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BY KERRY EGGERS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/As he sits in jail on sex charges, tennis coach/director tells his story

If more than 16 months of confinement has taken its toll, Thomas Zachary "Zach" Rouse masks it well as he sits in a meeting room on the sixth floor of the Multnomah County Detention Center in downtown Portland.

Rouse wears an even look as he greets a reporter — accompanied by Rouse's attorney, Michael Curtis — for his only interview since being incarcerated in April 2016.

The 6-foot, 175-pound Rouse — with light blue eyes, thick brown hair and square jaw — looks fit, with an athletic build. He is wearing the uniform required of all of the hundreds of male inmates of the jail — blue hospital-like scrubs and deck shoes over pink T-shirt, underwear and socks. He changes into clean clothes twice a week, "whether he needs it or not," Curtis jokes.

This is a life to which Rouse, 43, is wholly unaccustomed. For 18 years, he worked in the tennis industry as a coach and administrator, his last job as tennis director for Portland Parks & Recreation. Rouse's employ has typically taken him to the courts and to the outdoors for many hours of each day.

"I've never been this pale in my life," he says sheepishly.

Rouse is even-keeled and engaging as he conducts an hour-long interview, answering every question proffered. Only once, near the end of the session, does he show emotion, tearing up when the subject turns to the support he received from a superior with the Portland Tennis Center.ROUSE

Life has not been the same for Rouse since his April 2016 arrest on 23 felony counts of using a child in a display of sexually explicit conduct, second-degree online sexual corruption of a child and second-degree encouraging child sexual abuse.

The indictment was the result of an investigation by the Portland Police Bureau's sex crimes unit, which began in early 2015. Rouse, who is being held on more than $1 million bail, is charged with engaging in illegal online activity with four girls ages 12 to 17.

Rouse's trial is scheduled to begin in late April 2018, more than two years after the arrest that put him behind bars. He says he believes he will be exonerated of the crimes.

Portland police and Multnomah County prosecutors say otherwise.

"We're going to present our case and just let the facts speak for themselves," Cory Stenzel, a detective with the Portland Police Bureau who led the investigation on Rouse, tells the Tribune. "He's a fairly well-presented person with his public persona. But his personal life ... is in sharp contrast to the person you would see on the street."

Rouse was born in Columbia, Missouri, and grew up in Salem, a town of about 5,000 two hours south. His father, Charles, is an attorney. His mother, Ann, is an educator. He has one sibling, younger brother Matt, a regional director for a furniture rental firm in Seattle.

Tennis has always been central to Zach's life. He played the sport at Tyler (Texas) Junior College for two years, then at Missouri State, where he graduated with a degree in business administration. During his time at Missouri State, he played at the Cooper Tennis Complex, home of the World Team Tennis Springfield Lasers. Rouse says he practiced with the Lasers and sat on their bench, though he never played a match.

Rouse interned at Cooper and had his first full-time job there, teaching tennis from 1998-2000. He then moved to Denton, Texas — 40 miles northwest of Dallas — where he worked as a United States Pro Tennis Association-certified teaching pro and manager at Goldfield Tennis Center from late 2001-2009. Rouse was forced to resign, a move that was controversial at the public facility that averaged more than 1,500 patrons monthly.

According to a report in the Denton Record-Chronicle, personnel records showed Rouse was disciplined as early as 2006 for workers' sloppy handling of cash deposits and financial ledgers. In September 2008, Rouse faced disciplinary action for an array of policy breaches, including an allegation that he paid a staffer for hours she didn't work.

At the time, Rouse admitted to "minor policy violations," but said he was working to clear those things up. Rouse declined the opportunity to stay on as a contract employee, which would have significantly reduced his salary.

According to the newspaper, Rouse was popular with many of the patrons at Goldfield and was credited with expanding programs and boosting revenue at the center. Four of Rouse's staff members quit in protest.

One of them was Taryn Ziehm.

"The facility Zach was running was flourishing," Ziehm tells the Tribune. "They nit-picked him to death until they found reasons to get rid of him. They were very shady."

Rouse's position was filled by a pair of contract employees — one to run the tennis programs, the other to supervise tennis and adult athletics at the facility. Rouse says it was part of a plan to reclassify the position.

"New management came in and they didn't want a full-time position, they wanted two or three (part-time) positions," Rouse says now. "I'd always gotten the highest scores on my evaluations for eight years. We had merit raises, and my annual salary was getting toward the high end for my position. So I understood what was happening, but it was hard to take. I was doing a great job."

