MONTGOMERY CO., AL (WSFA) - A Montgomery man accused of sexually abusing three young family members is behind bars for the rest of his life.
Johnny Caphart was sentenced Thursday to four life sentences. He pleaded guilty to charges of rape, sodomy, child abuse and producing pornography.
The victims were 12, 15 and 17 years old at the time of his arrest. The abuse had been ongoing for most of their lives.
The investigation that put an end to all those years of abuse and subsequently put what prosecutors call a monster behind bars, can be traced back to a school resource officer.
"In the 20 years I've been a prosecutor this is if not the worst, one of the worst sexual abuse, sexual molestation cases I've ever seen," said Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey.
According to Bailey, prison is too good for Johnny Caphart.
"He's a piece of garbage," Bailey said.
One of Caphart’s victims, who was 15 at the time of Caphart’s arrest, recounts him forcing her to have sex over 200 times and after being assaulted in March 2014, she finally confided in a school resource officer.
"It was so important that she had that confidence and that trust and had the officer to turn to there at her school so we could step in and begin the investigation," said Montgomery County Deputy District Attorney Seth Gowan.
Bailey and Gowan reveal that the 15-year-old victim described Caphart as a “jealous boyfriend” that was controlling and manipulative.
Prosecutors say had it not been for the SRO's involvement, the abuse would have undoubtedly continued.
"Had that school resource officer not been in the school, had not developed a relationship with these children and all the other children where he was approachable and he was available and they felt comfortable enough reporting this horrific then no telling what would have happened," said Chris Murphy, Montgomery director of public safety.
It's that trust city officials and MPD say is so vital to the School Enforcement Bureau.
"Enforcement is a big part of our job, but it's not the only part of our job and the heart of what we do are stories like this," Murphy said.
Officials say it's important to make law enforcement accessible to children at an early age.
"In this situation, what we're able to do is redirect the assumptions make them understand that underneath the uniform we're a person just like them," said Sgt. D. Engleman, Bravo Sector, School Enforcement Supervisor.
Engleman says some children are taught at an early age that police are the bad guys.
"Some parents are good at making sure kids know that, that's who you go to in times of trouble or if you get lost but we're in a changing world and sometimes now, we're the bad guys," Engleman said.
The officer in charge of schools in the city's east and south sides says there's a very fine line SRO's have to balance when it comes to establishing trust and not undermining the parent's authority.
"You don't want to step on the authority of the parents and I understand that there's more than one side of the story always and I'm only getting the child's," Engleman said.
She says she always reminds kids to listen to their parents.
The program's commander says it's all about temperament. You have to be approachable and patient.
"We're careful with who we select, we don't just send anyone, personalities have to fit, we try and put the right officer at the right school," said Lt. Will Holmes, commander of the School Enforcement Bureau.
Holmes says school resource officers are not just in schools to arrest kids.
"You've got to have that patient ear to listen to them because a lot of times that's all, they want to be heard, they don't get that chance a lot of times at home," Holmes said.
Prosecutors say it's difficult to build cases involving children because in a situation where the abuse is at the hands of a family member or acquaintance, they are usually being coerced, threatened or shamed to the point where they feel like they can't tell someone what's going.
"The school resource officer is a hero the message for children out there is that they need to be able to trust the police," Bailey said.
Montgomery has 14 officers and three supervisors involved in the school resource officer program. They oversee five high schools and seven middle schools and work closely with the Special Victims Unit, Department of Human Resources and agencies like Child Protect.