An 18-year-old Iowa tennis star accused of sexually assaulting a mentally ill woman was given a plea deal this week, downgrading his original felony charge to a potential slap on the wrist.
According to the Des Moines Register, Nicholas Fifield met his 18-year-old victim through an online dating site last December, when he was 17. Fifield got permission from both her parents and the staff at her group home to take her to the movies, but that’s not what he did:
Instead, he took her to his Windsor Heights home and forced her to perform sex acts though she said “no” many times, according to a police report and criminal complaint.
The victim had clinical diagnoses of mildly mental defectiveness, autism, alcohol- and drug-related birth defect syndrome, post-traumatic stress, dissociative identity disorder, major depressive disorder with brief reactive psychotic episodes and a language disorder that makes communication difficult, according to the complaint.
Fifield, though, is the son of his high school’s tennis coach and a doubles competitor in this year’s Cedar Rapids Class 2A state tennis tournament. His crime was horrendous, but that doesn’t mean he’ll pay proportionately. In December, he was charged with third-degree sex abuse of a person “suffering from a mental defect or incapacity, which precludes giving consent.” Mysteriously elided from the coverage is that fact that regardless of whether the victim’s consent is legally irrelevant, she didn’t give it. This was not a voluntary act with someone deemed unfit to offer consent—a serious offense on its own—but one perpetrated against her will.
Now, instead of going to trial, Fifield entered a plea to a lesser charge of assault with intent to commit serious injury, which everyone seems just fine with:
Polk County Attorney John Sarcone said his office will not oppose probation with possible treatment for the young, first time offender.
“That’s agreeable with the victim’s family,” he said. “It’s two people with a lot of issues between them. We are trying to resolve it in a way that’s good for all. Prison would not do this kid any good.”
“A lot of issues between them” is a far cry from the criminal complaint, which, as a reminder, accuses Fifield of forcing “her to perform sex acts though she said ‘no’ many times.” It suggests that the charges were the result of a lovers’ quarrel—impossible, considering the woman’s mental state is one which “precludes giving consent.”
Moreover, the case was only brought to the public’s attention after parents wondered why Fifield was only suspended for one match following his felony charge. As one parent put it:
“Anybody who has a daughter should be appalled by this,” he said. “Our public universities suspend and remove such athletes from teams and competition. While even this single situation is appalling, it begs the question: How many other times have situations like this occurred within the Valley athletics department?”
Fifield will be sentenced on October 12 following a mental evaluation and pre-sentence investigation.