Photo courtesy: USA TODAY
NASHVILLE -- A Clarksville, Tenn., woman is suing the U.S. Army for $30 million, saying its silence on a sex abuse investigation allowed a man to rape her daughter and videotape the act.
Joshua Cline, 29, is awaiting transfer to prison after being convicted on federal child pornography and state child rape charges involving the girl, who was 6 years old when the abuse was discovered in 2008. But according to the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Nashville by attorney Amy Bates, the Army failed to warn the girl's mother after it began investigating the charges, instead telling her that she didn't have anything to worry about regarding her daughter.
The Army also waited at least 10 months to notify the Tennessee Department of Children's Services that the girl could be in danger, according to court and DCS records.
"It was devastating, absolutely devastating," said the girl's mother, who had a family relationship with Cline, at Bates' office in Clarksville. The Tennessean is not naming her, to protect the identity of her daughter. "I've lost a house, I've lost a job, I've lost my friends over it. I've lost a lot. I'm a single mom with two kids, and it's been difficult. The Army needs to step up and take responsibility."
Army officials said the military does not comment on lawsuits.
The Army has been widely criticized in recent years for mishandling sexual abuse investigations. Congress currently is considering stripping the military of some decision-making powers in sexual assault investigations and giving them instead to civilians or independent military prosecutors. Earlier this month, the Army suspended 55 soldiers who were acting as sexual assault counselors after it was revealed they had violated Army rules, including those involving child abuse and sexual assault.
On March 8, 2008, Cline was in Clarksville on a two-week R&R from Iraq when he molested the 6-year-old girl and videotaped the act, according to court records. He returned to Iraq, escaping scrutiny until at least October of that year, when the Army caught wind that Cline was trying to sell a video of the rape on the Internet. The Army seized his computer and found child pornography in the form of pictures and videos.
That same month, the girl's mother got a call from Army investigators asking about some questionable pictures on Cline's computer.
"I straight-out asked them, 'Should I let him into my home?'" she recalled. "And they said, 'I'd watch her, but we don't think there's anything to worry about.'"
The mother said she also questioned Cline, who reassured her that the investigation was no big deal and just involved a few questionable pictures. Still, she said she kept a close eye on her daughter, not letting anyone be alone with her.
That changed Dec. 6, 2008, when she gave birth to a son.
On that day, according to the lawsuit, Cline again molested her daughter, who was by then 7 years old, and videotaped it. According to the lawsuit, Cline tried to peddle the video on the Internet for $25,000.
It wasn't until January 2009 that the mother learned the nature of the investigation, from a judge, when she was arrested and charged with child abuse. Her daughter and her newborn son were both taken away from her.
The charges eventually were dropped and she has since regained full custody of both children.
Rob Johnson, spokesman for DCS, said the agency also did not learn of the investigation until then.
"We started investigating on Jan. 21, 2009," he said.
Johnson said he couldn't go into details of the investigation but said it has since been closed.
It was at that time that Cline was arrested by federal authorities on child pornography charges. Clarksville police also opened their investigation into the rapes.
Cline pleaded guilty in both cases and was sentenced to 27 1/4 years in federal prison and 50 years in state prison, to be served concurrently.
The girl's mother said the case has left her daughter damaged. She said her daughter is angry, doesn't understand how healthy relationships work and struggles during counseling sessions to talk about what happened. The mother said her lawsuit isn't about the money but ensuring her daughter is taken care of and that the Army is held accountable.
"The (amount) doesn't matter to me," she said. "I blame them for letting him victimize her again. They knew what he had done, and they hid it."