BANGOR, Maine — Former Penobscot County Sheriff Timothy Richardson — who says he voiced concerns years ago about the Rev. Robert Carlson and his relationship with young boys — said Monday that he did not write the letter that spurred a state police investigation into alleged child sex abuse involving Carlson.
In the last conversation he had with Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross, his longtime friend, Carlson said he suspected that Richardson wrote the unsigned letter, Ross told investigators.
“If I had been the author of that letter you would have known it because I would have signed it,” said Richardson, who was hired as a deputy in the early 1970s and was sheriff between 1980 and 1984. He lost the elected position in 1984 to Edward Reynolds, who served as sheriff until his death in 2002 from cancer. Richardson failed in his re-election attempts.
The former sheriff also said Monday that Ross was wrong to tell Carlson about the Maine State Police investigation and he supports Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith’s call for an investigation into Ross’ actions.
Ross, who worked with Carlson for 33 years, told him about the investigation just hours before Carlson jumped to his death from the Penobscot Narrows Bridge early on Nov. 13, 2011, according to a Waldo County Sheriff’s Department report into his suicide released last week.
Ross said he told Carlson that he was the focus of the 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.
It was a tough decision that he stands behind, Ross said Monday.
Some media outlets “made it sound like I made up a story a week later to cover myself,” the sheriff said. “That’s not me. That’s not how I operate. I don’t think there is a thing wrong with what I said” to Carlson.
Richardson, however, has a different opinion about what Ross should have told Carlson.
“If he had to tell him something he could have said the [Attorney General’s] Office was doing an investigation inside the county jail and no outside programs are being permitted,” the former sheriff said. “Being the sheriff, he need not give an explanation to anybody.”
Richardson also said that Ross’ action interfered with the investigation.
“By [Ross] telling him that, he did jeopardize the investigation,” he said. “Mr. Carlson went and talked to the victim” and Maine State Police never got the opportunity to speak with him before his death.
The Waldo County report states that Carlson met at about 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 helped found and was president of Penobscot Community Health Care; was a founder of Hope House, a Bangor shelter for people with drug and alcohol addictions; and was a previous chaplain for Husson College, the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office, and the Bangor and Brewer police and fire departments.
Ross said he received a copy of the unsigned letter that sparked the child sex abuse investigation on Nov. 10, the same day the state police inquiry began.
The unsigned letter claims that Carlson “sexually abused a young boy several years ago” while he was pastor at East Orrington Congregational Church. The letter asked for an investigation into the matter. The state police investigation is still open and should be complete in the next few weeks, the lead investigator said last week.
Ross said he decided two days after getting the letter to contact Carlson and spoke with him twice on Nov. 12. In the first discussion, he told Carlson about 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.
“It was not a secret,” he said. “It was sent to the clergy, sent to the Boy Scouts, the governor, the attorney general and me.”
In the second conversation, which occurred later in the day, Carlson said he suspected that Richardson was the author of the anonymous letter, according to Ross.
“He called me back at my house [and] he said, ‘I believe Timmy Richardson is behind them,’” Ross said, adding that “he made allegations in the past.”
Ross said the conversation lasted about two minutes and it was the last time he spoke with his longtime friend.
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 as chaplain nearly two years ago.
Richardson said he questioned Carlson’s actions in the 1970s after seeing Carlson “come into the control room [at the Penobscot County Jail] with young boys at 2, 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. It was very uncomfortable. It was just a very odd situation.”
The boys were “always troubled youth” and Carlson sometimes would rub them all over, including their buttocks, the former sheriff said.
Richardson, who was a young part-time deputy, said he reported his concerns to Otis N. LaBree, sheriff at the time, and then Penobscot County District Attorney David M. Cox, who later became a judge. Both are now deceased.
“They were concerned but they didn’t take it anywhere,” the former sheriff has said. “They didn’t want to take it anywhere. Back then they [religious leaders] were above suspicion of child abuse.”
Richardson said Carlson “knew I brought it up back then and was very angry with me.” After Richardson became sheriff, he said he asked Carlson to resign as a jail administrator.
Shortly after Smith heard about last week’s Waldo County report, he emailed Maine Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director Mary-Anne LaMarre “calling for the removal of Sheriff Ross as president of the Maine Sheriffs’ Association.”
Members of the Maine Sheriffs’ Association met the next day and agreed to conduct an inquiry into Ross’ conduct, a step required by the group’s bylaws when a member raises a complaint about another member.
Ross said he is holding his own even under the scrutiny he is facing, thanks in part to his supporters.
“This is a difficult situation,” he said. “I have had so many people call me and sending me emails saying it was hard but the right decision was made.”
BDN writer Tom Walsh contributed to this report.