Alleged victim testifies in Cook County attorney's trial
The young woman at the center of Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell’s sexual misconduct case testified Tuesday that Scannell pressed her to engage in sexual intercourse, even after he told her he could get in legal trouble for it.
The 19-year-old told jurors that she resisted his advances after he touched her breasts, abdomen, legs and buttocks on multiple occasions in his family van in August 2012.
“I told him I felt uncomfortable,” she testified. “I felt like we shouldn’t go there.”
The woman spent about three hours on the witness stand, fielding questions from special prosecutor Tom Heffelfinger about the nature of her relationship with the embattled public official. Judge Shaun Floerke sent jurors home at 5 p.m., putting cross-examination on hold until Wednesday morning.
Scannell, 48, is charged in State District Court with two felony counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct. Although a Cook County case, the trial is being heard by a Duluth jury of 10 men and four women.
In the first day of testimony, jurors heard testimony from four witnesses, including the woman, her mother, a school counselor and Scannell’s sister, who was the first to report the relationship to authorities.
Defense attorney Joe Tamburino also told jurors Tuesday that Scannell would take the stand in his own defense at the trial, which is scheduled to conclude by the end of the week.
Speaking with a soft voice and appearing hesitant to answer some questions, the alleged victim described her relationship with Scannell, which started when he moved to Cook County when she was about 9.
She said she knew him for many years as a family friend, mentor, coach and father figure. For a period of time, she dated Scannell’s oldest son, and went to prom with him. The relationship with Tim Scannell did not turn romantic until early 2012, she said, when she was 17 and he was 46.
The woman said she and Scannell spent a lot of time together several times a week, and emailed and text messaged on a daily basis. They began driving around in his family van, parking on a rural road to talk and kiss.
At one point in early August, he touched her breast and buttocks over her clothes, she testified. She said she told him that crossed a line and what they were doing was wrong. A week or two later, he touched her breasts under her clothes, she said.
The woman said he pushed to take the physical contact further, but she resisted. They continued to park together and engage in some kissing and touching, she said.
She recalled Scannell speaking to her high school class, at one point, about the age of consent and the culture of older men dating underage girls in Grand Marais. She said Scannell also told her about what they legally could and could not do while she was under 18.
“I can get in trouble if there’s penetration, but other than that, it’s all OK to do,” she recalled him saying.
Throughout their physical relationship, Scannell continued to work closely with her on college plans and give her life advice, she testified.
The woman said she didn’t tell anyone about the incident because she was uncomfortable and afraid what might happen. Scannell continued to contact her as she studied abroad in Spain during her senior year of high school in the fall of 2012.
Authorities were first notified of the relationship after Tara Scannell received an inadvertent phone call from her brother in June 2012. The New Hampshire woman testified Tuesday that she received a call from Scannell, who was unaware that her phone was connected, while he was having a conversation with the girl.
Tara Scannell contacted Cook County school counselor Bryan Hackbarth to report that she was concerned about a possible inappropriate relationship involving her brother and a student.
Hackbarth testified that he contacted Scannell with the allegations. Scannell denied the allegations, but asked to immediately meet with the girl’s mother, a teacher at the school.
The girl’s mother told jurors that Scannell admitted to her that he was in love with her daughter. She said he wanted her to go to college in the Twin Cities so she would be nearby, and they later wanted to move to Australia together.
The mother said Scannell admitted that he screwed up and promised to leave her alone. However, they soon discovered that he was again contacting her. After several failed attempts to get Scannell to stop contacting her, the couple went to court to get a harassment restraining order in December 2012.
The young woman acknowledged that she was initially uncooperative with investigators in the case. She said she has not even told her parents all of the details of their relationship, saying that it was embarrassing and she did not want to “make a big deal out of it.”
However, she said she now regrets the entire ordeal and feels victimized. She said the relationship has caused her problems in her family life and education, and she has dropped out of contact with several friends, including Scannell’s two sons.
“Did you value (Scannell’s) role in your life as a mentor and father figure?” Heffelfinger asked the woman.
“Yes,” she replied.
“Were you willing to lose that?” the prosecutor asked.
“No,” she said.
Because the age of consent in Minnesota is 16 for most purposes, the prosecution must show that Scannell was in a “position of authority” over the girl at the time of their physical relationship in order to prove that a crime was committed.
Tamburino told jurors in his opening statement that the evidence would show that their physical contact was mostly limited to kissing, and said Scannell was not actively serving as a father figure, mentor or coach at the time.
Scannell continues to serve as county attorney, but has been on medical leave since October. He has undergone numerous surgeries as he continues to recover from wounds he suffered after being shot by a man his office had prosecuted for sex crimes in December 2011.