Rouse was soon hired as tennis director at Oakmont Country Club in nearby Corinth. In 2012, he had his first brush with the law. Rouse was charged with attempt to commit insurance fraud. He received a misdemeanor conviction on "deferred adjudication," meaning he pleaded guilty or no contest to criminal charges in exchange for meeting certain requirements within an allotted period of time.

Rouse says he had suffered injuries in an auto accident. During his time of treatment, he says, he switched insurance companies but filed the claim under the company he had dropped. The new company "wasn't going to pay for it, because the policy didn't come into effect until the next day," he says.

Rouse stayed at Oakmont until 2013, when he left — on his own volition, he says — to become tennis director and general manager at Umpqua Valley Tennis Center in Roseburg.

"My brother is in Seattle, so it was closer to him," Rouse says now. "I was tired of being in the same place. (Umpqua Valley) was intriguing for me. It was a unique position. The property was owned by the city, but it was a nonprofit organization. They'd just put about $3 million into an addition of three new indoor courts. The potential was there, with six indoor and 12 outdoor courts.

"The problem was the economy was still suffering from the timber industry going down. It was a case of haves and have-nots in the community. It was hard to make a profit for the organization."

Rouse spent about a year and a half at Umpqua Valley TC. He left in 2014.

"We decided to part ways," he says. "I was already looking for positions in Portland. I was supposed to have full reign as far as how I wanted to reconfigure the program (at Umpqua Valley). There were a couple of members of the board of directors who didn't want it to go that way."

One board member, who asks to remain unidentified, says Rouse was dismissed. He says there was no indication of any kind of sexual misconduct.

"The main reason was, he wasn't doing his job," the board member says. "He seemed like a good guy, but the job required a lot of responsibility. He had a hard time showing up for work. After a while, he spent a lot of time in Portland.

"There were some financial issues that were part of it. His record-keeping wasn't good."

In June 2015, Rouse was hired as tennis director at Vancouver (Washington) Tennis Center.

"By that time, I was in the interview process at Portland Tennis Center," Rouse says. "They initially had 110 applicants when the process started in February. By late April, it was down to 16, and I was getting indications it looked good for me. Then Vancouver offered me a position, so I took it, knowing that I might not stay long."

Rouse worked there for two months before getting the job at Portland Tennis Center.

"Zach was very good," says Brent Waddle, manager at the Vancouver TC. "A lot of pros lack either teaching or customer-service skills. And there is a third piece — organization skills. Zach had it all.

"I knew he was in the running for the Portland job, and that he would most likely get it. But on the off chance he didn't, I hired him. He was the total package. He was a well-rounded professional. He did a phenomenal job in a short period of time."

The club performed a background check, as it does with all applicants. "He came up clean," Waddle says.

Waddle says there were no behavioral issues during Rouse's time there.

"He seemed like a normal guy," Waddle says. "Only one thing seemed odd. I look at my employees' Facebook pages. With Zach, all of his profile pictures were the same. They looked like mug shots (taken from the) top down, with a weird look on his face.

"Girls will tend to take pictures with the camera high up, so it doesn't show a double chin. He'd always elevate his phone so it was looking down on him. He always had an odd, straight-faced look. He posted different photos all the time, but they were pretty much the same. We made fun of him, jeered at him a little bit, and he'd laugh it off. Next day, a new picture, the same way. I thought, 'That's weird. Who does that kind of thing?'

"That was my only inclination that there was something different about him. He treated all of our employees with respect. We were in an environment working with kids. He was under constant supervision. There were 30 to 50 kids on the courts at one time with a bunch of pros. He never had an opportunity to be alone with kids, but we never saw any other warning signs, other than his Facebook page."

Rouse was hired for the Portland TC position after an interview with a Portland Parks & Recreation committee that consisted of Doug Brenner, Andre Ashley and Danice Brown. Brenner, then East Portland services manager, headed the committee.

"There were 10 candidates," says Brown, executive director of Portland Tennis & Education. "After the initial interview process, we were supposed to rank them. I put in all my scores. We were supposed to re-interview the three finalists, which is pretty standard — go back to the drawing board and hone in on them.

"I was surprised when it didn't happen. We never got called back as we were told we would. I finally called Doug and said, 'When is the meeting?' He said, 'Oh, we already decided.' I said, 'Who did you pick?' He said, 'Zach Rouse.' When I asked why we didn't meet to interview the top three, he said it was a procedural thing."

