Briefing Room


Dan Hawkins ’01: Serving Special Victims

August 4, 2011 | Alumni

Dan Hawkins ’01, director of the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office Special Victims Unit, works on cases that grab headlines and grip hearts.

Hawkins long had dreamed of becoming a police officer when he studied criminal justice at Bowling Green State University. Working in a courtroom didn’t enter his mind, though, until he took a criminal procedure course. The instructor, a Lucas County assistant prosecutor, saw potential in Hawkins and asked if he had ever considered law school.

“Ohio State was my top choice,” the Hawkins said. “I was born and raised here. I love the city, love the people.”

After his first year at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, Hawkins spent a summer working with the FBI, advising field agents on search and seizure issues. The following year, he interned with the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office. Pre-trial work led him to discover his career path.

“There were a couple of assistant prosecutors in the unit who I did work for,” Hawkins recalled. “I saw they did big cases – cases that mattered, cases that were important. All criminal cases are important, but there’s something to be said for prosecuting a child abuser as opposed to someone caught with crack on them.”

Hawkins continued to work with prosecutors in the office throughout the rest of law school. He helped write motions and sat next to them for a couple of complex trials. He said, “I just fell in love with the work, doing meaningful prosecutions like that.”

He joined the office full-time in 2001, starting as an assistant prosecutor in the juvenile division. Hawkins worked his way from delinquency cases to grand jury cases to the special victims’ unit by September 2003. Today, he handles his own caseload and oversees six prosecutors in the unit that handles sexual assaults, domestic violence, stalking, and child abuse cases.

“They’re horrible cases, emotional cases,” Hawkins said, “but I love the challenge. It’s very important work.”

Babysitters accused of suffocating the cries of their charges, a police officer forcing a prisoner to perform sex acts, a mother who burned her son and locked him in a linen closet for punishment – all are cases Hawkins has encountered.

The 2005 murder of Reynoldsburg model Julie Popovich captured national media attention. The 20-year-old used a friend’s ID to sneak into a bar in Columbus and went missing. Her remains were found in a soybean field a month later.

“She was a beautiful, bright, young woman who had the world ahead of her,” Hawkins said, “and this guy, Adam Saleh, was like a Ted Bundy we got on his first try.”

Saleh was found guilty in 2007 of murder, attempted rape, kidnapping, and tampering with evidence. Before sentencing him to 38 years to life in prison, the judge called Saleh a “shark” who would prey on other women, given the chance.

In 2008, Hawkins worked with Moritz alumna Jennifer Gregg Rausch ’02 to prosecute serial child abuser Richard Enyart. He repeatedly drugged, raped, and fondled at least six girls over five years, videotaping many of the encounters, according to reports from the trial.

“The most difficult part of that case was spending late nights at the Columbus Police Department with Jen, watching those videos to figure out what acts we could charge. That was hard for both of us,” Hawkins said. “It definitely affects you, but somebody has to do it. At the end of the day, if it means putting them away for a long time, it does make it worth it.”

Enyart pleaded no contest to 49 felonies carrying a mandatory term of life in prison because of the victims’ ages. He was sentenced to 365 years in prison, a record at that time for a nonhomicide case.

As he and his wife, Amy, prepared to have their own family, Hawkins worried whether he would be able to continue working on cases involving special victims. “If anything, it motivated me more. I can’t imagine stuff like this happening to my own kid, so I’m even more sensitive to parents and their needs.”

Spending time with his daughters, 4-year-old Lena and 10-month-old Emily, is what balances his work life, Hawkins said. He and the rest of the family look forward to welcoming a baby boy in September, too.

Hawkins spent time away from his family and job recently to assist the ministry of justice in Georgia, the former Soviet Union republic, in updating its legal system to bring it in line with international standards.

“The prosecutors had all the authority. Justices played a pretty passive role. Defense couldn’t conduct cross-examinations,” he said. “There really wasn’t any due process at all.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney David DeVillers, former chief of the organized crime/gang unit for the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office, invited Hawkins to train Georgian prosecutors. Hawkins discussed how to implement victim-witness assistance programs and how best to deal with victims of sexual and child abuse or families of homicide victims.

“Georgia is a beautiful country. They love the United States, and they’re really trying to emulate what we do in our system,” he said. “It was gratifying to help them start from scratch.”

This article was written by Monica DeMeglio.