Arsenal whistleblower: Child sex abuse was downplayed | Local News


Months before the director of the youth center at the Rock Island Arsenal was convicted of felony sexual assault of a minor, the whistleblower in the case resigned over its handling.

Joseph West, 32, of Alpha, Ill., was found guilty in an August bench trial in Henry County and is to be sentenced next month on three felony charges.

West was serving as director of the School Age Center at the Arsenal when one of his subordinates reported him to the Department of Children and Family Services, or DCFS, and the Henry County Sheriff’s Department.

Andrea Flannery said she and others had for many months been suspicious of West’s behavior, particularly where one child was concerned. He seemed “obsessed” with the boy, she said, and West was “distraught” when the child spoke of a girl.

The boy was enrolled at the youth center, Flannery said, though he was not a frequent user of its programs and services. A public information officer at the U.S. Army Garrison previously said West’s victim was not associated with the center.

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The assaults occurred in Henry County.

A family member in law enforcement urged Flannery to gain West’s confidence, she said, so she could determine whether her suspicions were founded.

As assistant director at the youth center, she was a mandatory reporter, but Flannery said she simply didn’t have “anything concrete,” despite the red flags.

She and West were socializing in October 2021, she said, when he confessed to his relationship with the boy, even showing her a picture of the two “kissing on the lips.

“I turned him in instantly,” she said.

Authorities respond to accusation

Flannery’s complaint to DCFS was deemed “unfounded,” she said, but West was arrested about five months later, following a domestic incident at his home.

This time, the evidence was sufficient to convict him. Flannery was one of the witnesses at trial.

“Even after he confessed to me, after alcohol was found in his office refrigerator at the youth center on the island and the Arsenal was presented with text messages and videos related to driving a government vehicle drunk, they moved him into another division at the Arsenal with an $8,000 raise,” she said.

“They tried to shame me for reporting him. All that evidence and they moved him into IT, where he had access to all children’s files, including photos and addresses.

“This was after they knew the allegations against him. I walked away from a 10-year job and people I adored. I couldn’t go along with them. I quit because I couldn’t work with someone who was protected as a sex offender.”

She said evidence at trial showed West was the subject of at least one other complaint before coming to the Arsenal about three years ago. That complaint, she said, was leveled while he was serving at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

Others suspicious too

Peter Baltos was third in line at the youth center, serving under Flannery and West. He said he also had concerns about West’s conduct.

“He was notorious for stalking (the child victim) on his phone, using a location tracker,” Baltos said. “I heard a lot of profanity coming out of his office when the child showed an interest in a girl. That really set Joe off.”

With 20 years of experience in child care, Baltos said, he saw “warning signs” with West.

“In the summer of 2021, there were some boys with discipline issues he took in his office with the doors closed,” he said. “There are cameras all over the center. The only places that don’t have them are the restrooms and the directors’ offices.

“At least three people told Joe (West) he shouldn’t do that.”

Baltos said he reported West to higher-ups after he witnessed him returning to the center in a government-owned vehicle one evening after several hours at a nearby bar. When West was moved to another position following Flannery’s complaint, Baltos said, workers found beer and a frozen margarita in his office refrigerator.

He hoped to share what he knew with investigators, but he was out of town when questions were being asked, he said, and no one ever approached him.

“You’re the first person who’s ever asked me questions about this,” Baltos told a reporter. “They were willing to overlook so much of what he did: drunk driving on the island, erratic behavior, booze in the fridge, that first allegation by (Andrea) Flannery.

“It’s like the priests who were accused of abuse and were sent to other parishes. That’s what I thought of.”

Baltos also left his job at the Arsenal, though it was not entirely because of the handling of the West case.

“One thing that was really concerning to me when they put him in IT was that he had access to all video cameras, servers and hard drives for the building and all kids’ programs,” he said. “This was after they became aware of the complaint.”

Response by Rock Island Arsenal

Those who knew West as director of the Child Age Center say they also were familiar with the victim, who was enrolled there.

But they also confirm that West’s relationship with the child was not directly related to his work on the island.

After West’s arrest in March, Mark Kane, deputy public affairs officer for U.S. Army Garrison, said West no longer worked at the School Age Center, but he did not say West was reassigned on the island.

When specifically asked, Kane declined to say when or if West was terminated.

On Monday, Staci-Jill Burnley, public affairs officer at the Garrison, supplied this statement in the case: “Rock Island Arsenal’s paramount goal is the safety of all children in our programs. The criminal matter related to Mr. West was within the full jurisdictional control of the Henry County Sheriff’s Office and has concluded in a conviction.

“His misconduct has no known connection to the Rock Island Arsenal CYS (Child and Youth Services) program.”

Specific questions related to the Arsenal’s response to the whistleblower complaint, including whether an internal investigation was conducted, could not be addressed, Burnley wrote. Management matters, she said, are private and protected by federal law.

“We took immediate action necessary to ensure the employee was not in direct contact with children or family members throughout the entire investigative process conducted by Henry County,” she wrote. “The individual in question is no longer an employee with RIA, and we are unable to provide further comment on the individual’s former employment with the U.S. Army.”

West is in the custody of the Henry County Sheriff’s Department, pending sentencing.

“As a reminder, the criminal investigation was not related to Rock Island Arsenal and was in the jurisdiction of the Henry Country Sheriff’s Office,” Burnley concluded.

‘They tried to shame me for reporting him.’

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