Charles “Chuck” Leroy Crowell, 34, a former prison guard, could face up to 30 years in prison on two counts of rape, said officials in Sioux Falls, where he appeared in court yesterday.
Crowell could face more charges in California, according to the Escondido Police Department. Escondido detectives are still investigating, checking e-mails, chat-room messages and text messages that they say were exchanged between Crowell and the girl.
The girl's parents discovered that she was missing Sunday morning. Police found her safe Monday afternoon, as she and Crowell drove up to his apartment in Sioux Falls. The girl is in protective custody, while Crowell remains in jail with bail set at $500,000, according to the Minnehaha County Court Clerk's Office.
The 300-pound, 5-foot-7 Crowell was a correctional officer in the South Dakota State Penitentiary from May 2003 until Nov. 6, 2006, officials said.
In November, Crowell was arrested and charged with assault on a family member, said Sioux Falls police spokesman Loren McManus. He had no other criminal record, McManus said, and is not a registered sex offender.
Officials said Crowell has been married and has at least one child, but was living alone in the apartment where he attempted to take the Escondido girl.
The domestic violence case is scheduled for trial in late February, court officials said. Crowell's trial status could change because there could be a grand jury hearing on the rape charges. South Dakota officials said he also could face federal charges.
In the Escondido case, he faces two counts of fourth-degree rape, which according to South Dakota law applies if the victim is a juvenile 13 to 15 years old and the accused is at least three years older.
Crowell is being represented by the Minnehaha County Public Defender's Office. His public defender declined to comment yesterday.
Since the news broke that a girl may have been taken by a possible Internet predator, Escondido police Lt. David Mankin said his office has been flooded with calls from parents worried about how to protect their children. Mankin tells them to do the same thing the girl's parents did.
“These parents actually did a good job tracking their daughter,” Mankin said. “They checked up on where she visited on the Web and what she wrote, and when they caught her using what they considered inappropriate conversations, they took away her Internet privileges and cut off her text-messaging capabilities.”
He lauded the girl's parents for contacting her friends and asking them not to let her go online or text message on their equipment.
While it may have been technology that introduced the eighth-grader to the the former prison guard, it also helped authorities catch them.
The girl's parents found Crowell's cell phone number on their phone bill and left messages with him, as did Escondido police.
“If she's portraying herself as an 18-year-old online, and he believes she's 18, that's no defense in this case because he has messages from us and from her parents that, 'You're in possession of a runaway 14-year-old,' ” Mankin said.
Twice last weekend the girl's parents foiled her plans to meet Crowell at the Motel 6 near Old Town, the parents and police said. Crowell registered at the motel Thursday after flying to San Diego from Omaha, Neb., which is a three-hour drive from Sioux Falls, officials said.
The girl's parents discovered her plans when the cab company called to confirm that she needed a taxi and her father answered the phone. The girl's name was made public by the media when police were seeking help in finding her. However, The San Diego Union-Tribune no longer is identifying her because it is the policy of the newspaper to not name someone who authorities believe is a victim of sexual crimes.
Although the parents kept close watch on her, the girl slipped out of her home in a gated community sometime Saturday night or Sunday morning. It is unknown whether she knew the man from the Internet was more than twice her age and married.
Staff writer Kristina Davis contributed to this report.