BANGOR, Maine — The day before his suicide, the Rev. Robert Carlson was told by Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross, a longtime friend, that Carlson was the subject of a state police investigation of child sex abuse allegations, according to a Waldo County Sheriff’s Department report.
Ross said Wednesday that he felt compelled to tell Carlson that he was the focus of the Maine State Police probe because Carlson was on the Penobscot County Jail’s board of visitors and Ross wanted to limit his access to the jail.
Ross, who was Carlson’s co-worker for 33 years, said he spoke with Carlson around noon on Nov. 12. Carlson jumped to his death from the Penobscot Narrows Bridge early the next morning.
“I didn’t feel it was a conflict. I felt it was my responsibility as a sheriff,” Ross said when asked why he informed Carlson of the investigation.
State police detectives never got the opportunity to speak to Carlson, 68, before his death, Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, has said.
The sheriff said he initially felt a certain responsibility for Carlson’s death but since has come to another conclusion.
“If I hadn’t been the one to talk to Bob, Bob would have been dead a week later after talking to state police,” Ross said.
The Waldo County Sheriff’s Department, which investigated Carlson’s death, released its report Wednesday to the Bangor Daily News but blacked out the names of Carlson and several people interviewed, including the Bangor man police believe was the last person to see him alive. Ross’ name was not blacked out.
The state police investigation into the sex abuse allegations, which began on Nov. 10, is continuing and should be completed in the next month, the lead investigator, Sgt. Jeffrey Love of the criminal investigation division in Augusta, said earlier this week.
Ross said he received a copy of the anonymous letter that sparked the child sexual abuse investigation on Nov. 10 and got a call shortly afterward from state police Detective Troy Gardener, who thought Carlson was a county jail employee.
Carlson was the Penobscot County Jail administrator when Ross was hired and later became the jail’s chaplain, a post he held for 38 years. He retired nearly two years ago, Ross said.
“Sheriff Ross explained that [Carlson] had retired …. and told Detective Gardener that he would keep this quiet,” the Waldo County report states.
The unsigned letter, sent to Gov. Paul LePage, local Boy Scout leaders and law enforcement, claims that Carlson “sexually abused a young boy several years ago” while he was pastor at the East Orrington Congregational Church. The letter asked for an investigation into the matter.
The Waldo County report states that Carlson met around 12:30 a.m. Nov. 13 in Bangor with a local man who is the focal point of the state police child sex abuse investigation and was the last person to see him alive.
The man was an 11-year-old boy when he first met Carlson in the early 1970s, and Carlson began sexually abusing him soon after, according to the man’s family. The Bangor Daily News is not identifying the man because of the possibility that he is a victim.
Carlson’s company car was found — running and with the radio on — in the middle of the Penobscot Narrows Bridge by a Bucksport couple around 3:55 a.m., the Waldo County report states.
“Amazing Grace” was playing on the radio, the Bucksport man told Waldo County investigators.
A neatly folded clerical robe was found in the back seat of Carlson’s car, the report says.
Ross and his deputy chief, Troy Morton, went to the Penobscot Narrows Bridge while Waldo County deputies still were searching for Carlson and were at the boat landing on Verona Island when his body was pulled from the Penobscot River.
Waldo County detectives, who learned that Ross had spoken to Carlson on Saturday, interviewed him in the front of his cruiser minutes later. Ross was “very upset at the loss of his friend,” the Waldo County report states.
“Sheriff Ross said the he had called [Carlson] because he was a very good friend and he did not want [Carlson] to be upset thinking that he kept this from him and he also said that he did not want [Carlson] to be blind sided,” the report into Carlson’s death states.
The Waldo County report does not mention that Ross was concerned about Carlson’s access to the jail.
“I gave a more complete statement to state police,” the sheriff said Wednesday.
Ross said that he decided to contact Carlson after thinking over the matter for two days and determining that he was obligated to protect jail inmates.
“Bob could walk into our jail at any time and could go into a cell at any time,” Ross said, noting that Carlson was one of five members of the jail’s board of visitors. “I had to take action. I weighed all these things and stand beside the decision I made.”
The board of visitors is an oversight and advisory committee made up of citizens appointed to represent the interests of people in the jail.
Ross said he gave Carlson no information that would jeopardize the state police investigation.
“I told him that there was a letter that has been sent to everybody and that the letter accuses him of sexual misconduct,” the sheriff said.
“His only comment to me is that police have to take this very seriously because of what is going on with the Sandusky case,” Ross added, referring to the Penn State child sex abuse scandal involving coach Jerry Sandusky that broke around the same time. “He didn’t confirm or deny anything.”
When asked if Ross had violated any laws, Deputy Attorney General William Stokes said Wednesday that police officers tell suspects all the time that they are under investigation or that the department has received a complaint against them.
“I crossed no ethical boundaries,” Ross said. “I had an obligation.”
McCausland wouldn’t speculate on whether state police detectives were upset with Ross’ actions. He said details of the sex abuse investigation will be released when it is complete.
Ross said he is waiting for all of the final police reports before he makes any judgments about his longtime friend.
“I’ve known and respected the man my whole police career,” the sheriff said, saying he was heartbroken. “It’s still a hard pill to swallow.”