The director of the Boys & Girls Club of Southwest Missouri in Joplin testified Monday that Christopher Foley was violating club rules when he began having outside contact with a 9-year-old member and his younger brothers.
Rhonda Gorham, the club’s director, was one of the first witnesses called by the state as the trial of Foley, a former program assistant with the youth club, got under way in Jasper County Circuit Court.
Foley, 30, is accused of sexually abusing the boy on Aug. 28, 2011, and is being tried on two counts of first-degree statutory sodomy.
Assistant Prosecutor Nate Dally told jurors during opening statements that Foley began working for the Boys & Girls Club in August 2009 and established contact outside the club with the boy and his younger brothers by offering his services to their mother as a club “mentor.”
With her permission, he began taking them out to eat and on trips to the mall to shop and to play laser tag and other activities, the prosecutor said. He bought them gifts, such as new shoes, and obtained their mother’s approval for them to stay overnight with him on more than one occasion.
Gorham testified that while the club did have a mentoring program, it was limited to activities on club premises. She said employees were not allowed to have contact with any of the children the club served outside the club. That policy is included in the employee handbook that every employee receives, and the rules of the handbook are reviewed annually, she told the court.
She said club members and staff members do take activity trips together sometimes, but the presence of at least two staff members is required for all activities both inside and outside the club. She said buying gifts for club members is prohibited.
“Is there any way that someone who worked there would not know that?” Dally asked her.
“No,” Gorham said.
Defense attorney Ross Rhoades challenged that contention in his opening statement and on cross-examination of Gorham.
Rhoades said his client was unemployed and living with his mother in 2009 when he happened to drive by the Boys & Girls Club and noticed a sign seeking help. He applied and got the job. Rhoades said that early in his employment there, Foley learned about trouble the club was having with the alleged victim in the case, who was being unruly and posing some difficulties for the staff. He said Foley took it upon himself to try to help the boy out by teaching him home repair work at a friend’s residence that had been badly damaged by the 2011 tornado.
“It wasn’t until these charges were brought that he learned, or found out, that he wasn’t allowed to take children from this campus,” Rhoades told the jury.
He said Foley, like other staff members, occasionally chauffeured some of the club members to their homes, not knowing it was against club policy. On the night that the abuse allegedly took place, the boys had been helping with the remodeling of the friend’s home, and he obtained the mother’s permission for them to stay at his place if he returned them in time for a family outing the next morning.
“Chris will tell you that nothing happened,” Rhoades told jurors, “that, in fact, nothing ever happened, that was sexual contact between Chris and this boy.”
The defense attorney suggested that the boy made the allegations when he later became upset with Foley for intervening in a fight with his younger brother and telling them that he was going to have nothing more to do with them because of their misbehavior.
Gorham acknowledged on cross-examination that Foley had been a good employee and a hard worker. Rhoades questioned her about an evaluation form in his client’s personnel file on which someone had checked boxes to show issuance of the employee handbook to him at the time of his hiring and reviews conducted each of the next two years. But Foley’s signature did not appear next to any of the checks as it did on other items.
“I find it odd that it did not get done,” Gorham said. “But I only have what I have in the employee file.”
THE MOTHER OF THE ALLEGED VICTIM in the trial of a former employee of the Boys & Girls Club in Joplin told the court Monday that her son suffers from severe attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. She told the court that Christopher Foley first approached her about “mentoring” her son in January or February 2011.