This story is part of a continuing series of Hometown Heroes. CACSEI is highlighting the work of regional child protection workers, advocates, law enforcement, and allies in our work against child abuse.
Legislators across Indiana and the United States have been extremely effective at curbing the preparation of homemade methamphetamine. “It happens, but not a lot anymore that someone is out in the woods cooking meth. It’s just too hard to get and make the ingredients now,” says Shane Tucker. Tucker is the Chief Deputy Prosecutor in Ripley County. “What’s concerning now is our meth is coming from Mexico in massive lab-made quantities. A single dose of meth can be bought for a little more than the cost of a case of beer. That’s scary to me.”
Like for his colleagues in other rural counties, drugs make up a significant source of the cause of crime. “Our biggest issue was originally homemade meth, then the opioid crisis with fentanyl and heroin. Now our meth is lab-made, and we’re unique that I-74 cuts through our county,” says Tucker. Now, big-city drugs on the way to or from Cincinnati and Indianapolis pass through truck stops, gas stations, and diners that bleed into Ripley County.
Those drugs then frequently play a role in people committing burglaries or thefts, assault, or other violence — usually in pursuit of drugs in some form. “We file roughly 700-800 criminal cases a year, plus have approximately twelve or thirteen hundred active child support-related cases at any given time,” says Tucker. He estimates about 80-90% of the criminal cases are drug-related.
Tucker’s role as Chief Deputy Prosecutor sees him looking for efficiencies and ways to maximize staff time on cases. “But one thing I’m fortunate for and have learned from [Prosecutor] Ric Hertel is, “Always be absolutely committed to every case. Especially those involving children.”
The Batesville native graduated law school in 2012 and started in the Prosecutor’s Office immediately after passing the Bar. Working as a deputy prosecutor for two years, he was appointed Chief Deputy on January 1, 2015. As much as he’s seen related to the changes and shifts in the drug trade, he still has surprise moments.
“I was very fortunate when I started that CACSEI was already around,” recalls Tucker. “When I started as a prosecutor, I was surprised and overwhelmed by the frequency at which child abuse happens – and how it’s generally happening to children by adults they know, like family and people they care about.”
“One sticks out for me,” he says with a brief pause. “A child was molested on Christmas Day by his uncle. It was extremely unusual, and this was an uncle all the nieces and nephews loved,” says Tucker.
“He took what was a great, fun day that started with Christmas presents under the tree to police officers responding at night turning the day upside down. He made this horrific memory for Christmas [that child] will have to live with the rest of [their] life.”
“The child disclosed, told exactly what happened, and the next day — the day after Christmas — we were all at CACSEI. For a year and a half until trial, the CAC was able to keep the child open, comfortable, and quick to respond,” says Tucker. “I’ve always been impressed by their willingness to come in nights, weekends, whenever. And that’s what happened in this case,” he says.
It’s rare in Indiana, but it does happen that prosecutors or law enforcement agencies in the state or across the nation refuse to use CACs where child victims are involved. Some officers bristle at the notion they’re being replaced. Prosecutors might think kids are being coddled or the process is too “soft”. Tucker has never had to work a child abuse case without a CAC nearby and he’s grateful for it.
“I learned early on how important they are and how much better an investigation is handled with their existence and help. Just hearing from other prosecutors and other detectives who had to do it without, I’m glad they’re around. Certainly from the seven years I’ve been doing it, it’s become such a known entity in law enforcement circles that when something happens to a child it’s almost automatic,” says Tucker.
“It’s not every time, but often when we’re talking about a case that requires a child to be interviewed, we’re talking about the worst thing that’s ever happened in their life. They’re traumatized not just from the day it happened but every day since then. I would think it is irresponsible and unreasonable to ask a child to disclose something like that to strangers when we’re not doing everything we could to give them a therapeutic and comfortable environment,” he says. “Frequently, these are not the sorts of cases that happened yesterday. These things happened a few months or sometimes even years ago. They’ve been living this nightmare carrying it deep within themselves and finally, for whatever reason, are able to share their story. We need to be extremely receptive to do everything we can. It’s our responsibility to help ease the disclosure process.”
“I’ve always been fortunate those sorts of cases are worked by an experienced and great group of detectives from the Indiana State Police,” says Tucker. He says between them, his colleagues, the CAC, and Prosecutor Ric Hertel, “They’ve all helped me grow.”