BANGOR, Maine — Whether anyone can be held responsible legally for not reporting the Rev. Robert Carlson’s sexual abuse of children outlined in a Maine State Police report released this week was unclear Friday.
Because Carlson committed suicide last year shortly after learning he was under investigation, he obviously could not be charged with a crime, R. Christopher Almy, district attorney for Penobscot County, said in an interview Friday.
Whether an individual who suspected Carlson might have been abusing children could be charged with a crime for failing to notify officials is unclear, the veteran prosecutor said.
“This office has never prosecuted someone for not reporting suspected abuse,” Almy said.
The intent of the law, according to Almy, was to encourage people to report suspected abuse, not to punish them for not reporting it.
The statute, first passed in 1965 and amended several times since then, says: “The following adult persons shall immediately report or cause a report to be made to the department [of Health and Human Services] when the person knows or has reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been or is likely to be abused or neglected or that a suspicious child death has occurred.”
The law then lists 32 categories of professionals required to report immediately suspected physical or sexual abuse of children to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
Those categories include doctors, nurses, dentists, teachers, guidance counselors, school bus drivers, school officials, social workers, youth camp administrators, homemakers, mental health counselors and law enforcement officials.
Theoretically, that could include the former president of Husson University, a Penobscot County sheriff’s deputy and detective, a Bangor police officer and a therapist who treated some of Carlson’s victims. They said they had either received information about or witnessed Carlson engage in criminal or inappropriate sexual behavior over the last four decades, according to information in the portion of the state police report made public Wednesday.
In the interview at his office Friday, Almy said the statute was not clear about whether a mandatory reporter could be prosecuted for not reporting abuse.
“If there is any kind of evidence that a mandated reporter in this situation failed to report, then you have to look to see whether or not the statute is clear and says, in fact, that if there is a failure to report, whether it is a criminal offense, a civil offense or any offense at all,” Almy said. “My reading of the statute is that it is vague on that point. Vague.”
The district attorney said that other factors would influence a decision about whether to prosecute someone.
“Then we’d have to look to see … whether or not there is a statute of limitations on reporting,” he said. “For instance, if a child reported in the year 2000 to a mental health professional that he or she was abused, does that mean that 12 years later we can bring a prosecution? I would be concerned about that.
“Then, of course, we’d have to see whether or not it is in the state’s interest, in the public’s interest to prosecute somebody for not reporting,” he concluded. “There’s all kinds of considerations here.”
The investigation into Carlson’s activities began last year after Almy’s office received a letter accusing the minister of sexual abuse. The district attorney said he referred the investigation to the state police because Carlson was associated with the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office, which normally would investigate incidents of abuse reported in Orrington.
Almy said he had yet to receive a copy of the state police report and did not know when it would arrive in his office or how long it would take him review it.