POLICE DISPUTE CLAIM IN PRIEST INQUIRY
Paper: Tennessean, The (Nashville, TN)
Title: POLICE DISPUTE CLAIM IN PRIEST INQUIRY
Author: LAURA FRANK
Date: July 29, 1999
THEY SAY 1995 ALLEGATION LACKED EVIDENCE OF SEXUAL ABUSE MOTHER SAYS SYSTEM FAILED
By LAURA FRANK Staff Writer
Metro Nashville police say they dropped an investigation of former Roman Catholic priest Edward J. McKeown in 1995 four years before he admitted molesting 21 boys because police had no physical evidence he had sexually abused a 12-year-old boy whose mother reported the allegations.
The police, in a statement yesterday, also disputed the mother's account of what detective Ronald E. Carter did and did not do after she reported the alleged abuse of her son. Police said the boy did not tell Carter he had been molested.
"Due to the lack of disclosure of molestation, and the lack of physical and medical evidence, Detective Carter could not substantiate that a crime had occurred," the statement said.
The mother said Carter didn't try hard enough.
"There was no physical or medical evidence in the case that finally got McKeown convicted either," the mother said. "The difference was in how it was handled. An independent party needs to investigate this."
The Tennessean doesn't identify victims of sexual abuse without their consent and isn't naming the mother to protect the identity of her son.
In an interview yesterday, police spokesman Don Aaron said Carter had never confronted McKeown with the allegations. When two other detectives confronted McKeown in January with allegations that he raped another boy, McKeown confessed to molesting boys for nearly three decades.
Earlier this year, Dr. Margreete Johnston, who examined the boy in 1995, said there was "more than enough" evidence the boy had been sexually abused to warrant further investigation in 1995.
Yesterday's statement acknowledges some "weaknesses" in how the case was handled, but defends the department's work overall.
When contacted yesterday about the mother's reaction, Aaron said the department stands by its statement. He added: "The Police Department remains very sympathetic to the mother's concerns, and we fully expect to be speaking with her in the future probably as early as (today) about any concerns she may have."
The mother said Carter told her he would meet her at 5 p.m. Monday, May 29, 1995, and put a recording device on her before she confronted McKeown with the abuse allegations. A witness, G.L. Martin, confirmed her account to The Tennessean. This operation would have been similar to what happened four years and four victims later, when another Metro detective wired another boy who recorded the confession that sent McKeown to prison for 25 years. McKeown gave police a list of boys he molested, including four in 1995 or later.
However, the police statement says Carter only spoke generally with the mother about the recording device and made no arrangement to use it.
The statement said Carter did not receive messages the mother said she left. It also points out that the doctor suggested she take her son to Our Kids, Inc., which operates a clinic for abused children. The mother said that after Carter did not return her calls, she "gave up on the system," and she chose to take her son to private counseling.
The police statement does concede "some weaknesses on the part of the police department." It says Carter:
Failed to follow police policy, because he did not report the allegation to the Department of Human Services, which would have also begun an investigation.
Failed to fully document what he did. For instance, he said he talked with someone in the district attorney general's office, but has no record of the conversation and cannot remember with whom he spoke or when.
Interviewed the boy only twice. The statement acknowledges that children who've been sexually abused often have difficulty telling what happened to them and sometimes never tell.
Failed to follow up with the family. Despite waiting 14 months to officially close his investigation, he never called the boy or his family back after his second interview with them.
Aaron said Carter would not be disciplined. Capt. Valerie Meece, police youth services commander, conducted the review of records that resulted in the police statement, Aaron said. Meece was also Carter's commander in 1995.
METRO POLICE DEPARTMENT STATEMENT
A review of the Metropolitan Police Department's 1995 investigation involving Edward J. McKeown, in summary, reveals the following:
In the summer of 1995, the police department received a report from a medical doctor that a male child exhibited behavior indicating possible molestation. However, there was no physical or medical evidence indicating molestation, and the child did not disclose any abuse, and to this day, to the best of the police department's knowledge, has not disclosed any sexual abuse.
