by Marc Cottrell, Psy.D.
In 2012 Michael Gardner was convicted of sex crimes against children. Many prominent persons in the community came to his defense by writing letters to the presiding judge requesting leniency. Those who requested leniency for a convicted child rapist include current city council member Phil Duncan, current Commissioner of Revenue Tom Clinton. A current substitute teacher in the Falls Church School District, Lindy Hockenberry, wrote a letter of support. Debra Z. Roth, a longtime resident of Falls Church City wrote a letter of support.
Ms. Roth was appointed to the Falls Church City Human Services Advisory Council (HSAC) by the city council on June 27, 2016. Council members present when Ms. Roth was appointed include Marybeth Connelly, Phil Duncan, Letty Hardi, Karen Oliver, David Snyder, Dan Sze. Mayor David Tarter was also present.
In her letter to the presiding judge Ms. Roth wrote:
“I am aware of Mr. Gardner’s conviction and realize there is a context and I write to the court on behalf of him and his family.
I believe in Mike and want him back home and in our community. Mike has been a productive, active and caring part of our City and our world, and a model of a loving and responsible father. When Mike is released I am confident he will be an integral member of our society.
I will be happy to see Mike, to help him and his family, now and when he is released. I can assist with watching the kids when needed, can air my support, provide information to bring him up to speed since his incarceration, listen to his and his family’s concerns and share opinions, caring hugs and hoys of which to look forward, provide my home if they need a break and my complex pool and hot tub for recreation and relaxation, drive the family, as needed, and attend volunteer events with Mike, etc.”
Michael Gardner pled guilty to one count of object penetration and four counts of sexual battery. His victims were age 9 and 10 when they were assaulted.
Through her letter to the court Ms. Roth has demonstrated a profound lack of understanding of the impact of sexual abuse on children. Her letter articulates empathy and care for an adult who sexually assaulted children. The concern is for the perpetrator, not the victims.
That Ms. Roth has been selected to serve on the Falls Church City HSAC demands the question of what was the vetting process for candidates? Where candidates required to articulate an understanding of how people can be powerless within the community? If so, upon which research were their opinions based? More to the point, can someone who actively supported a convicted child rapist serve the Falls Church City community effectively? Should an individual whose support of a convicted pedophile be placed in a role to guide city policies to help those who are powerless and voiceless in the community?
The evidence provided by her impassioned letter of support would suggest she is ill suited for the committee. The very fact she supported a convicted pedophile demonstrates an inability (or unwillingness) to understand how individuals can be victimized by others. How can Ms. Roth serve those who are most vulnerable in the community when she chose to support the perpetrator of sex crimes against children, and in so doing, show no regard for the victims?
That the Falls Church City Council appointed Ms. Roth to the Human Services Advisory Council strongly suggests the council either did not do their due diligence in screening candidates, or the standards inherent in the selection criteria were so low as to provide a positive response for someone who supported an adult who sexually assaulted children.
Probity is defined by Merriam-Webster as: “adherence to the highest principles and ideals.” The selection of Ms. Roth for the HSAC indicates the principles and ideals followed by the city council allow as acceptable the support of a pedophile as being appropriate and acceptable.
Thus, there is a lack of probity in Falls Church City Leadership.
Dr. Cottrell is clinical psychologist who maintains offices in Washington, D.C. He specializes in working with survivors of interpersonal violence and sexual assault (both adult and childhood). He lives in Falls Church City.