CORYDON — A former Southern Indiana police officer was sentenced Thursday to eight months in the Harrison County jail and another 10 on probation for a relationship with a minor.
Dwayne Christopher Avis, 33, was an officer with the Georgetown Police Department when he was arrested in February 2018 on two level 5 felonies for child seduction and a level 6 felony for dissemination of material harmful to a minor. Prior to serving with Georgetown, he had been a police officer in Corydon and a corrections officer with the Harrison County Sheriff's Department.
Avis entered a plea agreement May 9 for the level 6 felony, which could have carried a sentence of up to two and a half years.
Initial police reports in the case show that in January, the Department of Child Services contacted Harrison County police on a report that Avis had sent nude photos to two minors. Through investigation, police learned that one of the girls may have had a sexual relationship with the officer.
That same month, police spoke to the mother of the victim, who allowed them to search her cell. They also interviewed the victim, who said the two had had sex twice at her home between January and September 2017, and had exchanged nude photos.
The girl, now an adult, was one of three people to testify for the state Thursday during the sentencing hearing, along with her adoptive mother and Harrison County chief probation officer.
The victim said Avis had been the arresting officer in some of the cases she'd been involved in in juvenile court, had "escorted her to jails, court, shelters and homes," she read from a statement.
"In a perfect world, you would have looked into my mischief filled eyes and guided me toward a better future, not taken advantage of my innocence," she said.
"I'd like to think we had a rather trusting relationship. However the defendant ... had a very big responsibility. As a Marine, son, husband, a dad, a police officer and as an adult. Because of this mistake, he failed in every role he's had to play during the span of his lifetime."
She went on to say how this had impacted her — she'd lost friends, opportunities, family relationships, respect for him, faith in the justice system.
"But most importantly, I lost myself," she said. "He took my value, before I even knew my worth." She added she was glad it was her this had happened to and not another who wouldn't stand up for herself.
Avis, representing himself in the case, spoke before the state's witnesses, apologizing to his family, the woman and her family and the court and law enforcement itself.
"I'm going to work to make it better each day," he said. "I continue serving my community any way that I can."
Although now unable to work in law enforcement, Avis said he volunteers in the community and stops on the side of the road any time there is an accident or stranded motorist. He also spoke of his time as a congregation member at a New Albany church, where he said he had "grown in my faith and obtained a better understanding of who I am," he said. "...I'm not a threat to society; I'm an active contributor."
Three character witnesses — his current supervisor, his ex-wife and his brother all spoke on his behalf.
"He has lost his passion, his job, his wife," Avis' brother said. "Anything [today] pales in comparison to what he's lost."
His ex-wife said she had been "devastated and confused" when she learned about what she called Thursday was his lapse in judgment. However, she said she now believes that he is sorry.
"I believe in my heart that he is genuinely remorseful," she said.
The victim had asked for the maximum sentence and Avis himself requested that any sentence be served on home incarceration. But Judge Joseph Claypool went with Harrison County Prosecutor Otto Schalk's recommendation of 18 months — eight to serve and 10 on probation.
"The defendant is here today because he had power," Schalk said in court. "Mr. Avis had an opportunity to make a difference in a young woman's life and he did, but for the worst."
However, he added that she "is a tough, strong-willed lady and she defines the word resilient."
Schalk said after the hearing that he felt justice was served with the sentence Avis received.
"Being a law enforcement officer, having that badge, that signifies something," he said. "There's trust that the public gives you; you're the one the public is going to turn to in their time of need.
"And when you turn your back on the public, when you use your position of trust to exploit teenagers, there needs to be punishment, there needs to be sanctions and that happened today."