Ashley, east lands manager for PP&R, says he was the supervisor of Portland TC staffers and normally would have made the hire but was on leave after suffering a shoulder injury early in the hiring process. When he returned to work, "Doug said there were some issues with the staff, and that he would deal with tennis," Ashley says. "We had an interview panel, but Doug made the final decision."

Brenner died of a heart attack in January 2016.

Ashley, who was Rouse's supervisor during his time at Portland TC, says he was on board with Rouse's hiring.

"I thought he was a good individual," Ashley says. "He had a wealth of experience. We needed an innovative thinker. He had private and public experience. He had been a supervisor of 10 to 15 employees."

Brown wasn't quite as sold.

"He wasn't in my top three," she says. "I just felt like his background wasn't Portland Tennis Center, and that there were stronger candidates. He seemed like a decent guy, but I was looking for somebody who had more experience. He just didn't stand out to me."

Rouse was on the job at Portland TC for 14 months.

"He did some good things over there," Ashley says. "There were a lot of patrons who liked him and what he did."

Ashley noticed one thing that he says he found "interesting."

"One day I was talking to the staff about Mount St. Helens," he says. "I'm 47, and I'm looking around the room, and there were only four or five (employees) who were probably old enough to remember (the 1980 eruption). I looked at Zach and asked him how old he was. He told me a number that was about five years younger than he actually was."

Ashley later checked it out and found it puzzling.

"How often do you have an employee (lie about his age)?" he says.

Rouse's relationship with fellow Portland TC employees was mostly good.

"He was a nice guy," says one, who asks to be unidentified. "He seemed like a normal person to me. I don't remember anything negative or unusual about his behavior. He was good to me."

Another former employee, who also asks to remain anonymous, was more expansive.

"Zach was a really efficient tennis instructor," he says. "He knew his stuff on the court, how to make successful programs. He was like a ruthless business person. His business sense was stronger than his ethical compass. We had some tension there. I felt uneasy from a couple of things he had done."

The former co-worker says Rouse "didn't understand the city's procedures and compliance rules."

"He had his dream job, but he didn't get deep enough into understanding the type of business the city of Portland was," he says. "As a boss, he wasn't the greatest. But I appreciated his management style for lessons."

The ex-employee says he didn't notice much out of the ordinary from Rouse while at work.

"The only suspicious behavior was, he'd be on his cell phone a lot, doing gambling games," he says. "He had talked to some high school girls and had their (phone) numbers. He'd have his phone out and would be talking to the girls. I never got strange vibes from it, but it was just a little weird for him to have his cell phone out in a class setting."

Eric Quiroz, who now directs the program at Portland TC, worked under Rouse twice — at Umpqua Valley TC, then at Portland TC. Portland Parks & Rec officials would not allow Quiroz to give an interview for this story.

"We're not going to honor that request," Mark Ross, PP&R's public information

officer, said in an email. "It's just not something we're interested in doing."

PP&R performed a criminal background check before Rouse's hiring, according to Ross.

"All employees must undergo and pass criminal history checks," Ross wrote. "They must undergo state mandatory reporting training. All who work with children are trained and updated on an ongoing basis to refresh protocols and best practices."

PP&R officials evidently had no problem with Rouse's misdemeanor conviction in Texas in 2012. Or with his firing at Goldfield, or with his departure from Umpqua Valley.

"To my knowledge, the city of Portland never asked for references on Zach," the Umpqua Valley board member says. "Had they reached out to us, we wouldn't have recommended him."

Shortly after Rouse started work at Portland TC, he began using adult sex dating websites. The Portland Police Bureau's sex crimes unit says it began in September 2014 and ended shortly before he was arrested a second time in April 2016. Rouse acknowledges he was on sites such as "Fling," "Experience Project" and "Kik" — the latter a chat app used on smartphones — for "a few months. 'Fling' was a little bit longer — off and on, less than a year," he says.

Rouse, who says he had never been on such sites before, says he wasn't seeking sex.

"I had just ended a long relationship," he says. "I was new to the area. I was lonely. I didn't feel like I was ready to date. It was a distraction for me when I was down and out.

"I didn't know a lot of people here. I had an ex-girlfriend, but wasn't in contact with her anymore. I was living by myself. It was completely innocent. I wasn't trying to seek out anybody underage."

Portland police tell a different story.

Stenzel says in September 2015, his office received a copy of a report from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The report, Stenzel says, was submitted by "Fling," which reported that a user — determined to be Rouse — was engaging in a chat with another user. It included an "exchange of explicit images, which was believed to contain child nudity and information related to the sexual assault of a child or children."

