Beaufort News

Beaufort's Iacopelli blasts police, says he was wrongly arrested, trying to rebuild life

Video: Joel Iacopelli says he was considered guilty until proven innocent

Joel Iacopelli, who was accused of touching a 4-year-old girl inappropriately during a Sunday school class in June, talks about what happened when he was arrested.
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Joel Iacopelli, who was accused of touching a 4-year-old girl inappropriately during a Sunday school class in June, talks about what happened when he was arrested.

The Beaufort man accused of sexual conduct with a 4-year-old at a church Sunday school in June proclaimed his innocence Monday and lashed out at the Port Royal Police Department and the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office for what he calls a botched investigation that turned his life into a nightmare.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette, Joel Iacopelli described how the charges cost him his job, brought heartache to his family and expressed anger that now, even months after the charges were dismissed, police and Solicitor Duffie Stone refuse to officially clear his name and admit mistakes were made.

Even that probably won't be enough, Iacopelli said.

"I think that there are going to be a certain number of people that will always believe" the allegations, Iacopelli said. "I think there is going to be a group of people who will always have that in the back of their mind. The fact (is) if you search my name, this is always going to come up -- forever."

Iacopelli was charged July 10 with criminal sexual conduct with a minor under the age of 11 for allegedly touching the child inappropriately during a June 28 class at Community Bible Church in Port Royal. Six weeks later, following a preliminary hearing, Beaufort County Magistrate Judge Richard Brooks dismissed the charges.

The allegations still hang over Iacopelli's head, however. Stone said at the time he could still send the evidence to a grand jury for an indictment, depending on test results of items seized during a search of Iacopelli's home and of the clothing the child wore that day. Both Iacopelli and his lawyer, Jared Newman, said Monday that testing on the child's clothes came back negative for his DNA.

"According to that, it looks like I didn't even touch the girl," Iacopelli said.

The first round of testing on evidence collected from the child's clothing was completed Sept. 30. The results took 23 days to reach Newman's office.

"They waited a month to tell us," Newman said. "This has been weighing on him and his family. ... Someone has got to make a statement, pronto."

Reached Monday, Stone said: "At this point, I haven't received any additional evidence that would merit this to go to the grand jury. Unless I get new evidence, I'm not going to take it to a grand jury."

Two calls made Monday to Port Royal Police Chief Alan Beach went unreturned Monday.

Meanwhile, Iacopelli is trying to piece his life back together. He has found a new job and feels blessed that the church stuck beside him through everything. Still, he seethes at the way he has been treated.

'COPS EVERYWHERE'

In the weeks after the allegations, Iacopelli saw his life begin to unravel.

Iacopelli said when he learned police believed he was watching children in the classroom -- where he worked as a volunteer -- during a period of time when he was actually at home, he offered to show police home security footage to prove he wasn't at the church during the time the abuse allegedly occurred.

Iacopelli said he was told an officer would be in contact with him to pick it up. Instead, he got a frantic call from his wife later that week, saying police were on their property.

"I get home and there are cops everywhere," Iacopelli said. "The detective informed me they had a search warrant for (the home security footage). I said 'I'll go get it,' and he said, 'You can't.' He said, 'We have an arrest warrant for you.'

"I thought, 'You haven't even looked at the videos yet that prove I wasn't in the building.'

"He (the detective) said, 'Sir, can you walk over to the car so we don't have to put handcuffs on you in front of your children?'"

Newman and Iacopelli said investigators did not review the church's security footage carefully. The footage does not show inside the classroom, but Newman said it does show Iacopelli was never alone in the room with the child.

Newman also said investigators showed up at Iacopelli's house with search warrants that were not signed by a judge.

"I can tell you Joel's wife had no idea what to do with these Port Royal police, who were out of their jurisdiction and kept showing up at their house," Newman said.

Iacopelli spent the next 14 days in the violent crime section of the Beaufort County Detention Center.

Those days were filled with fear and prayer, he said.

"(It) was very nerve-wracking," he said. "Clearly I've never been in that process before. The process assumes that you've been there before. They assume you've been there before and know what's going on, and clearly I did not.

"There was a lot of praying, a lot of alone time and just trying to get through that process."

His professional life was falling apart, too.

He was fired from his job at a Beaufort insurance agency.

He has since been hired by United Health as an insurance agent, a job he says is a demotion.

Even then, the charge followed him.

"The criminal history came back up, and that delayed the (hiring) process quite extensively," Iacopelli said of his new job.

The only constants in his life were his family, friends and church.

Iacopelli said Community Bible Church members, where he has been a member for 10 years, helped him get through.

"I have been welcomed with open arms back to the church," Iacopelli said. "The reception of the church has been phenomenal."

'BLESSED BY GOD'

Now, he continues to wait for more tests to come in.

Three items -- a computer, an iPad belonging to Iacopelli's wife and his home security system -- are still undergoing testing by the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office, Newman said.

Newman added the laptop has not been used since 2008. Stone said Monday he doesn't know when those tests will be completed.

The situation doesn't sit well with Iacopelli and his attorney.

"I think that the government that besmirched Joel's name as they did, with such notoriety, needs to take even bigger steps to clear his name," Newman said.

Iacopelli agrees.

"What we take for granted, our freedom, can be taken away with a lie and a false allegation," he said.

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Follow Caitlin Turner at twitter.com/Cait_E_Turner.

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