CLAY COUNTY, Fla. - The I-TEAM learned new information about a man accused of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl in 2014 while he was a former carnival worker at the Clay County Fair.
Timothy Peterson, 33, of Brewton, Alabama, was arrested July 10 and faces one count of lewd battery.
Peterson was arrested in Brewton, which is located just over the state line from the Florida Panhandle, and brought to Clay County, where he was booked into jail on $25,000 bond.
The sexual assault case against Peterson began in April 2014 at the Clay County Fair. Investigators said Peterson met the victim while she was waiting in line to get onto a Sea Ray ride, which he was operating.
“Once they got back there, unfortunately, he proceeded to molest her (and) then forced her to have sex,” a family spokesperson said.
They met later in the carnival’s bunkhouse, where she said Peterson sexually assaulted her, according to an arrest affidavit.
An Alabama Department of Corrections spokesperson said Peterson was on probation and had just been released from prison when police say he sexually assaulted the girl.
Alabama court records show that, in 2004, Peterson was sentenced to three years in prison for theft. In 2010, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison on a drug charge but was released on probation after serving three years.
Seven months later, he was under investigation for sexual assault in Clay County. Six months after the alleged assault, he was sentenced to three years in an Alabama prison for receiving stolen property, which was a violation of his probation.
Last week, after being released from prison, he was charged in the 2014 sexual assault case.
Deggeller Attractions was the company that hired Peterson to work at the Clay County Fair. A company supervisor previously told the News4Jax I-Team that Peterson passed his background check.
Jacksonville-area attorney Randy Reep, who is not affiliated with the case, told News4Jax the company could argue that because Peterson never had a previous sexual assault conviction they weren't negligent in its hiring practice. Reep added it would be a safe bet that he could work in a place where children are present.
“There’s certainly going to be the argument made that they were negligent in their hiring or supervision,” Reep said. “It’s a Catch-22. We encourage companies to give convicted felons a second chance. Here, his record seems to indicate maybe an old crime of theft and drug charge; who would have made that leap to a sexual assault?”
Reep said Peterson may have been part of a nationwide effort to release prison inmates convicted on drug charges who were serving lengthy sentences that would normally be reserved for violent criminals. His 20-year sentence was reduced down to three years.
Reep said he believes Deggeller Attractions will have a defense but thinks there will be attorneys “lining up to show they were liable for negligently hiring or supervising.”
Peterson is being held on a $25,000 bond.
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