- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 19, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - A Central Alabama Veterans Administration Health Center worker who is charged with sexual abuse of a mentally disabled volunteer appeared Tuesday before a federal magistrate judge who said he needs more time to decide if the case will go to a grand jury.

Magistrate Judge Charles Coody questioned the prosecution’s evidence about the volunteer’s mental condition and delayed a ruling until Friday on whether the case will go to a grand jury for review.

“Counsel, where are the facts?” the judge asked prosecutors. Coody said he would continue the hearing Friday and hear more evidence.

Forty-four-year-old Eric Allen, a veteran employed in the compensated work therapy program at the VA Health Center in Tuskegee, was arrested Friday on a sexual abuse charge accusing him of engaging in a sex act with someone physically incapable of declining participation or communicating unwillingness.

The arrest follows a series of troubles for the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System. The alleged problems include altering appointment records to mask how long veterans wait for appointments, not reading hundreds of X-rays, and having an employee accused of taking a patient to a crack house to buy drugs.

During the court hearing Tuesday, prosecutors played a taped interview with the female volunteer who has Downs Syndrome. She said Allen pushed her into a restroom in the basement of a VA building in Tuskegee on Aug. 8 and kissed and touched her. Allen shook his head as the tape played.

Allen’s court-provided attorney, LaRonda Martin, said the volunteer didn’t appear disturbed or disheveled in a surveillance camera video showing her leaving the restroom.

VA police officer Leon Lane said an employee who knows the volunteer reported that he walked by the restroom and heard her say “stop” inside the restroom. Then he saw her come out while Allen was in the restroom, zipping up his pants.

In a taped interview with the FBI that was played in court, Allen said he thought the volunteer liked him and acknowledged going into the restroom with her. But he said, “I didn’t touch her in any way.”

A Tuskegee VA official testified that Allen is a veteran who has received mental health and substance abuse counseling and is now working at the Tuskegee VA in the compensated work therapy program. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.