• Action News Investigates: A Georgia House bill pushes to change statute of limitations

    By: Lorena Inclán

    Updated:

    JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A Georgia representative is pushing a House bill that would change the legal deadline for sex abuse cases.
     
    Jason Spencer runs his own practice as a physician’s assistant in St. Marys, Georgia. He’s also the state representative for the area’s roughly 17,000 residents.
     
    When allegations of sexual abuse surfaced involving instructors at a popular Kingsland karate school it hit close to home.
     
    "I do know some of the victims," said Spencer. "I know several of the victims' family members. Some of them are my patients here locally, so it's a little bit personal.”
     
    Action News first told you about the allegations in October 2013. Thomas Ary, a volunteer at Pak’s Karate in Kingsland, was arrested and charged with child molestation.
     
    The owner, Warren Craig Peeples, was also under investigation, but four months later District Attorney Jackie Johnson revealed in a letter to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations:
     
    “While there is sufficient evidence to proceed with criminal charges for acts involving multiple victims, the state would be barred by the applicable statute of limitations…”
     
    With criminal charges off the table, Spencer was moved to give victims more power in civil court. He introduced House bill 17, which is known as the Hidden Predator Act.


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    The bill would:

    • Create a retroactive window so anybody of any age can bring a civil action against their abuser for up to two years.
    • It would extend the civil statute of limitations from five years to 35 years.
    • Give victims full access to their investigation files once their criminal case closes.

    He said our stories about the Pierce County abuse allegations have given his bill new traction in the state House. Lawmakers will meet next week to discuss House bill 17.
     
    Georgia removed the statute of limitations on criminal sex abuses cases in 2012, but the alleged abuse at Pak's Academy happened before that.
     
    Clinical psychologist Dr. Lynn Wadelton said it’s common for victims to stay silent for years.
     
    "Sometimes it's when they have their own children, and they're really kind of aware how children are all innocent and they're kind of caught up in the fact that their innocence was taken from them," Wadelton said.
     
    Action News reporter Cole Heath confronted Mark Dixon, a former Pierce County school leader who was recently accused of abuse more than a decade ago.
     
    Dixon won't face charges, even though investigators say there was enough evidence to take the case to a grand jury.
      
    "These people will never be placed on a criminal charge, they will never be put on a sex offender's registry," said Wadelton. "So what our bill would do is actually expose those who really are predators."


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