Presson seeks gag order in child porn, statutory rape case


Tracy Todd Presson. Ozark County Jail photo.

Tracy Todd Presson, 53, of Gainesville, is asking the court to order a gag order against Sheriff Darrin Reed and any members of his law enforcement staff in connection with a criminal case that charges Presson with 10 felony counts including statutory rape, statutory sodomy, possession of more than 20 images of child pornography, possession of videoed child pornography and use of a child in a sexual performance. The motions were filed by Springfield-area defense attorney Adam Woody on Presson’s behalf. The motion is scheduled to be called before the court at Presson’s criminal setting hearing before Associate Judge Cynthia MacPherson at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23. At that time, MacPherson may sustain or overrule the motion. 

Presson is currently being held in the Ozark County Jail on a total of $300,000 in cash-only bonds in the cases. 

 

Motion for gag order

The motion says Woody requests that the court issue a gag order on Reed and any other law enforcement staff, including jail staff, to “avoid improper prejudicial pre-trial publicity … and to avoid undue influence over potential witnesses, and to cease the ongoing tampering and meddling in the matter…”

In the motion, Woody refers to a press release that he says Reed issued on Oct. 10. (However, the press release was received by the Times at 5:19 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 9.) Woody writes that the press release was sent out one day after Reed asked for an order sealing the probable cause statement in the case to protect the victim and her family. Woody writes that the information in the press release “led to the publishing of at least 12 newspaper or news outlet publications.” Woody says, “one such publication of particular concern is the Ozark County Times,” referring to an article that “was authored on Oct. 10, 2018, the day after the Court elected to seal the probable cause statement.” 

Woody says Reed’s press release includes information on evidence in the case, including things in the probable cause statement that are no longer public record. He also says that Reed’s statement in the press release saying the case could be one of “possible trafficking of children,” and his request asking the public to “say a prayer for these children,” were specifically at risk of affecting the jury pool.

“The only way to protect Defendant’s Constitutional right to a fair trial is to order the Sheriff and his staff to be gagged and ordered not to discuss or speak of the ongoing investigation, the facts of the case, or anything else pertaining to this continuing inquiry,” the document continues. 

The motion for gag order also asks the court to order Reed and the staff at the Ozark County Jail not to discuss information learned in the jail. The statement says that Presson spoke to family members and his attorney over the jail phone, and “jail staff or perhaps the sheriff himself eavesdrop[ped] on those conversations.”

Woody writes that “they,” assumedly the sheriff’s office staff members, have been passing along information discussed in the phone interviews with Presson’s wife, Kristie Presson, who is a potential witness in the case. 

The motion also says that after charges had initially been filed, a warrant was served on Presson’s residence with his wife present. During the execution of the search warrant, officers discussed the substance of the allegations with Presson’s wife at great length “in an effort to get her to turn on her husband and cooperate with them,” according to Woody’s document. 

“In doing so, they implicitly agreed to confer a benefit to Ms. Presson,” the court document says. 

 

Missouri statute in question

In support of his motion for gag order, Wood claims Reed is violating Missouri Revised statute 575.270. The statute is titled “Tampering with a witness or victim” and lists several ways the “tampering” might occur, such as “threatens or causes harm” to anyone and “purposely prevents or dissuades ... a person who is acting on behalf of” the victim.

“The only way to avoid unwarranted, unethical and perhaps illegal communication by the Sheriff and his agents, a gag order should immediately be placed on he and his department,” Wood wrote. “A gag order is the only way to potentially provide Defendant a fair trial herein, as is his Constitutional guarantee although the Sheriff is doing his best to deprive him of that in the media and in the public.”

The motion concludes, “Wherefore, Defendant respectfully requests that the court order Sheriff Darrin Reed and his agents to not discuss in a pre-trial setting the facts of this case, the ongoing investigation, or anything learned or believed during the pendency of this case to the media, the public or anyone involved or not involved with this case, and for such other and further relief as the Court deems just and proper,” the motion concludes. 

