Zach Anderson, the young man from Elkart, IN, whose harsh punishment for consensual teen sex made headlines around the country in 2015, has been arrested for two violations of probation. What, exactly, did he do?
He had dinner at his parents’ home with his younger brother, 17, and the brother’s friend. The brother thought his friend was 19, but he turned out to be 17. Zach is not allowed to have contact with anyone under 18 except his siblings.
That’s Violation #1.
Then, at church, Zach volunteers on the tech committee. Recently, a 17-year-old girl joined that team. While the two have never met or spoken, the fact that they volunteer on separate teams at the church is a violation of his probation, according to officials who issued a warrant for his arrest last week, because that was Violation #2.
For these charges, Zach, now 22, is heading back to court in Michigan tomorrow. (Zach lives in Indiana, but the “crime” was over the border, in Michigan.) Possible outcomes range from dismissing the charges to extending probation, putting Zach on the sex offender registry, sending him to prison, or any combination thereof.
It was over two years ago that Zach, then 19, was sentenced to 25 years on the sex offender registry for hooking up with a girl he met online who said she was 17 but turned out to be 14.
You may recall that the girl and her mom begged the judge to throw the case out, since there was no way Zach could have known the girl’s real age. Unmoved, Berrien County District Court Judge Dennis Wiley told Zach: “You went online, to use a fisherman’s expression, trolling for women to meet and have sex with. that seems to be part of our culture now: meet, hook up, have sex, sayonara. Totally inappropriate behavior. There is no excuse for this whatsoever.”
Interestingly, Judge Wiley has since been reassigned to civil court.
In any event, the case made it to the front page of the New York Times and Zach was granted a new sentencing. At that point he was deemed eligible for a youth leniency program and given a sentence of two years’ probation, which was about to end next week.
Instead, reports the South Bend Tribune:
After two years of following a laundry list of restrictions from both states and within days of expecting to be released from probation, Anderson was served an arrest warrant Wednesday night, arraigned Thursday, posted a $500 bond, and is due back in the Niles courtroom this Wednesday.
Zach Anderson’s parents, Les and Amanda, and his Lansing attorney, Scott Grabel, call the new pursuit of Zach’s violations “a witch hunt” by a Michigan probation department that still feels the embarrassment of national criticism that surrounded it in 2015.
A spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections, which runs the state’s probation operations, countered Friday that officials were required to notify the judge of the violations, and she ordered the warrant and court appearance.
Michigan found out about Zach’s “violations” when he confessed them at one of the regular polygraph tests he is required to take, at $300 a pop. When asked if he’d had contact with anyone under 18, Zach told of the two slices of pizza he’d eaten at his parents’ home with his brother’s friend, even though they didn’t speak to each other. And he told about learning that a new intern, age 17, had joined the tech team at the Granger Community Church.
The girl wrote a letter to the church attesting to the fact she has not met Zach and doesn’t even know what he looks like. And the creative arts director at the church, Peter Tarwacki, wrote a letter of his own, provided to me by Zach’s Dad, Lester Anderson, stating:
It has come to my attention that Zach has been sited with talking to a minor inside our church walls and I want to make sure we are all on the same page about this.
We are aware of Zach’s past at GCC, so we have taken every measure to make sure that he is following his court orders to the fullest. I have experienced Zach asking me many times how old someone is and if ever hearing they were a minor, he would tell me right away “I’m not allowed to talk to them”. I have witnessed him ignore a hello from a minor and even go upstairs if a kid would get near him on the main floor. Zach has shown nothing but integrity when it comes to these situations to make sure he is not violating any of the policies put in place for him. When he attends evening rehearsal he will say “I need to leave to get home in time for my curfew”. He had told me before that I can’t email him because he is not allowed to be on the internet. My entire experience with Zach has been him trying to never violate any of the restrictions placed on him.
The fact that Zach’s probation rules require him to be home by 9 p.m. every day, and not leave till 7 a.m. already seems harsh. So does the fact he is not allowed on the internet for any reason other than school homework. And so does the fact he had to move out of his parents’ home because it was too close to a dock, and “sex offenders” are not allowed to live near any place children congregate. (Docks as child magnets — who knew?)
But the fact he is literally not allowed to act like a normal human being seems beyond harsh.
It seems like torture.
Zach literally has to shun anyone under age 18. Simply saying “Hi” to a minor is treated like a sex crime. Not only has this required Zach to go through two years like some kind of social zombie, it also has literally nothing to do with his so-called crime. His offense was having consensual sex, once, with a young woman he believed to be about his own age. He was never accused of preying on children, or grooming victims. Yet the probation officers could and did force Zach to behave in bizarre and sickening ways that seem designed to drive any sane person crazy.
After Zach received the warrant for his arrest last week, he and his parents arrived at court with the letters from the 17-year-old church intern, and Tarwacki, the church arts director. Lester Anderson said it was good they did because although the bond set at $5,000, the lead prosecutor showed up hoping to raise it to $20,000. When Grabel, Zach’s attorney, showed the prosecutor saw the documents, the bond stayed at $5000.
This whole case is so clearly payback for the massive attention brought to the justice system in both states. And yet, Indiana was ready to release Zach from probation, so it is only Michigan that is like a dog with a bone, unwilling to stop slobbering over the deliciousness of ruining a young man’s life just because it can.
Or at least it can try.
Zach will be back in court tomorrow, along with his witnesses.
LOCAL NEWS GETS IT!