June 22, 2018
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Beardsley’s role in Carlson case is ambiguous

Renee Ordway
By Renee Ordway, Special to the BDN

Many people, I among them, find it difficult to settle for ambiguity.

So I, like many of you, have been trying to get a clearer idea as to whether former Husson University President and former Conservation Commissioner William Beardsley should shoulder some shame in regard to how he dealt with the very messy case of Robert Carlson.

Bill Beardsley is a very respected person in the state — the president and CEO of Husson for 23 years, a former gubernatorial candidate, the commissioner of the Department of Conservation and now a Senate-approved appointee to the State Board of Education.

Carlson was the chaplain at Husson during Beardsley’s tenure and also served as interim head of security.

So when Carlson — former pastor at East Orrington Congregational Church, chaplain for area police and fire departments, former captain at the Penobscot County Jail, hostage negotiator, Maine Criminal Justice Academy instructor, founder of the Hope House and founder and president of Penobscot Community Health Care — jumped to his death amid allegations of decades of child sexual abuse, police investigating the case gave Mr. Beardsley a call.

Actually, Maine State Police Sgt. Troy Gardner called him on Nov. 18, just five days after Carlson jumped from the Penobscot Narrows Bridge. The respected detective called him because two days earlier he had a conversation with someone who is unidentified in the official and heavily redacted state police report into the Carlson case.

That unidentified person advised Gardner that a “previous official at Husson College knew about the abuse allegation and that there had been allegations [against Carlson] by two new Husson University students. One student went directly to Beardsley and then a third party approached Beardsley as to the abuse of another student.”

The caller told Gardner that both abused students were under the age of 18 when they were abused by Carlson.

I didn’t do the research and I’m sure there are a few or maybe a couple of 17-year-old students at Husson University at any given time, but this caller to Gardner apparently argued that Carlson had found and assaulted two of them and it had been reported to Beardsley.

The same caller placed blame on former Penobscot County Sheriff Timothy Richardson, whom the caller said had direct knowledge of the issues regarding Carlson and did nothing.

He also “gave me the name of [blanked out] and advised that [blank] also had direct knowledge of the issues regarding Bob,” Gardner wrote in the state police report. “[The caller] said [blank] knows the truth.”

So there was a lot of blame being passed around during that one interview.

All those allegations from an unidentified source are in the Maine State Police report, which was released last month. Of course, the credentials of the accuser are not mentioned, nor is his or her name. Whether any of those allegations were followed up on or substantiated in any way is not mentioned either.

That seems a bit unfair.

Beardsley claims that he received a call from a minister friend from Vermont in 2005 who told him that Bob Carlson “was not who he appeared to be” and apparently gave Beardsley the feeling that Carlson had had a homosexual affair with a theological student in Massachusetts years ago.

That Carlson might be a closet homosexual certainly was not a crime, and it’s pretty hard to criticize Beardsley for not taking any immediate action at that time.

But then there was another call that came in either 2007 or 2008. Beardsley claims someone, he can’t remember who, called and said that Carlson had participated in a sexual relationship with someone years ago and insisted that Beardsley confront Carlson with the allegation or “they would go public with it.”

Beardsley told Gardner last July that he did what the caller told him to do, that Carlson assured him he had done nothing unlawful, and that a few days later Carlson resigned his position at Husson.

Beardsley insists he never had any indication that any of Carlson’s alleged sexual indiscretions were illegal.

And other than that one unidentified, unsubstantiated accuser who makes that one mention about those two Husson students, there is really no reason to believe otherwise.

Beardsley, to this point, could certainly have believed that he had on his campus a chaplain who was a closet homosexual who was married.

Maybe not completely moral, but certainly not criminal and really no reason to involve law enforcement.

Can you hear that conversation?

“Hello. Bangor Police Department.”

“Ummm, the volunteer chaplain at my school is a married man and I have information that he may have had a homosexual affair.”


But then, there is this.

Troy Gardner first called Beardsley on Nov. 18, 2011, two days after Gardner received that phone call from the unidentified person. Beardsley already was the commissioner of the Department of Conservation.

The commissioner was in the woods for the day and had his phone off, the detective was told.

Gardner called back three days later.

The commissioner is in a meeting, he was told.

An hour later, Tony Beardsley, a lawyer and Bill Beardsley’s brother, called Gardner.

“Bill” was concerned about Husson and his current position, Tony said to Gardner, according to the report.

“Tony said Bill was concerned about information getting to the media,” Gardner wrote. “If there was an active criminal investigation, one in which someone would be charged, Bill would talk.”

Since that was not the case, Tony was advising his brother to shut up about it, he told Gardner.

Eventually, of course, eight months later, Bill Beardsley did agree to talk to Troy Gardner.

He laid out his story about the two phone calls in 2005 and 2007-2008 and denied any wrongdoing.

During that interview, which is actually one of the few reports with little redaction, there is no indication that Troy Gardner even questioned Beardsley about the allegations of abuse by the two underage Husson students.

You would assume, if the detective thought those were valid accusations, he would have used that limited opportunity with Beardsley to follow up on them. Asked for a comment Thursday, Gardner referred all inquiries to state police spokesman Stephen McCausland.

I think the the Maine State Police, with encouragement from Commissioner of Public Safety John Morris, should clear the matter up.

I think Beardsley, who was an appointed commissioner at the time and refused for 10 months to even cooperate with a state investigation, should have to explain that if he had nothing to hide.

I think it’s ambiguous — and unfair to Troy Gardner, Bill Beardsley, and you and me.

But on Friday, McCausland said the answers needed to come from Beardsley, and Beardsley said he had given his answers.

So that is that — ambiguity — like it or not.

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