Serious allegations

Parents of 14-year-old say their daughter’s alleged abuser got special treatment from SPD

Days after a man was arrested by Illinois State Police on charges of sexually abusing their 14-year-old daughter, her parents allege Springfield officers shielded the man because his mother is a detective with the police department.

Illinois State Police arrested Zane Merreighn, the 22-year-old son of Detective Jennifer Oglesby, on three counts of aggravated sexual abuse. He remains in custody at the Sangamon County Jail with his bond set at $250,000. Oglesby is a sex crimes investigator for the Springfield Police Department.

Since turning 18, her son has been the subject of orders of protection requested by at least four families. Despite the petitions for protection that alleged violent threats, intercourse with underage girls and distribution of drugs, Merreighn was not charged until the most recent case.

“He bragged that he could get away with things because his mom was a detective,” the 14-year-old girl told Illinois Times Oct. 29 during a three-hour interview with her family.

The Springfield girl, who Illinois Times is not identifying due to her age, said she met Merreighn over the summer in a Riverton park.

“He told her he was 17 and they started talking on social media. We didn’t know anything about this,” the girl’s stepmother said. “When our daughter started talking about having a boyfriend, we said she couldn’t go out with him until we met him.”

Despite several scheduled meetings in their home, he never showed.

During frequent walks of the family dog, the girl said she continued to communicate with Merreighn over her cellphone. Later during a slumber party at a friend’s home, she and two other girls snuck out and attended a party at Merreighn’s apartment in Springfield’s Westchester subdivision. Although she said the two only interacted for about 20 days, she was able to occasionally meet covertly with Merreighn.

The girl said Merreighn brandished handguns about his apartment. Sometimes he would fire guns from his back porch and at other times he would point firearms at her, she said.

On July 30, the couple checked their daughter’s room before going to bed and found that she was missing. Using a tracking application on their daughter’s phone, they found that she was located at Merreighn’s apartment.

“We immediately called the police and said our daughter was in danger and gave her location,” the father said.

During this time, it is alleged that Merreighn sexually penetrated the girl.

In his petition for an order of protection, the father wrote: “The police were called and tracked her phone to his apartment where he refused to answer the door. The police who responded determined that he is the son of Detective Jennifer Oglesby. Rather than removing my daughter, the responding officers notified his mother, the detective.”

The girl said she and Merreighn were in the bedroom when they heard a soft knock at the front door, and then Merreighn’s phone rang.

“It was his mother, and she was yelling so loud (on the phone) that I could hear her. She yelled, ‘You get that little girl home,’” the 14-year-old said.

She said they waited until the police officer was gone and then Merreighn drove her to her parents’ house.

“When she got home, she was behaving like she was drugged,” the stepmother said. Her father said he did not smell alcohol but agreed she was behaving as if under the influence of a substance.

After later finding photos on his daughter’s cellphone of her being fondled, the father contacted the Springfield police and Deputy Police Chief Joshua Stuenkel called them. Both parents listened on speakerphone, they said.

“He didn’t say we shouldn’t press charges – in so many words. But he did say he’d known (Detective Jennifer Oglesby) for years and that she was a really good person, and at the time she had been off-duty and acted like any mother would have,” the girl’s stepmother said.

“Then he said, ‘You got your daughter back – isn’t that what you wanted?’”

The parents said they didn’t believe it should be left up to the alleged perpetrator of a crime to drive their daughter home, rather than the police.

Stuenkel said on the night the police department was contacted, they were investigating a missing person complaint and no allegations of other criminal behavior had yet been alleged.

“I may have speculated that when the name Merreighn came up the officer’s supervisor would have recognized the name and contacted his mother to help locate the missing person,” Stuenkel said.

As to how the department may have handled previous incidents concerning Merreighn, he said he is not familiar with them and can’t comment.

Citing a potential conflict of interest, the Springfield police requested the state police investigate the case. Sangamon County State’s Attorney Dan Wright also has recused himself and asked the state appellate prosecutor to pursue the matter.

The father said he has been told by a state police investigator that a deleted video has been recovered from Merreighn’s cellphone that depicts sexual activity.

“We didn’t want to see it, but (the investigator) described it to me over the phone,” he said.

Neither Oglesby nor Dan Fultz, who court documents list as Merreighn’s attorney, immediately responded after being contacted by Illinois Times.

The family has retained the St. Louis law firm Tapella & Eberspacher, which has sent letters to Oglesby and the city’s legal department demanding that potential evidence be maintained because a lawsuit may be filed. Scott Reeder, an Illinois Times staff writer, can be reached at sreeder@illinoistimes.org.

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