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In rape paternity dispute, judge awarded child custody to alleged abusive father despite assault complaints

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UPDATE: During a hearing Tuesday, Judge Jeffrey Cashe revoked custody of the Crysta Abelseth's daughter from the teen's biological father, John Barnes. A trial is set for July 15 where a final decision on custody will be made.

Read the full update here: https://www.wbrz.com/news/judge-temporarily-revokes-custody-in-rape-paternity-case-after-nakamoto-report-trial-set-for-next-month

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AMITE - Amid a growing wave of public outcry following a WBRZ Investigative Unit story that showed an alleged rapist was paid child support by the victim, unsealed court documents show a judge awarded the perpetrator custody over allegations the mother gave her daughter a phone.

The documents were unsealed in Tangipahoa Parish Wednesday evening and detail a years-long custody process beginning in 2011 when John Barnes found out he had a daughter with Crysta Abelseth.

In April 2013, Barnes began paying Abelseth $428 in child support for the daughter he fathered after a night of drinking. In July 2015, Crysta filed a police report for the 2005 rape that led to her daughter’s birth with the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriffs Office. That report sat on their shelf and was not assigned to a detective for seven years.

In August 2015, Judge Jeffrey Cashe was assigned the case.

Six months after Cashe took over the case, a split-custody agreement was reached, and he ordered Abelseth to pay $78.41 to Barnes increasing to $117.72 per month the following year.

Four years went by and nothing happened in the court record. Then, in December 2020, Barnes filed a motion to modify custody alleging his daughter is allowed to be unsupervised with her boyfriend in Abelseth’s home.

In January 2021, the child’s school counselor notified DCFS as a mandatory reporter that the child alleged Barnes physically and mentally abused her. Abelseth requested that Barnes custody be limited. Judge Cashe denied that motion.

By November, Barnes filed motions to have Abelseth held in contempt over a cell phone.

On Feb. 2, 2022, Cashe found Abelseth in contempt over the phone and ordered her to pay $500. Abelseth was instructed not to provide her daughter with a cell phone.

That same month— court records note for the first time that the child was conceived from a rape. It’s also alleged that Barnes drugged and sexually assaulted his daughter on Feb. 21, 2022 and Feb. 22, 2022.

“She was transported to New Orleans where she was evaluated and the doctor confirmed that there was evidence of forced entry congruent with sexual assault,” the document reads.

On March 18, 2022, Judge Cashe dismisses all of Abelseth’s claims saying all criminal charges have not been accepted and the evidence does not support the allegations made by the daughter.

Court records were not clear on what evidence led the judge to make his decision. An abuse advocate for Abelseth tells WBRZ the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office has not cooperated with the family over the location of the daughter's rape kit. The sheriff's office, once again, did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

Sheriff Daniel Edwards is the brother of La. Governor John Bel Edwards.

By March 21, 2022, Barnes files for full custody claiming Abelseth provided the daughter with another phone. Barnes alleged because the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office and DCFS took no action, the allegations made by his daughter were false.

That same day, Judge Cashe granted Barnes sole custody.

Additional documents filed show the daughter continues to maintain her dad abuses her.

Judge Jeffrey Cashe notes in the court filings that April 26, 2022 is the first time anything has been mentioned about alleged felony carnal knowledge or rape — even though records indicate that was brought up two months earlier.

That day, Abelseth’s lawyer filed motions to terminate Barnes' custody.

Two weeks ago, the detective who investigated the daughter’s alleged abuse asked to not be questioned about it. On June 1, 2022, Lisa Reilly filed a motion for protective order asking that if she participates in a deposition, that the questions be limited to matters not under investigation.

In a rare move, Judge Jeffrey Cashe attached a reason why he ruled. That was filed into the court record late Wednesday night, claiming Abelseth never alleged she was abused until Barnes asked to have her held in contempt.

On Thursday, the Tangipahoa Sheriff's Office announced it turned the case over to the district attorney's office following the WBRZ Investigative Unit report which garnered international attention.

Read the full statement below.

Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards reports that as of June 15, 2022, the case involving allegations against 46 – year-old John Barnes of Ponchatoula, LA, which has gained widespread media attention, has been turned over to the District Attorney’s Office.

This decision was made after the investigation revealed many layers and complexities surrounding the case, including statutory violations that were in effect during the 2005 timeframe of when the incident occurred. Due to the sensitive nature of cases involving sexual assault victims and juveniles, the sheriff’s office, along with other law enforcement agencies, does not have the luxury of releasing detailed information to the public.  In a statement released yesterday, 21st Judicial District Family Court Judge Jeff Cashe signed a “Reasons For Judgement” which allows court documents related to this case to be made available to the public through the Tangipahoa Parish Clerk of Court’s Office. 

In tracing this case back to the time the initial complaint was filed on July 1, 2015, it was discovered that the report never made it through the proper channels within the department to be assigned for investigation. Therefore, our department absolutely dropped the ball, and we simply must own our mistake.  This is a mistake, however, that simply has never been a problem before or since, and we must make sure to keep it that way.

“The Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office has reviewed and identified the breakdown in operations relating to the initial complaint filed by the complainant.  Since that time, enhancements to department procedures have been implemented and measures put in place to ensure reports from the public never go overlooked or mishandled.  Especially those cases alleging criminal acts against our youth.” says Edwards.  "The Sheriff’s Office is dedicated to protecting children and will do everything possible to protect the youth of our community from abuse and neglect.”  

Additionally, it is important to note that the complainant did not follow up on this matter until April of 2022.  Upon receiving notice, a team of investigators were assigned to and worked diligently to delve deep into the facts surrounding the case.  Due to the complex nature of their findings, the case was turned over to the District Attorney’s Office.   

Sheriff Edwards urges the public to dial 9-1-1 for all emergency situations.  Citizens can also file a police report directly with our office by calling (985) 748- 8147.  Sheriff Edwards strongly discourages the use of social media to report crimes. Edwards also reminds the public that filing a false police report is a crime.  Those found guilty of doing so will be fully prosecuted. 

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