Jeff Anderson Files Lawsuit against Archdiocese in Convicted St. Paul Priest's Case, Blasts County Attorney
By Emily Gurnon
January 30, 2014
Documents via Jeff Anderson & Associates:
[Criminal Complaint 1]
[Criminal Complaint 2]
[Emails Between Archdiocese and SPPD June 20-21, 2012]
[Wehmeyer Docs - Highlighted]
[Photo of Nienstedt]
[Photo of Wehmeyer]
The lawyer for the victim of a Twin Cities priest convicted of child sexual abuse accused the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis on Thursday of hiding evidence and obstructing the investigation into his crime.
Attorney Jeff Anderson also criticized Ramsey County Attorney John Choi for declining to charge archdiocese officials with failure to report sexual abuse, obstruction of legal process or aiding an offender in the case of the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer.
"Law enforcement and John Choi chose to give them a pass," said Anderson, a St. Paul lawyer who has represented many church abuse victims.
"They did not treat them nor have they treated them like ordinary suspects in a criminal enterprise."
Archdiocese spokesman Jim Accurso said Anderson's accusations were "false, inflammatory and misleading."
"We take particular exception to his unfounded assumptions regarding the intent and actions of Archbishop (John) Nienstedt, who has been resolute in his commitment to strictly adhering to both canon and civil laws," Accurso said in a statement.
"We wish to reassert that we have cooperated with civil authorities and will continue to do so."
Anderson's comments came a day after Choi announced there was insufficient evidence to charge church officials in the Wehmeyer case.
Also Wednesday, Washington County Attorney Pete Orput announced that the Rev. Jonathan Shelley, a priest who had served in Mahtomedi and Hugo, would not be charged with possession of child pornography.
Wehmeyer, 49, was assigned to Blessed Sacrament church in St. Paul when he sexually abused two underage boys in the summer of 2010. Some incidents of abuse occurred in Wehmeyer's camper in the church parking lot.
Wehmeyer pleaded guilty in 2012 to abusing the boys and possessing child pornography. He was sentenced last year to five years in prison.
On Thursday, Anderson sued on behalf of one of Wehmeyer's victims and his mother. The lawsuit names Wehmeyer and the archdiocese as defendants.
Choi said Wednesday that his office examined evidence collected by police regarding whether archdiocese officials waited beyond the required 24 hours to report Wehmeyer's actions to police.
It appeared officials did not violate the law, Choi said.
Anderson called Choi's legal analysis of that issue "defective and deficient."
"This lawsuit is designed to do what John Choi should have done and didn't," Anderson said. Through civil procedure, attorneys will take depositions of archdiocese officials under oath and obtain information that the public needs to know, he said.
Anderson also said St. Paul police and the county attorney's office should have been more aggressive in pursuing evidence and filing charges.
"They did not execute one search warrant," Anderson said. "They did not seize one file. They did not depose or take under oath the testimony of any of those top officials."
Choi characterized some of Anderson's comments as "personal attacks."
"A lot of things he said, I believe, are untrue or very unfair exaggerations," Choi said.
St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith said Wednesday that investigators cannot request information or execute search warrants without probable cause.
Among the archdiocese officials' disturbing actions, according to Anderson:
-- The Rev. Kevin McDonough, then the "delegate for safe environment" and a former vicar general, went with Deacon John Vomastek, a retired St. Paul police senior commander, to "tip off" Wehmeyer that he was about to be arrested -- giving Wehmeyer a day to potentially destroy evidence and move his camper to storage in Oakdale.
-- McDonough and Vomastek collected from Wehmeyer his laptop computer and a gun he owned. They did not turn over the computer to police until four days later.
-- After archdiocese officials were made aware of the allegation against Wehmeyer, Nienstedt directed archdiocese victim advocate Greta Sawyer to interview the child, "instead of turning it (the case) over to police," Anderson said.
-- According to a letter by Nienstedt obtained Wednesday by Minnesota Public Radio, the archbishop learned of the sexual abuse allegation involving Wehmeyer on June 18, 2012. Yet the archdiocese did not notify police until June 21, Anderson said emails show.
Police spokesman Howie Padilla said Thursday that investigators did not have a copy of the Nienstedt memo before Wednesday. Choi said his office did not, either.
The archdiocese responded that Nienstedt's letter was written by former chancellor of canonical affairs Jennifer Haselberger for the archbishop to sign. The June 18 date reflected her "perception of the timeline" and was inaccurate, the archdiocese said.
Haselberger last spring resigned in protest of the archdiocese's handling of the sexual abuse cases; she made her concerns public in the fall.
As to the timeline of events as outlined by Anderson, "we had three prosecutors take a look at this," Choi said. "We have to prove (failure to report abuse) beyond a reasonable doubt," and convince 12 members of a jury to get a conviction, he said.
"There's certainly a lack of clarity on some of these issues," Choi continued. "Just because one person interprets it one way it doesn't necessarily make it so, and if there's an alternative reasonable explanation or interpretation, that ... creates a reasonable doubt."
For instance, it is possible McDonough's intent in visiting Wehmeyer before he was arrested was simply to get him off church property, said Richard Dusterhoft, director of the criminal division of the county attorney's office.
Choi said Anderson should have done his homework about the law regarding obstruction of legal process.
"Memo to Jeff Anderson: I don't have jurisdiction over the prosecution of obstruction of legal process," Choi said. Under state law, that charge, a gross misdemeanor, would fall to the St. Paul city attorney.
The bottom line, Choi said: his office got Wehmeyer convicted.
Padilla, the police spokesman, also said that if someone has documents that might be useful to an investigation, police want to receive them.
Regarding new information, such as the memo reported by MPR, "we will examine it to determine whether a reopening of any investigation is warranted," Padilla said. "At this time, we have not reopened any investigation."
In cases involving church officials, "The chief has said all along that the police department will investigate allegations of criminal behavior regardless of whom those allegations are against," Padilla said. "We have done so and will continue to do so."
Read the lawsuit at TwinCities.com. Mara H. Gottfried contributed to this report. Emily Gurnon can be reached at 651-228-5522. Follow her at twitter.com/emilygurnon.