 

Details of the case

“There are thousands of images and videos that we still have to go through, so we can begin to identify the victims. We’ve already went through and tagged 8,000,” Ozark County Sheriff Darrin Reed said in the Oct. 9 press release. “We have been in contact with the Federal Bureau of Investigations, as there are other states involved with this. It is possible trafficking of children.”

Reed told the Times that authorities believe Presson is responsible for taking the photos and videos, and there are numerous victims involved, likely in multiple states. 

Presson was originally charged Oct. 3 with three class D felonies, one count of second-degree statutory rape and two counts of second-degree statutory sodomy, after officers reportedly interviewed a teen who said Presson had engaged in sexual acts with the juvenile.

The original probable cause statement in the case, prepared by Ozark County Cpl. Curtis Dobbs and obtained by the Times before the document was sealed, says a 16-year-old was interviewed by the sheriff’s office and the Missouri Division of Family Services at approximately 9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 2. The teen reportedly told officers that Presson had been engaging in sexual acts with the victim for approximately five years from the time the individual was 11 years old. The victim reportedly said the acts had occurred at Presson’s home in Gainesville, as well as in another state, and some of the acts were recorded in photo and video formats and stored on Presson’s laptop. 

Dobbs interviewed Presson at the sheriff’s office at 11:19 p.m. Oct. 2. Presson acknowledged spending the night in a motel room with the teen but denied having sexual relations with the victim, according to court documents. 

A search warrant was executed on the Presson home the next day, Oct. 3, and several items were confiscated, according to a press release from Reed. The victim was reportedly interviewed by the Child Advocacy Center on Oct. 3, and the teen said the abuse had occurred repeatedly over several years. 

Officers worked through the evidence and information gathered, and Presson’s case was amended from the original three felony counts to include eight felonies, and an additional case was filed in which Presson was charged with the felony child pornography charges. 

The probable cause statements in both cases have been sealed by the court, at the sheriff’s and prosecutor’s request due to the “horrific” details and information included. 

“There are months of investigation left. We’ve just scratched the surface of this case,” Reed said. “Please say a prayer for these children.” 

Reed said he is happy that Presson’s bond was raised from the original $50,000, making it more difficult for the defendant to post bond and be released from custody. 

“Our number one priority is the safety of these kids, and you know we’re going to do everything we possibly can to make sure these pedophiles stay in jail,” he told the Times last week.

 

Sex offenders registering and staying in compliance

Reed said a Facebook commenter recently pointed to a Springfield television news broadcast that detailed the statistics on a large number of sex offenders in the state who are not registering or staying in compliance with the sex offender laws. Reed says he wants Ozark Countians to know that the Ozark County Sheriff’s Office does keep track of sex offenders in the area and files charges on those who do not register or break their court conditions. 

“Rest assured, we stay on top of it in Ozark County. We make sure they work where they’re allowed and live where they are supposed to. If they don’t register, we file charges on them,” Reed said. “When Halloween comes around, we make sure they are going by what they are supposed to and are in compliance. It’s a priority for me and something that I instill in my deputies too. We need to keep tabs on it, and we are, for the safety of our children.”

According to information released by the Missouri State Highway Patrol, one in four women and one in six men are sexually assaulted in their lifetime. MSHP statistics also show that 67 percent of sexual assaults are on victims under the age of 18. 

According to MSHP, certain sexual offenders may not reside within 1,000 feet of any public or private school or childcare facility, loiter within 500 feet of a school while juveniles are present, or serve as an athletic coach, manager or trainer of a sports team in which a child younger than 17 is a member, among other conditions. 

Sex offenders are required to avoid all Halloween-related contact with children, remain inside their residence between 5 and 10:30 p.m., post a sign stating “No candy or treats at this house” and leave all residential outdoor lights off in the evening. 

Missouri has a statewide sex offender registry that can be accessed through the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s website at www.mshp.dps.missouri.gov. Information includes name, alias names, date of birth, alias dates of birth, physical description, all addresses, offense, vehicle information, picture of registered sex offenders and offense dates. Additional public access can be found by searching the National Sex Offender Public website at www.nsopr.gov. 

Ozark County Times

504 Third Steet
PO Box 188
Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
Fax: (417) 679-3423

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