still scratching our heads as to why the Richland police or prosecutors didn't immediately obtain the video to try to make their case against Teverbaugh.

Had that happened, it would have prevented a lot of unnecessary stress and strain to the legal system and preserved a man's reputation.

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