By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD — The alleged sexual abuse of a teen by a Cherry Valley Police officer was isolated and should not reflect poorly on law enforcement or the Exploring program, Winnebago County State’s Attorney Joe Bruscato said Thursday.
Bruscato announced a five-count indictment against Cherry Valley officer Jason Personette Thursday. He said the officer is the only suspect and that the matter does not involve Exploring officials. The program’s role of exposing middle- and high-school age students to hands-on career opportunities is an important one, he added.
“The Explorer Post is extremely successful here locally,” Bruscato said. “Everything involving with this was isolated and is no way a reflection on the Explorer program. They continue to operate in our community.”
County investigators became involved in the case on Jan. 28, when Cherry Valley Police Chief Robert Swank contacted Sheriff Gary Caruana’s office with a report involving one of his officers.
“We quickly referred it to our detective bureau,” the sheriff said. “They drilled down on the investigation and obtained findings we turned over to the state’s attorney’s office.”
Authorities say the assaults occurred in various locations in Winnebago County in August and November 2017, when Personette was an adviser in the program. It is not known when Cherry Valley Police officials first learned of the allegations. Swank was sworn in last Nov. 21, after Larry Neville retired.
Swank said his department is cooperating with the investigation but deferred all requests for information about Personette’s case to the state’s attorney’s office.
Caruana added that while the case is isolated, anyone with additional information, including allegations of abuse, is urged to call his office.
“This is not reflective of law enforcement,” Sheriff Caruana said. “But if there is anyone out there that this has happened to in the past with any officer, specifically this case involving Cherry Valley, please call the sheriff’s department.”
Personette, 35, is currently lodged in the Winnebago County Jail on a $500,000 bond. He is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation. He joined the Cherry Valley Police Department April 25, 2015.
“We look to our community to accept leadership roles,” Bruscato said. “And part of that is to participate when they can at any level. Those that step up do a terrific job. When somebody doesn’t embrace that role, it’s disappointing. But we shouldn’t allow that to dissuade people from being involved in good programs and recognizing that we have a wealth of leadership in this community.
The Exploring program is an affiliate of the Boy Scouts of America. Exploring units, called Explorer Posts, are sponsored by businesses, governments agencies and nonprofit organizations that introduce youth to careers in a dozen fields. R.