Furor over sex assault of Twin Falls 5-year-old reaches lawmakers

A sign sits out in front of the Fawnbrook Apartments Wednesday in Twin Falls.
A sign sits out in front of the Fawnbrook Apartments Wednesday in Twin Falls. Times-News

Twin Falls’ two House members have a different take on the reported sexual assault at Fawnbrook Apartments than one of their northern Idaho colleagues.

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, sent a letter to her fellow lawmakers a week ago repeating concerns expressed to her by “numerous voters from districts around the state” about reports of a sexual assault on June 2 against a 5-year-old girl at the Fawnbrook Apartments by three boys from Iraq and Sudan, as well as a number of more general concerns about refugee resettlement.

“Many citizens statewide are concerned about a cover-up based on portrayals of the incident by various local media reports, the lack of outcry by local elected officials, medical staff discrepancies and silence by some state bureaucrats,” Scott wrote. “Millions of federal dollars follow these waves of refugee resettlement plans around the country, including Idaho, and a story of this magnitude and nature apparently does not fit the desired narrative of many political agendas.”

This isn’t Scott’s first time taking a stand on refugee-related issues. She called on the governor to convene a special session last year to debate refugee resettlement, saying Muslim immigration is part of a religious doctrine calling on them to take over the communities where they settle and accusing the Obama administration of trying to change the demographic makeup of American communities.

“Please consider providing answers to your constituents to keep them abreast of these important issues and alleviating the fears expressed to me that their own legislators are not interested in this issue,” Scott’s letter concludes.

Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, said lawmakers are paying attention to what happened, but he criticized the way some have sought to bring more attention to it.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to dissolve our common discussion into a wave of hysteria and yelling, which has dominated the City Council for a number of weeks, brought on by a very small group of people who appear to be motivated by the hatred of others,” Hartgen said.

Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, said he thought Scott was “reacting to all this negative incorrect information that I’ve seen out there.” On Tuesday, when Clow and the entire Legislature received an email from a citizen accusing them and many other government agencies of “protecting those disgusting boys to the detriment of the little girl,” he replied by sending the original sender and all of his fellow lawmakers a question-and-answer email that, according to City Councilman Don Hall, was prepared by city Public Information Officer Joshua Palmer and vetted by the city’s police and legal staff before being sent out.

Among other points, Palmer’s Q-and-A denies reports on some right-wing websites that it took police two hours to respond. The victim’s mother stood by reports that it took police more than two hours to get there in an interview with the right-wing website WorldNetDaily a week ago.

Attempts by the Statesman to reach family members since news of the incident first broke have been unsuccessful.

According to Palmer, the witness who first called the police at 5:20 p.m. reported the girl had been bullied and urinated upon by two boys, and dispatchers confirmed the girl was safe and with family and told the witness to wait with them until police arrived.

At 5:40 p.m., Palmer writes, the witness called again to say it might have been a sexual assault, and after again confirming the victim was safe and with family, paramedics and law enforcement were dispatched and arrived at 6:06 p.m. Resources were limited, he wrote, due to another emergency call happening at the same time.

Hartgen said his view on the larger refugee issue hasn’t changed since last year — he thinks the College of Southern Idaho Refugee Center should stay open but that there should be a temporary moratorium on refugee resettlement so the vetting process can be improved. This, he added, is consistent with the views of his party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, and with those of C.L. “Butch” Otter and nearly two dozen other Republican governors who called for a halt to refugee resettlement after the terrorist attack in Paris last November.

But Hartgen had harsh words for the coverage of the issue on some “alternative websites.”

“It seems to attack people on the basis of race and ethnicity as well as on religion,” he said. “I don’t think that’s appropriate. As Americans, I don’t think we need that. We can handle this problem with good vetting. We don’t need to be prejudiced against people that come from different faiths and different ethnicities and different races.”