Treatment center director accused of sexually abusing teen resident

Published: Monday, April 28 2014 8:56 p.m. MDT

Teresa Lee Cope, 34, of Springville, has been arrested for investigation of sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy at a center that treats teens for sexual behavior problems and pornography addiction. She was the program director of the Birdseye Residential Treatment Center when the abuse occurred, investigators say.

Utah County Jail

SPANISH FORK — The former program director for a Utah County center that treats juveniles for sexual behavior problems and pornography addiction has been arrested and accused of sexual misconduct with a 15-year-old resident.

Teresa Lee Cope, 34, of Springville, was arrested and booked into the Utah County Jail last week for investigation of sexual activity with a minor, unlawful custodial sexual relations and sex abuse of a minor. She was released on Friday when her husband posted bail, according to the Utah County Sheriff's Office.

Cope was program director at the Birdseye Residential Treatment Center when she sexually abused a 15-year-old boy from April 15 to May 31, 2013, a police affidavit filed in 4th District Court states. Cope was 33 at the time of the alleged assaults.

On at least three occasions, the two were involved in inappropriate kissing and touching of each other at the treatment center, the affidavit states. On another occasion, the boy was allegedly assaulted while the two were in a car wash in Springville. On May 15, 2013, the two engaged in illegal sexual intercourse, according to investigators.

Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon said Cope would never take the boy somewhere for the sole purpose of sexually abusing him. However, he said, "The circumstances were manipulated by her so these things could happen."

On field trips with the rest of the group, Cope and the boy would often drive together or find themselves alone at times, he said.

"Due to the fact that the victim in this case was 15 years old and Teresa was 33, he was unable to consent to the sex offenses that occurred in Birdseye, Springville, and Spanish Fork. Furthermore, the victim was in the state's custody and the perpetrator was the program director of that facility," the affidavit states.

Cannon said to say the two had a "relationship" would not be appropriate.

"My wife and I have a relationship. She did not have a relationship with him. Once she begins to abuse him, any professional relationship is gone. There is no professional relationship because it's completely inappropriate and violating the law," he said.

The sheriff's office was contacted on April 16. Cannon said a search warrant was served on Cope's home and evidence related to the case, such as electronics and other physical evidence, was collected.

"They found items and other evidence at her home that were all collaborating to the information he had given detectives," the sergeant said.

At the Springville address listed in jail documents as her home, a man who answered the door Monday said Cope wasn't home. When asked if anyone had a statement regarding the allegations, the man slammed the door shut.

The teen's family has contacted Salt Lake attorney Greg Skordas to help them through the legal process. No criminal charges have yet been filed against Cope.

"From what we've heard, while he's been in the program he's been sexually assaulted. We also believe there are some parties involved in this who had information this was occurring and may not have done anything, or certainly didn't do enough, to prevent it from continuing," Skordas said. "The case is really in its investigative stages at this point. We didn't know that the person was being arrested the other day."

The boy's family is from Cedar City. Skordas said they believe illegal sexual contact with Cope occurred in both Utah and Washington counties. He said the victim's family has known about the allegations for some time. Skordas noted there was evidence to support the boy's claims beyond just his word, but he declined to elaborate.

The Washington County Sheriff's Office on Monday confirmed they it is investigating but didn't have any other details to release. Cannon said his office had been in contact with Washington County.

Odell Erickson, quality assurance director with Heritage Youth Services, which runs Birdseye Residential Treatment Center, said Monday that Cope was the program manager for Heritage Youth Services from June of 2012 until she quit in December of last year.

He said Cope, who does not have any other significant criminal history according to Utah court records, passed a background check during the hiring process and a second one the next year.

"We are saddened by the allegations and are cooperating with law enforcement," he said.

Erickson noted that the Birdseye center has been in business for 40 years and has helped many children.

Cannon said this victim and others like him are already vulnerable, and heavy damage is done when they are sexually assaulted by a person who is supposed to be providing them help.

"They're there to get help. And when somebody does something like this, they're completely destroying the relationship they should have, which is one of learning and trust and dependability," he said. "It may call into question whether he can trust other adults who are in similar situations."

Email: preavy@deseretnews.com; syi@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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