Sunday, February 29, 2004

Family disputes sex abuse charges

Claims against TV reporter 'false'

By Dan Klepal and Reid Forgrave
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Channel 9 reporter Stephen Hill, charged with sexually abusing four teenage boys, remained hospitalized Saturday, as a family member disputed the allegations.

Hill, who cut himself before Cincinnati police officers arrested him Friday night, was charged with eight counts of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor between March 2001 and January 2004, according to court documents filed Saturday.

The complaints said Hill, 45, of Avondale, engaged in sexual conduct with the victims on numerous occasions. The alleged abuse happened over nearly three years with the two oldest victims, now ages 18 and 17. The two younger victims, ages 15 and 14, suffered the abuse between March 2003 and January, according to court records.

But Gene Watt, Hill's brother-in-law, said the family believes the allegations are false and possibly fabricated by inner-city boys Hill mentored.

"The family is in shock that somebody would level these charges against Stephen," Watt said from New York City. "He's a fine young man, possibly one of the greatest people I've ever known. We know these (charges) to be falsehoods."

Watt said Hill's father and sister were en route to Cincinnati Saturday from their home in New Jersey and were unavailable for comment.

Police went to Hill's home Friday night after the allegations were reported to authorities in the morning. But rather than answer the door, Hill retreated in the home, refusing to open the door. Police eventually broke into the home and found Hill suffering from self-inflicted cuts to his wrist and neck. He was taken to University Hospital, but a nursing supervisor declined to release his condition Saturday.

Three of the teens identified in the complaints have the same last name, but it was unclear if they are related. Court records say the alleged abuse happened at Hill's home, and a Victory Parkway apartment where he previously lived.

Hill was a licensed foster parent for two children in Hamilton County in 1994 and 1995, a spokeswoman for the county's Department of Jobs and Family Services said. But neither of Hill's former foster children accused him of abuse, said agency spokeswoman Laurie Petrie.

Hill has not renewed his foster care license in Hamilton County since 1995, she said.

Watt called his brother-in-law a crusading journalist, who grew up in inner city Newark, N.J. and felt called to help other high-risk urban youths.

"He's really into helping black kids not get lost in life, not end up in jail," Watt said. "He's given his time, money and energy to kids going through tough times."

One of the boys Hill mentored, Robert Bradford of Lincoln Heights, said Hill was always available to help neighborhood kids.

"He'd hang out and take kids out to eat and help them with their school work," said Bradford, whose cousin was one of Hill's foster children. "He was always cool to me."

Hill remains employed, said Bill Fee, vice president/general manager of WCPO.

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