French to Stand Trial for Allegedly Sexually Assaulting Man with Mental Disability

Michael James French (Provided photo)

CLEARFIELD – Michael James French, 45, of Eldred, who has been accused of sexually assaulting a man with a mental disability, will stand trial.

French has been charged by Officer Mitchell R. Klender of the Clearfield Borough police with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse/person with a mental disability; indecent assault/person with a mental disability; indecent exposure; disorderly conduct; and open lewdness.

French had all charges held to court following a preliminary hearing before Magisterial District Judge Jerome Nevling on Wednesday during centralized court at the Clearfield County Jail. His bail remains set at $100,000 monetary.

Clearfield County District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. presented the case on behalf of the commonwealth. French was represented by attorney Leanne Nedza of the Public Defender’s Office.

The charges against French stem from an alleged incident that occurred the evening of Aug. 19, 2016 in the area of Dingers Grand Slam Grille & Groggery on Nichols Street in Clearfield.

A woman testified that on the date in question, she was walking on the right-hand side of the bridge when she looked toward the river bank. At first glance, she saw two males lying in the grass below Dingers.

When she looked a second time, she saw one male on top of the other and thought they may be in need of help. But when she looked a third time, she realized the victim was performing oral sex on French.

French had his hand on the back of the victim’s head pushing it down, and he was groping the victim’s private area. “… It was horrifying,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do … I knew something was wrong. I called 911.”

The woman said she must have spoken loudly because she “spooked” French and the victim. When they began walking away, she went and met them at the front of Dingers. She said this is when she realized she knew the victim who has a mental disability.

She said that French admitted to her that he’d done something wrong, had oral sex and stuck his tongue to the inside of his cheek. She said she was holding her phone out so that this could be heard by the 911 dispatcher.

Klender testified next, saying French told him he was in DuBois the previous night and picked up by police for sleeping in the park. He was intoxicated and taken to the jail.

According to Klender, French said he had been released and was waiting for a ride. He also said he met the victim at Sheetz, they were only hanging out and he didn’t do anything wrong.

However, Klender said he spoke with the witness, and he confirmed her testimony at the hearing was what she’d told him at the scene on the date in question.

When he spoke to French a second time, Klender said this is when he admitted to having oral sex with the victim. French didn’t state this verbally, he said, but instead stuck his tongue to the inside of his cheek.

Klender said like most borough officers, he’s familiar with the victim and knows him to have a mental disability.

He said the victim’s mother arranged for him to have a psychological evaluation, and the doctor determined the victim had the intellectual age of a child.

“She said it would be obvious to any person,” Klender testified. Under cross-examination by Nedza, he said French did try to say he didn’t know the victim had any intellectual difficulties.

Nedza didn’t present any witnesses. In closing, she said the commonwealth didn’t present any testimony proving French had an extended relationship to even be aware of the victim’s situation.

Nedza said French even told the officer this, and she subsequently asked for Nevling to dismiss charges related to sexual assault.

Shaw countered, saying the commonwealth had expert testimony and he wouldn’t expect French to admit to knowingly having sexual relations with a mentally disabled individual.

Nevling held all charges to court and said it was a case for a judge and jury to decide on in the Court of Common Pleas.

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