Former McLaughlin Youth Center supervisor sentenced for sexual abuse claims innocence, vows to appeal
A former juvenile justice officer at the McLaughlin Youth Center, who is now a convicted sex offender, received his sentence Friday morning for crimes he insists he did not commit.
A jury convicted Phillip Bigham, 51, of seven counts of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor in November 2018, as well as attempting to help the victim escape.
The charges stem from a relationship Bigham had with a 16-year-old female inmate at MYC in 2015, when he was 47 and serving as the supervisor for the Girls Treatment Unit in the juvenile detention facility.
KTVA previously reported the following information from an arrest affidavit written by Anchorage Police Department Detective Jade Baker:
Nicole Cuaresma, unit supervisor of the Girls Treatment Unit at MYC, said Bigham was confronted on Nov. 24 by herself and other supervisors about a number of trips with the victim to an outdoor shed and other areas of the building. She said Bigham “became visibly angry with the staff” and turned in his letter of resignation.
Cuaresma said Bigham’s letter of resignation was accepted, but at his request, he was allowed to continue working for the remainder of the week “to gather his belongings and say his goodbyes to the staff and the inmates,” Baker wrote.
“Cuaresma reported that Bigham was permitted to carry on his duties for the rest of the week and in doing so, was permitted to sign [the victim] out of the building on his last day and take her to the shed,” Baker noted.
After Bigham left MYC, the victim began receiving letters from people in the Anchorage area, which MYC staff found suspicious as the victim was not from Anchorage and, according to staff, did not know anyone from the area.
It was also noted that a new phone number had been added to the victim’s call list, listed as an alternate number for the victim’s father. He was contacted regarding the new number, and said is was not his, court records show. Cuaresma told Baker she called the number “30 to 40 times from her office,” but no one answered the phone.
On Dec. 16, the victim received another letter from someone in Anchorage. The victim was given enough time to open and read the letter before a search was conducted in her room. There staff saw the letter on the bed and determined it was written in Bigham’s handwriting, according to Baker.
The letter outline an escape plan involving the use of a gate code from another staff member, as well as preparations made for the victim at Bigham’s house. Bigham reportedly told the victim he “had made a bedroom in his garage for her,” Baker wrote.
Other letters were also found, and the victim was questioned regarding the letters and her interactions with Bigham. She reported at least three sexual encounters with Bigham in the shed and the basement of MYC starting in October and on his last day of work. She also stated their relationship had been “professional” until she attempted suicide and he helped get her to the hospital.
“She said that after that, the two of them began a relationship that she characterized as a ‘dad and daughter’ relationship,” according to Baker. “ [The victim] said that Bigham would give her candy and popcorn and would let her use his phone for Facebook.”
The victim also claimed Bigham asked her to go to a bathroom and take pictures of herself on his phone, and when she returned, he asked her if she had taken any naked pictures; she stated she had not.
Baker stated in court documents she asked the victim to call Bigham on Dec. 18. The phone call was recorded and during their conversation, Bigham asked her if she was still planning on going through with their plan for her to escape, which included picking her up at a nearby McDonald’s in his “big silver Chevy,” according to Baker.
Bigham told the victim he had to go, “because he was going in for a job interview at the Covenant House,” Baker noted in her affidavit. He said he “was glad to hear her voice and that he missed talking to her,” and before hanging up, told her he loved her.
After police arrested Bigham, investigators found several photos of the victim wearing underwear on his home computer.
Despite the evidence — and now convictions — against him, when given the opportunity to speak at his sentencing Friday, Bigham insisted he is innocent.
"There's gonna be a post conviction relief appeal. I don't want to say anything that's gonna jeopardize that, but it has been very hard... hard reading in the paper and looking at the TV, listening to people and stuff that just isn't true," he said, later adding, "I didn't do this. I'm 100% innocent. I will fight to the day I die."
He told the judge about the day he found the teen mid-suicide attempt and saved her — the event that sparked the illegal relationship.
"There's not too many days that have gone by I haven't seen that young lady hanging there," Bigham said. "So did I have a relationship with the kid? Absolutely. Was it sexual? No. Not even remotely."
Bigham's attorney indicated he was anxious to go through with the sentencing so he can begin the appeal process.
Assistant District Attorney Betsy Bull told the court, "Mr. Bigham abused every power he was given there."
Bull said he preyed on the girl's vulnerability and need for rehabilitation, knowing the teen could not legally consent to a sexual relationship.
"This wasn't an accident. He completely recognized that his behavior was unprofessional and illegal and he took steps to hide that behavior. They didn't engage in this conduct in the view of all of the other inmates. They went out. They sought secret. They sought hiding. He then attempted to help her escape from jail. All of these things in his position he knew were wrong," Bull argued, adding, "He blatantly and intentionally violated the trust that everyone vested in him."
Anchorage Superior Court Judge Jack Smith granted the state's request, sentencing Bigham to serve 57 and a half years of active time, with 15 years of probation to follow. He is also required to register as a sex offender.
Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.
MORE CRIME NEWS: