St. Paul Police Reopen Hugo Priest Child Porn Investigation
By Richard Chin and Emily Gurnon
October 8, 2013
|The Rev. Jonathan Shelley (Courtesy photo)|
St. Paul police Tuesday reopened their child pornography investigation involving a Hugo priest and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Police on Sept. 29 had closed their investigation into allegations the Rev. Jonathan Shelley possessed child pornography on his computer after discs turned over by the archdiocese contained only adult porn.
Less than a week later, the case took a twist.
Nine years ago, a Hugo parishioner who once owned the house where Shelley lived had obtained the priest's computer, saw sexual images on it and reported them to the archdiocese. That man, Joe Ternus, said he remembered last week that he had copied files from the device's hard drive before he turned it over to the archdiocese in 2004.
On Friday, he gave those files to police.
Police have received "several pieces of new information" about the allegations involving porn on a computer hard drive, police spokesman Howie Padilla said Tuesday.
"Today we decided it is imperative for us to reopen the investigation," he said.
Padilla said he would not elaborate on what was in the files or the source of the information.
"On Friday, we received information from an individual, not necessarily an individual connected with the archdiocese," Padilla said.
"We are concentrating on the information that came forward, not the person or persons that brought that information to us."
He said the investigation "was closed pending further information. We now have further information. We're going to work to get the answers."
The original police investigation began this year after an archdiocese official told the Ramsey County attorney's office about Shelley's computer.
The official, Jennifer Haselberger, resigned as chancellor for canonical affairs April 30 because she said the church was not acting on her concerns regarding Shelley and another priest, Curtis Wehmeyer. Wehmeyer received a five-year prison sentence in February for sexually abusing two boys and for possession of child pornography.
The Shelley case was investigated by a forensic expert hired by the archdiocese, according to a police report. Haselberger told police that the private investigation report stated that child porn images were on Shelley's hard drive.
But the archdiocese's lawyer "declined to provide the written documentation (to police) saying they were the product of their investigation," according to a report from the original police investigation.
Padilla would not say whether the archdiocese report was part of the new information leading to the reopening of the investigation.
"What the archdiocese is doing is independent of what the St. Paul police department is doing," he said.
When asked if the new investigation could lead to other charges, such as obstruction of justice, Padilla said, "We have new information now, and we're going to follow the track that that new information takes us to. If that new information takes us to the track of farther allegations or other possible criminal activity, we'll follow that to its end."
A statement by Barbara Dorris, outreach director of the Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests, said the support group is grateful the case has been reopened.
But, she said, "we're confused as to why law enforcement officials weren't more aggressive about this case to begin with."
"This is going to be handled as any investigation we handle," Padilla said. "It doesn't matter that it's the archdiocese at all."
"At this time, we have new information and we have more questions than we have answers," he said.
Shelley's lawyer, Paul Engh, said Shelley's computer did not contain child pornography.
"Two sets of eyes have looked at the discs, and they come to the same conclusion: They don't contain child pornography," Engh said, referring to the original St. Paul police investigation and the archdiocese investigation.
Engh said the copy of the files turned over to police Friday won't contain incriminating images or information that wasn't on the discs originally given to authorities.
"The data is the data," he said. "They can check it and recheck it all they want."
An archdiocese spokesman could not be contacted Tuesday. The archdiocese's lawyer has previously characterized Haselberger as a "disgruntled former employee."
Shelley, 52, of Minneapolis, had been placed on leave by the archdiocese during the investigation.
Richard Chin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-228-5560. Follow him at twitter.com/RRChin. Emily Gurnon can be reached at email@example.com or 651-228-5522. Follow her at twitter.com/emilygurnon.