Not In My Backyard: A sexual assault victim fights back when her attacker moves next door

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Danyelle Dyer. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier



Not in my backyard


Danyelle Dyer anxiously hovered over her Facebook page, studying the seven words that would ultimately change her life.

“I haven’t posted much in years,” the 21-year-old Dyer said. “I revised it three times and kept sending it to my mother to check.”

She didn’t have to worry. It would become the post heard around the world.

“Meet my abuser and my new neighbor,” she wrote on June 17, displaying a mug shot of her uncle, Harold Dwayne English, who had repeatedly molested her when she was 7 years old.

Danyelle Dyer’s Facebook post.

English had been released from an Oklahoma prison four days earlier after serving time for lewd or indecent proposals involving Danyelle, when she was in first grade.

The 6-foot, 224-pound man moved next door to Danyelle’s family in the small community of Bristow in Creek County. He was living with his mother – Dyer’s grandmother – about 100 yards away from her.

HaroldEnglish
Harold Dwayne English

“He has been asked to leave,” Danyelle wrote, “but in Oklahoma he can legally reside there. Surely Oklahoma can do better than this.”

Oklahoma law bars sex offenders from loitering or living near child-friendly areas, ordering them to remain 2,000 feet from public and private schools, churches, playgrounds, or day care centers. The law does not apply to a child sex offender living near his adult victim.

Danyelle’s story eventually prompted a national organization to tell The Frontier that it would ask its members for a state-by-state update of sex offender laws. The Frontier does not identify sexual assault victims without their permission. Dyer has agreed to be identified in this story.

Her case would emerge as one of the first tests of a little-known Oklahoma law offering protective orders to sexual assault victims. The ripple effect is still being felt across Oklahoma as state legislators vow to amend the sex offender law during the next session.

But on that June night, just before she pressed “share,” Danyelle felt powerless and alone. “I did it to get people’s attention in case they could help. Or ask if anybody had any ideas for legally getting him out.”

Danyelle, now a senior at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, didn’t have to wait long for a response.

“It was ‘liked’ like crazy,” she said, “and people were commenting and supporting me. It felt so good that there were people out there who cared.”

During the next few weeks she would need that support as she faced down her uncle in a groundbreaking legal and emotional battle – a fight she was warned by prosecutors, advocacy groups and legislators she would probably lose.

*****
Bristow is a small farming community, 35 miles southwest of Tulsa. A smattering of oil and gas properties, remnants from the boom days in the early 1920s, dot the tree-lined landscape.

With a population of 4,248, everyone knows everyone else.

But few knew Danyelle Dyer’s secret.

When she was in first grade, her uncle, Harold English, came to visit. He stayed with his mother in a small house adjacent to Danyelle’s family.

That is when the touching began — multiple times.

“I had never been introduced to anything like that. I just thought it was another way he was showing me he loved me,” she said.

Danyelle grew alarmed when English warned her not to tell her parents. “I thought, ‘Oh no. That isn’t right.’”

Her father, Greg Dyer, vividly recalls his little girl’s questions when she returned from visiting English. “I would rather look down the barrel of a gun than relive the time I had to look into my 7-year-old daughter’s eyes as she struggled to tell me what had happened to her,” he wrote on her Facebook page.

English was arrested and pleaded guilty to lewd or indecent proposals/acts to a child, according to court records.

Unknown to the family, he already was on probation in a Texas case involving “injury to a child” and was a registered sex offender in Washington County. He received a 14-year sentence for what he had done with Danyelle. All but four years were suspended to run concurrent with the Texas charges.

English was released Feb. 4, 2009, and moved in with his mother in the house catty-corner to Danyelle and her family. Danyelle’s father, afraid for his daughter, protested.

His probation officer recommended in March that English move. Three months later he was still living adjacent to Danyelle and the probation officer asked that he be court-ordered not to reside within 2,000 feet of his victim. English finally left.

In May 2013, English admitted to a probation official that he had been masturbating while looking out the window of his trailer and watching children. He reported he could not control his urge. He was directed to stop his behavior and cover his windows.

In June, he again admitted fantasizing about children in the RV park where he lived and was “on the verge of reoffending.”




In August, English attended lunch with friends after a church service and said that two girls, ages 4 and 8, asked him to give them a ride in his car. “English stated he could not think of any reason to tell them no without causing a scene” and took them for a ride, court records state. He denied having any sexual thoughts about the children.

Still, nothing was done until October when a motion to revoke his suspended sentence was filed.

It was nearly a year after he first admitted he had feelings he might reoffend before he was returned to prison on April 30, 2014. He had violated the terms of his probation by having contact with someone under the age of 18.

Over the years, the family — which included Danyelle’s mother, Larina, and her older brother Blake — quietly endured the pain of Danyelle’s abuse.

“I always thought I couldn’t talk about it,” Danyelle said, “Then, when I was in high school, I had a friend and similar things had happened to her. She encouraged me. She said that I can use this to help others.”

Still, Danyelle rarely shared her story with friends in college, unless they were trying to cope with assaults. “I did it because they needed reassurance that they weren’t alone,” she said. “I could be there for them.”