After an investigation, Stenzel says, there was evidence that included photographs and digital recordings of minors engaged in sexual explicit conduct.

In October 2015, Rouse was arrested and indicted on six counts of online corruption and possessing child pornography involving four underage girls. Two weeks later, five of the charges were dropped by a grand jury, leaving one standing "pending the outcome of additional evidence forthcoming," Stenzel says.

Rouse, following his release the day after his arrest, was under court order to not use a computer, use the Internet or have any contact with minors. Police continued the investigation.

"When you apply for search warrants and subpoenas, it takes a period of time for the service providers to respond to the legal order," Stenzel says. "There were initial conversations about what evidence we might have, and what was a likely outcome of this case. When we discovered it was more expansive than we thought, that's where the additional charges came from.

"Initially, it looks like it is isolated to one account. As you start digging, you look at his devices, inside his Internet accounts, and it's not just this account, there is another account. You go down the rabbit hole so to speak, and suddenly you have a second and third lead."

Over the ensuing six months, 39 warrants and subpoenas were issued. In April 2016, Stenzel was granted a warrant to re-examine Rouse's Apple iPad relating to his alleged illicit online activities. Stenzel says he learned Rouse had been in contact with minor females via email through a "casual encounters section" for the purpose of intimacy. Stenzel found responses from Rouse to the females — including a photo of an erect penis thought to be his — as well as photos of himself.

Rouse was arrested again on April 14, 2016, while visiting a Starbucks near his Northwest Portland apartment. He had been out of work since his October 2015 arrest.

"I was getting a coffee on the way to going downtown to court for my judicial settlement," Rouse says. "My attorney at the time (John Andon) felt the one remaining charge was going to get dropped. I was going to meet him for the conference where we thought everything was going to be settled. Then (police officers) showed up and arrested me."

The next day, Rouse was re-indicted and charged with the 23 felony counts.

"He would go to a multitude of accounts and send (girls) a picture of himself in the nude," Stenzel told KATU-TV after the second indictment. "Then he would wait until somebody would respond to him. When they responded, he would explain in detail what he wanted to do to them, even though some of the girls told them how old they were. That seemed to encourage his behavior."

The youngest, Stenzel said, "was telling him she was 12 ... he was not deterred by her age, and the communications went forward from there ... there were also communications where he was talking to somebody who was obviously a mother, and he was asking about her children."

The four alleged victims lived in California, Oklahoma and South Carolina.

"There is no evidence we have any victims here in Portland," Stenzel tells the Tribune. "I don't have evidence of him going to those states and personally meeting them. That's not to say what he might have done that I don't know about. There is evidence of more (alleged victims), but I have personally spoken to four."

Stenzel says there is no indication that Rouse engaged in any illicit online activity while at Portland Tennis Center, or made such overtures with the facility's patrons while on duty.

Close Street Supervision is an intensive custody and supervision program that works with the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office. It provides pre-trial services to those arrested on Measure 11 crimes, domestic violence cases and some clients with mental health disorders. Deputies interview defendants and conduct investigations to present to the court, which assists a judge in making an informed release decision.

On May 5, 2016, CSS deputy Larry Wenzel wrote deputy district attorney Melissa Marrero: "After completing my evaluation into releasing the defendant, I have determined Mr. Rouse is a danger to the community and will likely re-offend."

Citing evidence provided by Stenzel — and noting that when arrested, Rouse was in possession of a passport and Apple iPhone — Wenzel wrote that Rouse "should be considered a flight risk."

"During Detective Stenzel's search of the iPad, he located two emails that contained Rouse's resume while seeking employment at tennis facilities in London, England," Wenzel wrote. "Clearly, Mr. Rouse had plans to exit the United States."

The Multnomah County Sheriff's Office turned down the Tribune's request to interview Wenzel.

"The matter is still in the courts," acting public information officer Bryan White wrote in an email. "(We) would not want to interfere with any future legal proceeding by making an employee available for an interview related to this case."

Rouse is willing to answer questions, and there are plenty of them as he sits for his interview in the sterile meeting room at Multnomah County Detention Center.

The first one is, did he know the females with whom he was communicating were minors?

"No," he says. "To be on the sites, they represent themselves as adults. Their profiles show an older age."

What about Stenzel's charge that one of the alleged victims told him she was 12?

