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He Was Accused Of Sexually Assaulting A 4-Year-Old. Video And DNA Proved He Didn’t Do It.

A man who had been falsely accused of sexually assaulting a 4-year-old at church was awarded $500,000 in damages from the town that ran with the accusation despite readily available evidence concluding the assault didn’t happen.
Joel Iacopelli was accused in 2015 of sexually assaulting a 4-year-old while he cared for the child at Community Bible Church in Port Royal, South Carolina. Iacopelli sued the town after the ordeal, and his lawsuit states that after the allegation was made on July 10 2015, he was arrested at his home and imprisoned, charged with criminal sexual conduct in the first-degree with a minor under 11 years of age. He says that on July 11, he was denied the right to be brought before the “contract” Port Royal municipal judge and summarily denied a bond/bail hearing. Iacopelli’s lawsuit says he was “refused to even be seen by the municipal judge,” denying him a hearing. He also says no specific facts were presented, yet he was still denied this hearing.
On July 13, Iacopelli’s attorneys had to file a Writ of Habeas Corpus to petition a bond hearing. Finally, he was granted a hearing, yet it was then delayed because the mother who made the accusation was on vacation. A continuance was granted, meaning Iacopelli would remain in prison. It wasn’t until July 23 that he finally had his bond set at $75,000. Since a defendant must put up 10% of the bond, Iacopelli paid $7,500 and was finally released from prison, but as a condition of his bond he was required to wear – and pay for – a GPS monitor and he was instructed to have no contact with children other than his own.
These conditions remained in place until the charges were eventually dismissed for lack of probable cause on August 20, 2015. Iacopelli’s name was associated with this disgusting crime in local media reports and online. He lost his job with United Health Care because of the allegations. He was the sole provider for his family.
Prior to his arrest, Iacopelli cooperated with Port Royal Police Department (PRPD) officers and voluntarily submitted to a poly graph test and taped interview. He also consented to a DNA swab – twice. Police officers arbitrarily scheduled his polygraph for a day Iacopelli could not attend, and then said they would contact him with a mutually convenient day, but never followed up on the request, the lawsuit states. Here’s the kicker:
[T]he Port Royal officers were in possession of extensive video evidence from Community Bible Church which conclusively refuted the factual allegations made by the alleged victim’s mother. The officers viewed a portion of the videos and discovered or should have discovered that the complaining witness was lying. Further, the officers failed to interview the other worker in the room and any of the other children or the parents. All of these failures occurred prior to the officers seeking an arrest warrant for Criminal Sexual Conduct 1st Degree With a Minor Under 11 Years Old.
Later, Iacopelli’s DNA was conclusively excluded from being present on the child.
Iacopelli’s lawsuit accuses law enforcement of arresting the accused man after allegedly telling the accuser that there was no probable cause to make the arrest. He further claims he was told he was being arrested on July 10 for not taking a polygraph test, even though officers didn’t contact him after saying they would. PRPD executed eight search warrants on Iacopelli’s residence, cell phone, and computers, which his attorneys argue were “invalid on their face” since there was no probably cause. The lawsuit claims one of the search warrants wasn’t even signed by a judge or judicial officer.
PRPD then refused to return Iacopelli’s possessions that had been seized during the searches until December 16, 2015.
The case took on an eerie similarity to the Satanic Daycare Panic of the late 80s and early 90s. As in those cases, the allegations began not from a child, but from a parent. In Iacopelli’s case, as in the daycare cases of decades ago, the alleged child victim was interviewed by someone asking blatantly leading questions and supplying the answers to the child – answers “which contained facts that would have been impossible to have occurred as posed by the examiner,” the lawsuit states.
In addition to everything else Iacopelli went through, his lawsuit alleges that the South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS) investigated him and his family. The lawsuit claims a DSS foster-care placement representative “accosted [Iacopelli’s] wife while” he was incarcerated. His children were then interviewed by DSS. The agency also allegedly threatened Iacopelli’s wife that if she didn’t agree to a “safety plan,” she would lose her children. The DSS never followed through with their investigation, the lawsuit says.
Iacopelli sued Port Royal and the people that investigated his case. As The Island Packet reported, he settled with the town after a four-year legal battle for $500,000. The money, of course, won’t give him his reputation back.

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