“I felt a little sick to my stomach. I loved spending time with my family. Now, I was afraid to go home.” – Danyelle Dyer

Her own feelings of safety began to unravel when her family discovered English was going to be released from prison June 13 this year. She lives with her parents when she is not away at college.

English is a step-brother to Danyelle’s father. English was moving back into his mother’s house, catty-corner to Danyelle’s cozy two-story, green-and white house with a wraparound porch.

“At first my parents made it sound like they were going to take care of it. It’s not going to be an issue,” Danyelle said. “But the next week my mom got a phone call saying they couldn’t make him leave.

“I felt a little sick to my stomach. I loved spending time with my family. Now, I was afraid to go home.”

Danyelle Dyer said her feelings of safety started to unravel when her abuser moved next door. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

So, the usually shy Danyelle discussed her dilemma on Facebook. “I did it to get people’s attention in case they could help. Or ask if anybody had any ideas for legally getting him out.”

Responses flooded in from across the country and the other side of the world.

“Just wanted to say you’re an amazing woman!” wrote Kim from Perth, Australia. “This situation is very wrong but your attitude and approach is a wonderful example to others. I have two young girls and you’re an inspiration.”

A few days later, Danyelle’s father unleashed years of angst on his daughter’s Facebook page.

“I have been choking down my anger and aggression in an effort to protect my daughter’s privacy. With the unfortunate events that have unfolded over the past week, I was gifted the opportunity to witness my young daughter’s growth into womanhood,” he wrote.

“My daughter has decided to confront her fears, fight her molester and own the history that robbed her of her childhood innocence… I stand with gritted teeth and clenched fists refusing to let the fight be hers alone.”

This sign pointed to Harold English’s residence after he moved next door to his niece after being released from prison. Courtesy

On the road in front of his mother’s house, Greg Dyer installed an oversized sign painted in bright red letters: “Child Sex Offender Harold Dwayne English.” Two arrows pointed to the small grey house where his half-brother resided.

State Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Depew, attended a rally near the house. Concerned friends and neighbors chanted and carried signs, protesting the sex offender’s presence.

“I’ve known the Dyer family almost all my life,” Hilbert said. “My wife and I went to show our support. Their home is right on the highway. Everyone knew what was going on. Cars were honking as they drove by.”

Danyelle Dyer protests at a rally near her house. Courtesy

Hilbert approached lawyers and state legislators for advice on how to fight English in court.

“Half said there was nothing we could do. Some said we could get a protective order and others said that wouldn’t work,” Hilbert said. “You have the whole state of Oklahoma and the sex offender is trying to argue that the only place he could move was right next door to the victim.

“That’s ridiculous.”

Attorney General Mike Hunter directed the family to his agency’s Victim Service Unit, overseen by Lesley Smith March. The unit provides a 24-hour Safeline and extends statewide resources including housing, legal advice, and medical care for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking.

March offered the Dyer family a glimmer of hope.

A little-known 2016 amendment to Oklahoma’s protective order statute now allows victims of sexual assaults to petition the court for a five-year protective order. To March’s knowledge, it had never been tested.

“People do not realize the trauma that victims experience. What was happening to Danyelle Dyer was unfair. ” –  Lesley Smith March, who oversees the state Attorney General’s Victim Service Unit.

The attorney general also agreed to let March and Karen Cunningham of the victim’s unit assist in Dyer’s case. “That had not been done before. It was very unusual and legally very important,” March said.

Years earlier, working in the district attorney’s office, March had prosecuted sexual offenses in Grady and Logan counties. “People do not realize the trauma that victims experience. What was happening to Danyelle Dyer was unfair. As a child victim, she should be allowed the same protection from her perpetrator, even though she is an adult.”

Tension mounted in the Sapulpa courtroom on July 6 as the Dyer family awaited the judge’s decision. Only a few feet separated Danyelle from her uncle.

“I did not want to look at him or hear him talk,” she said. “I was shaking so bad that my lawyer looked over at me and said, ‘Lean against me. It helps.’ I leaned hardcore against him.”

After a short break, Creek County Special Judge Richard Woolery signed a five-year protective order banning English from living within 1,000 feet of Danyelle. He was ordered to move out by July 16.




Danyelle’s life would no longer be overshadowed by her abuser. “I felt relieved. Like I was winning. Like I got my home back.”

Richard Barajas, executive director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, and a former Texas judge, was stunned when he heard about Dyer’s case.

His organization is one of the country’s largest training groups involving victims’ issues.

“In all the years I’ve been in the criminal justice system, I have never seen a case like Ms. Dyer’s. It’s not something that ever crossed my mind,” he said.

“Through our membership, we are going to make sure that all of the state legislatures are aware of this issue,” he said. “That somebody who has sexually abused a child can come and move next door to them years later is an issue squarely in front of us now.”

******
Danyelle’s story also exposed weaknesses within the state Department of Corrections’ sex offender registry, which has 6,745 offenders, not including those who are incarcerated.

English falls in the most serious category of “aggravated offender.” He must register with local law enforcement immediately once he is released from prison or if he moves. He also must verify his address every 90 days. The information is sent to DOC and entered into the offender registry.

