A 2016 Valley (West Des Moines, Iowa) High School graduate accused of felony sex abuse for the sexual assault of a mentally ill group home resident took a plea deal this week.
Nicholas Fifield, 18, was scheduled to go to trial Aug. 17. Instead, he entered an Alford plea to a lesser charge of assault with intent to commit serious injury, meaning he admits no guilt but acknowledges the prosecution had enough evidence to convict him.
He will be sentenced Oct. 12 by Judge William Patrick Kelly after a mental evaluation and pre-sentence investigation.
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.”
Fifield, the son of tennis coach Jay Fifield at the West Des Moines high school, played doubles in the Class 2A state tennis tournament this year in Cedar Rapids.
He was 17 when charged in December with third-degree sex abuse of a person “suffering from a mental defect or incapacity, which precludes giving consent.”
Authorities said he met the 18-year-old woman through an online dating site and gained permission from her parents and staff at the Des Moines group home to take her to the movies on Dec. 5.
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.
The case was first highlighted in a May 25 Reader’s Watchdog column after Valley parents questioned whether Fifield’s one-meet suspension at the beginning of tennis season was sufficient given the serious nature of the charge.
Parent of another player on the Valley tennis team Steve O’Meara previously told the Register the suspension Fifield served after being charged with a felony sex crime was lighter than other students had received for lesser offenses, such as underage drinking.
“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?”