"I would say that's not true," Rouse says. "I did not think I was talking to anyone anywhere close to that age. But you have to understand these were fantasies. ... Sometimes, you'd talk to the same person but with different profiles. One time, they would fantasy chat at one age; sometimes at a different age."

What was being accomplished with the interactions?

"We were role-playing," he says, "just like fantasy. Most people who play 'Call of Duty' don't go out and shoot people, but they enjoy playing that game. I'd say a large portion don't even own guns. For the layman, that would be an analogy.

"You're not trying to really meet anybody or exchange personal information. You're talking about whatever the fantasy is."

What about Stenzel's charge that Rouse was talking to somebody who was obviously a mother, and he was asking about her children?

"I don't remember that, but it goes back to the fantasy stuff," he says. "There would be married women, where we would engage in fantasy chat, talk about cheating, that sort of thing."

Did Rouse provide nude photos of himself?

"On 'Fling,' yes," he says. "But on that site you're allowed to post it on the profiles. A lot of the pictures some people were sending were also on their profile. You can have anywhere from one to 100 sexually explicit photos."

Was one of the photos he sent of his erect penis?

"I would disagree with that," he says.

Rouse says he never got together with any of the girls. Did he intend to?

"Absolutely not," he says. "There was no personal information exchanged as far as names, ages or locations. I never did want to meet up with anybody. I never had a single one where it was like, 'Hey, would you like to meet up?' or anything like that. It was mutually understood this was a fantasy chat."

Rouse says after his initial arrest, he was not allowed to use his computer, "but I could get email and Internet on my phone."

What about Stenzel's claim that, after examining Rouse's iPad before the second arrest, it was evident Rouse had been in contact with minor girls through email, in violation of court order? "That's not true," Rouse says. "That didn't happen."

Wenzel wrote in his report to the court that Rouse would still be a danger to the community.

"I would strongly disagree with that," Rouse says. "I was in no way a threat. I never thought I was talking to children. I've been around them in the public sector for 15 of my 18 years (in tennis). You have background checks. You have people around you all the time. I've never had a single incident with anyone, even looking at somebody wrong."

If Rouse needs a character witness, he has one in Ziehm, who worked with him at Goldfield Tennis Center for about five years.

"I was shocked to hear the news," she says. "That's not the Zach I knew and worked with, at all. We were good friends. He's good friends with my husband. We hung out all the time. He coached my daughter from the time she was little. We followed him with his move to Oakmont. I would never have second-guessed leaving a kid or anyone with him.

"He's smart, nice, solid. He's too good a person to be sitting in a jail cell."

Why did Rouse have his passport when he was arrested the second time?

"I had sold my car and wasn't driving anymore," he says. "My Texas ID had expired. I was using my passport as ID."

Rouse says the idea that he was preparing to flee the country was wrong.

"I had applied for jobs all over," he says. "It takes time before they fill a position like that. You're talking six, nine months down the road. England was one of the options. Maybe get a fresh start, go some place new. I have a couple of friends in England. But I was applying for positions in the U.S., too."

Why is Rouse still in jail? Could he and his family not come up with the $100,000 or so necessary to post bail? Not, he says, if they wanted to invest in the services of his attorney, Curtis.

"It was more important to bring on someone like Mike," Rouse says. "My parents know who I am. My friends know who I am. What they're accusing me of ... the most important thing, though this is an awful place to be, is that the money is better spent on what we're doing right now."

Curtis is the third attorney working for Rouse. The first, Andon, withdrew after the second indictment was filed.

"That made the case more serious," Andon says. "But it was not due to conflicts between Zach and me."

Andon, Rouse says, had too little time to spend on his case. The next attorney was a public defender, Thomas Hanrahan, who worked for only a short time before Curtis was hired.

"My dad did some research," Rouse says. "He found Mike."

Curtis, 68, is a short, thick, balding man with a Cheshire grin and a few unruly strands of facial hair. He has been member of the Oregon State bar for 40 years. Curtis is currently working on four murder cases. He says he has won "four or five" cases taken to the Oregon Supreme Court.

"I'm a dinosaur," Curtis says. "You don't find people my age trying criminal cases."

Why did the senior Rouse not represent his son?

"He has an attorney," Charles Rouse tells the Tribune. "Any questions should go through him. I have seen clutter in these situations. I'd rather not clutter it up. His family supports him. We want him out of jail. Beyond that, I don't think I want to talk."

Curtis provides some insight as to why his client is not represented by his father.

"As Charles Dickens once said, 'A person who represents himself has a fool for a client,'" Curtis says. "(Father/son) is a close enough relationship that it would make it very difficult.

"One thing any client needs is an attorney who will be honest enough to tell him the things he doesn't want to hear. That's not something you want coming from your father. Being a father is a tough enough job without throwing in being a defense attorney."

So Rouse waits in jail, and will stay there until next spring, unless he requests a bail-reduction hearing, which is a possibility.

He had spent only a few hours in jail — after the fraud charge in Texas in 2012 — before coming to the Multnomah County Detention Center. It is a maximum security facility that houses as many as 676 prisoners, everyone from low-level offenders to those held for violent crimes such as robbery, rape and murder. There are 16 to 32 prisoners — all men — in his unit on the sixth floor.

"The biggest thing is how your rights are taken from you," Rouse says. "I'm used to being in control of my life. I like to be around people. You're limited in what you can do."

No workout room is provided, but Rouse has done what he can to stay fit, doing pushups and sit-ups. Within the first month, he volunteered for duty as a dorm worker, serving food, cleaning up. Sometimes, he is working as many as six or seven hours a day. He is paid $1 a day. It keeps him from going stir crazy in an 8-by-10-foot cell.

"As awful as the environment is, there are ways to deal with the stress, to make the best of it," he says. "I tutored a couple of young men as they worked to get their GEDs. I helped one gentleman who had been incarcerated for more than 14 years, and had never had a real job, put together a professional resume. I helped a chaplain who visits every week to prepare for an interview for a sales position. I find those things rewarding."

There is a reason why Rouse looks tired. His mattress "is thin as this table, and just as comfortable," he says. Often, other inmates are yelling or making noise. Sleep can be difficult to come by. "You do the best you can," he says.

Rouse says his Christian faith — he was raised a Methodist — "has helped me get through this."

He's had no trouble with any of the inmates, he says. Visitors can come on weekend days. Cell phones are confiscated, but each unit has a couple of pay phones, and he has conversations with family members and a few friends.

"I'm just trying to cope," he says. "I try to keep myself balanced. I've never taken any meds. I haven't felt like I've been depressed. Of course, you have your down days. I have them often. But you try to do something to alleviate that. Write a letter to somebody, or get a little exercise, or read. I've read maybe 50 books while I've been in here. That helps you escape.

"Emotionally, spiritually. I've come to peace with it, but it's tough."

Rouse asks the reporter if he has read Victor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning."

"He was a psychologist who lived through 4-1/2 years of a concentration camp in Auschwitz, wondering if he was going to live," Rouse says. "I'm not comparing myself to that by any means. But he says, 'Each individual day is difficult to get through. It lasts forever. But weeks fly by.' That's kind of how it is here.

"One thing this has done is help me reassess and put everything in perspective. Oddly enough, it's made me introspective. I'm trying to look at the positive aspect here. It's been a hard hit, but I'm bound and determined to come out of it as a positive contributor to society for the rest of my life. Wherever I decide to go, I want to help that community and help others."

Rouse knows he would be unlikely to stay in Portland.

"Nothing against the people at Portland Tennis Center," he says. "I don't begrudge anything there. No hard feelings at all. Andre Ashley was the best boss."

His voice chokes here. "He's a good guy," Rouse says. "Came to visit a couple of times when it first happened. He was very supportive."

Rouse gathers himself.

"I love this city, but I don't think I want to stay here," he says. "Just the way this has been handled.

The whole legal process — you're guilty until proven innocent. In other parts of the country, that doesn't happen. Here, they just try to wear you down. I see people every day in the unit who take a plea just to get out of here."

That won't happen with Rouse.

"I'm not guilty of the charges," he says.

Will he get an acquittal?

"I think so," he says.

Does he regret his online

activities?

"Very much so," he says earnestly. "It will never happen again. Worst thing I've ever done."

The prosecution, meanwhile, is preparing its case against Rouse with similar resolve. Stenzel says he has seen plenty of similar cases, and he believes they have a solid one.

"It's not unique in the general sense that there are so many Zach Rouses out there," Stenzel says. "What was of particular concern to us was he was a city employee in charge of the care of and watching over some of our youngsters. It wasn't like he was the creepy guy living on the corner house down the block. This was a guy paid to be in charge of the supervision of kids."

Stenzel says he has a message for the public.

"In every single case, the parents had no idea what their kids were doing online," he says. "Engage with your child. Be aware of their online activities. Have open dialogue. Don't let this kind of thing happen to you."

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