Accused Child Rapist Walks Free After Prosecutor Shows Up To Court Drunk
Osceola, IA – An accused child rapist who was scheduled to plead guilty to charges that he sexually abused a 13-year-old boy was released from jail on Monday.
Clarke County Attorney Michelle Rivera, 42, was arrested on Oct. 18 for being drunk in court, just moments before 23-year old Dennis Simmerman was scheduled to plead guilty to third-degree sexual abuse and disseminating obscene material to a minor by telephone, the Des Moines Register reported.
Rivera then missed a critical deadline to file paperwork for an extension, which negatively impacted Simmerman’s right to a speedy trial.
On Monday, District Court Judge Martha Mertz ordered that Simmerman be released from custody, and dismissed the charges against him, The Washington Post reported.
The charges cannot be refiled.
“The county attorney’s unavailability at the last hearing was the finale following unexplained periods of inactivity and lack of responsiveness,” Mertz wrote in the ruling.
Simmerman was originally charged for the sexual abuse offenses in September of 2017, according to the Des Moines Register.
He later admitted to investigators that he had a sexual interaction with the child, and that they also swapped obscene photographs, police said.
Simmerman initially pleaded not guilty, and his attorney claimed he was unable to assist with his defense due to a mental disorder.
The court deemed him competent to stand trial, but in August, his attorney emailed Rivera a proposed plea agreement, Mertz noted.
He checked in with Rivera again about a week later, but did not receive a response from the prosecutor regarding the proposed plea agreement for another month.
Rivera eventually agreed to the plea change, but was arrested moments before the change of plea took place.
According to the criminal complaint, a Clarke County sheriff’s deputy inside the courtroom noticed that Rivera was “slurring her words and stumbling on her feet,” and that she also “sat in a chair and swayed her head back and [forth],” The Washington Post reported.
The deputy pulled her aside to another room, recognized the smell of an alcoholic beverage, and asked her to submit to a breathalyzer.
Rivera refused to submit to the breath test, and was placed under arrest for public intoxication.
The day after the missed change of plea hearing, Rivera’s failure to file for an extension in Simmerman’s case opened the door for his lawyer to file a motion to dismiss the charges against him due to a lack of a speedy trial.
“If the defendant is not put on trial [and] is not tried within a year, you have the potential to have that case dismissed, and that’s what happened here,” his attorney, Marshall Orsini told KCCI after the ruling.
“Everybody should be upset about it,” legal expert Mark Pennington told the news outlet. “An impaired prosecutor is a defendant’s best friend.”
Rivera pleaded guilty to the public intoxication charge, and was fined $65, The Washington Post reported.
“I genuinely apologize to my family, friends, law enforcement, colleagues, and my community for all that transpired,” she said in a statement shortly after her arrest. “I can assure you all that I am taking every step necessary to get help, to fix this problem, and to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.”
But on Friday, police received a report that an erratic driver nearly slammed into another woman’s car, then blew through a stop sign before parking in the courthouse parking lot.
The erratic driver ended up being Rivera, and she had just dropped her daughter off at daycare before she continued on to the courthouse, police said.
The prosecutor told the deputy that she had been drinking the night before. She refused to submit to alcohol testing, and a field sobriety test gave probable cause that she was impaired, according to police.
She was arrested on new charges of child endangerment and operating a vehicle while intoxicated and is due back in court on Thursday, KCCI reported.
Rivera lost her bid for re-election in November.