In addition to reporting the matter to the police department, the doctor referred the mother of the child to Our Kids, Inc., which operates a clinic for abused children and provides counseling services and referrals. The appointment with Our Kids, Inc., was not kept, and the child, to the best of the police department's knowledge, never visited Our Kids, Inc.
The investigation was assigned to Youth Services Detective Ron Carter, a veteran investigator of child sexual abuse. Detective Carter spoke to the child and his mother on two occasions, including visiting them in their home. During an interview with Detective Carter, the child spoke of playing strip poker with McKeown, but denied being touched or molested by him. The child made no disclosure during the interview with Detective Carter.
During the visit with the child and his mother, Detective Carter discussed the wearing of a hidden recording device in general terms, but at no time did he arrange for the child or his mother to participate. It would have made no sense for the child to confront McKeown, in that the child had made no disclosure of molestation. It should be noted that the use of a hidden recording device would not have been a viable investigative tool unless there was acknowledgement that a criminal act(s) had occurred.
Detective Carter remembers that the mother was apprehensive. No plans were made for her to wear a hidden recording device. A check of the logs of police department technicians, who set up the usage of hidden recording devices in investigations, shows no indication that any arrangements were made by Detective Cater for the wearing of a wire in this investigation. Detective Carter is well versed in the usage of hidden recording devices, and has used them many times in the past. Until now, the police department has never received a complaint that Detective Carter arranged for a citizen to wear a hidden recording device, but didn't follow up.
Detective Carter had no further contact with the 12-year-old or his mother. News accounts indicate that the child's mother reported that she tried to contact Detective Carter. Detective Carter reports that he never received the mother's messages. To the best of the police department's knowledge, there was no contact by the mother in 1995 with any Youth Services Division supervisors or any other commanders in the police department.
Due to the lack of disclosure of molestation, and the lack of physical and medical evidence, Detective Carter could not substantiate that a crime had occurred. However, he decided to leave the case open for 14 months, on the chance that further information about McKeown would surface. During that period, Detective Carter remembers discussing the child's case with members of the District Attorney's office. He does not recall with whom he spoke or the specific date, and the discussion is not recorded in the case file.
Detective Carter did not notify the Department of Human Services about the case in 1995. He did not do so because the child did not disclose any molestation, and he did not believe, based on the facts and circumstances, that the Department of Human Services would investigate further.
This case has pointed to some weaknesses on the part of the police department. In retrospect,the Department of Human Services ideally should have been made aware of the matter. Police department Youth Services Division investigators have been instructed to routinely share their information with the Department of Children's Services, an outgrowth of the Department of Human Services. Detective Carter,in retrospect, should have better documented his case file with detailed specifics on his actions. The discussion with the District Attorney's representatives, for example, is not recorded. Ideally, investigators of the Youth Services Division should have more frequent contacts with family members in on-going or open investigations. However, each investigator carries a large case load, preventing contact with families as frequently as the investigators would like.
Detective Carter is a veteran investigator who performs exemplary work. He was named the Metropolitan Police Department's Investigator of the Year for 1998. His supervisors, given the full set of facts and circumstances, do not fault his conclusions or overall investigation.
In child abuse cases, it is often very difficult for alleged victims to disclose molestation, and in certain situations, disclosures are never made. The specially trained investigators assigned to the physical and sexual abuse component of the police department's Youth Services Division are very sensitive to alleged child victims. The Youth Services Division has a proven record in assisting young victims and prosecuting those who have abused them. The Division hopes that the innuendo surrounding the 1995 McKeown report will not interfere with persons coming forward to report child physical and sexual abuse, and will not prohibit families from working with police officers and the system to bring abusers to justice.
The Metropolitan Police Department believes that its further discussion of this case in any greater detail would violate Tennessee statutory prohibitions designed to protect the privacy of alleged victims of child sexual abuse and their families.
Author: LAURA FRANK