English now lives in Beggs in Okmulgee County, according to Beggs Police Chief Bobby Tollette.

But from July 16 to Aug. 22, his former Bristow address was listed on the state’s offender site until The Frontier asked local and state officials why it had not been updated.

“We do not have any record of receiving any information about Harold English,” said former DOC spokesman Mark Myers. “It goes back to faxes. We are not saying it wasn’t sent, we just didn’t receive it.”

Tollette said English alerted law enforcement he would live temporarily in Sapulpa and after three weeks, move to Beggs.

The Beggs address was faxed to DOC on Aug. 4 at 9:35 a.m. and it went through, Tollette said.

“Their (corrections department) fax machine is notoriously messed up.” – Beggs Police Chief Bobby Tollette.

Beggs, with a population of 1,268, has five registered sex offenders. Tollette said it is not unusual for the state to claim it did not receive a fax. “I have another gentleman right now — we sent them multiple faxes and hard copies and I just sent them another one.

“Their (corrections department) fax machine is notoriously messed up. At times it says, ‘Job not sent. Job not sent’ and that happens more than I can tell you. We send a hard copy but that takes more time.”

To expedite the process, all law enforcement agencies were asked in March to begin sending information by email, according to Myers.

“We’ve never been notified about that,” Tollette said. “Their own paperwork says to mail or fax.”

Kevin Willis, a detective with the Broken Bow Police Department said he asked DOC in August whether to fax or email registry information. “They said, ‘Yes, fax them.’”

Shortly afterwards, he was advised to email the documents. “It depends on who I speak with at corrections,” he said.

Matt Elliott, a DOC spokesman, said law enforcement can request access to the registry and enter the information themselves. However, “It must be approved by DOC registration staff.”

Email or direct entry are the approved methods of transmitting the information, although DOC does not “prohibit” using faxes, Elliott said. But, “There is no way to verify that we received the information sent by fax,” he warned.

“We do not maximize technology which is obvious by the fact that we are still faxing something. For crying out loud, it’s 2017.” – Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie

The sex-offender registry serves the dual purpose of “keeping an eye on offenders which dramatically decreases the chances they will reoffend and it also notifies the public,” said Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie.

She amended the registry law this year to try to streamline the process. It still stipulates that addresses should be submitted by “teletype or electronic transmission.”

“It is a complicated system that is constantly being tweaked,” Griffin said. “Many of the issues are created because of inadequate funding by the Legislature. We do not maximize technology which is obvious by the fact that we are still faxing something. For crying out loud, it’s 2017.”

Hilbert and State Sen. James Leewright, R-Bristow, plan to modify the sex offender statutes next year so no other adult victim will have to live near his or her attacker.

“We want to make sure Danyelle doesn’t have to come home and relive that nightmare,” Hilbert said.

March, with the attorney general’s office, witnessed Danyelle’s pain. “She was so brave. It was so hurtful on so many levels. The fact that he was living with her grandmother. Difficult does not even describe it properly.”

Rep. Kyle Hilbert

Danyelle was determined to seal off her painful past and move forward. She wrote a letter to her grandmother, cutting off contact.

“I told her how I felt and how she had added to the situation. She supported my uncle from day one. It IS her son, but at the same time, I’m her granddaughter and she didn’t seem to care. I felt like she always blamed me. After I did that, I felt like it was over.”

The Frontier was unable to reach Betty Dyer or Harold English for comment.

Danyelle is majoring in kinesiology – the study of human movement and muscle function. She had planned to work with veterans and amputees after graduation.

Her social media post may have altered her life in another way.

“I’ve gotten so much support from random people on Facebook,” she said. “A lady from another state said the same thing happened to her and she got laws passed in her state to educate young people about these situations.”

Danyelle pauses and laughs. “Now I’m thinking about maybe public speaking and being an advocate for people this happened to. I never pictured myself being a speaker. Never.”

What would she tell them?

“This is a taboo subject. People don’t want to acknowledge it happens. For me to talk about it brought back a lot of emotions. At the same time it helped me cope in a healthy way.

“I want them to know, I found it liberating.”


Reporters: Mary Hargrove and Kassie McClung | Photos: Dylan Goforth

This story is part three in a five-part series. Click the “Shadow Land” logo to see the entire series.

Coming Thursday: A Tulsa Police Department sergeant said she tried to convince administrators at the University of Tulsa to tell students about the seriousness of a string of incidents in 2016, but they didn’t listen.

“We kept telling them, ‘This is not aggressive enough. We knew immediately after the first one, this is not a burglary.” — Tulsa Police Department Sgt. Jillian Phippen.

Your financial support for our investigative journalism is now tax deductible. To become a Friend of The Frontier, click here.

Mary Hargrove

Mary Hargrove is a contributor to The Frontier for this series. She is a veteran journalist of more than 30 years. She was recently awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. She also received the Grand Prize Robert F. Kennedy Award for her 1998 series "Welcome to Hell" that exposed physical and emotional abuse and a murder in state-run juvenile facilities for children. She was formerly the president and chair of the national Investigative Reporters and Editors. You can reach her at Mary@readfrontier.com or 539-664-6901.
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