For Charles E. Cusack’s victim, the low point came on Halloween.
It was the fall after Cusack, a retired Ocean City police officer, had been arrested and charged with having an ongoing sexual relationship with the girl, who was 17 at the time.
She was a senior at Ocean City High School, where Cusack had worked the previous two years as a school resource officer. Although she had never been publicly identified in the case, word of the victim’s identity spread quickly through the halls of the school.
On Halloween, two boys picked especially cruel costumes. One dressed as the girl, the other as Cusack, she recalled in court Thursday.
“I was so humiliated,” the victim, identified in court only as “K.C.,” recalled.
Her statement to the court illustrated the ongoing fallout for both the victim and the defendant in the case.
Cusack, 52, was sentenced Thursday afternoon in state Superior Court in Cape May Court House to five years’ probation. He forfeited his right to hold public employment in New Jersey, and he must register for life as a sex offender under Megan’s Law.
A tearful Cusack said in court that his life had been ruined because of his poor decision.
“The shame I carry with me has been overwhelming at times,” he said as he stood next to his attorney, Louis M. Barbone of Atlantic City.
Cusack said in court that shortly before he started having sex with the girl in 2012, he had separated from his wife of 26 years, and that some of his children had stopped speaking to him. He also said he was seeing a psychiatrist at the time.
The victim was a female beach-tag inspector, and at the time, Cusack was director of the city’s beach-tag operations.
Prosecutors alleged Cusack had sex on multiple occasions with the girl in his city office and at his Egg Harbor Township home.
Cusack pleaded guilty in November 2015 to one count each of criminal sexual contact and official misconduct. In exchange for his pleas, prosecutors agreed not to seek prison time for Cusack.
In New Jersey, the age of consent is 16. But Cusack was charged under a provision in state statute that makes it illegal for a person to have sex with someone over whom he or she has supervisory authority when an alleged victim is 16 or 17 years old.
“He may have believed he was in a lawful relationship with ‘K.C.,’ but his belief was lawfully and factually incorrect,” Judge John C. Porto said of Cusack.
Cusack said that after he was charged, he was ostracized by some members of his family and the law-enforcement community. He said he eventually lost his job at a local Home Depot because of the negative publicity, and said he is now trying to rebuild his life.
Cusack also faces an ongoing civil lawsuit filed by the victim. The civil complaint, filed in March 2015, alleges Cusack helped the girl land a plum summer job with the city’s beach fee office, and then used his position of authority to sway her into a sexual relationship. The City of Ocean City is also named as a defendant in the civil suit.
In criminal court Thursday, Cusack apologized to his co-workers at the Ocean City Police Department, his family, the community and the victim. Both Cusack’s pastor and former Atlantic City police officer John Russell spoke on his behalf at sentencing.
“He’s a great man who made a horrible mistake,” Russell said of Cusack.
Assistant Cape May County Prosecutor Dara Paley read a letter from the victim’s father, in which he said, “we taught our kids to trust and respect authority figures,” but that Cusack betrayed his daughter’s trust and stole her innocence.
The victim, now 20, said Thursday her struggles are far from over.
“I just don’t know how to move on,” she said, “but I hope someday that I can.”