A Year Later, Most Documents Seized in Dallas Police Raid of Diocese Ordered Returned As Sexual Assault Investigation Continues
By David Tarrant
Dallas Morning News
May 29, 2020
|Dallas Catholic Diocese Chancellor Greg Caridi accepts boxes of documents that police had seized on May 15, 2019. State District Judge Brandon Birmingham ordered that any record that “exceeds the scope of the search warrant as written,” to be returned by police to the diocese. Some records were also exempt from disclosure because they were protected by attorney-client privilege. This shipment of boxes was returned to the diocese's pastoral center on Nov. 7, 2019. Another shipment was returned Jan. 21, 2020.(Santos Martinez The Dallas Catholic Diocese)|
A year after police searched Dallas Catholic Diocese offices for records related to allegations of sexual abuse by priests, most of the documents seized in the raid were returned to the church as beyond the scope of the police investigation. And charges have been filed against only one of the five former priests, who are targets of the investigation.
Dallas Bishop Edward Burns condemned the May 15, 2019 raid, which involved dozens of law enforcement officers, as “unnecessary and sensational,'' in a statement released by the diocese Thursday.
Church officials had already provided personnel files “for all the priests named in the warrant,” and had been cooperating with the police requests, Burns said in the statement, which reported that “99 % of the items seized” were returned to the diocese.
“The fact that almost all of the files had to be returned to us, is an indication that the raid was unnecessary and a waste of valuable police time and an unnecessary consumption of significant community resources that could have been put to much better use,” Burns said.
The records were returned to the diocese on two dates: Nov. 7, 2019 and Jan. 21, 2020, said diocesan spokeswoman Annette G. Taylor, who provided photos of the returned boxes to The Dallas Morning News.
Dallas police did not comment on how many of the seized items were returned to the diocese but said the probe into allegations of clergy sexual misconduct continues.
“The investigation remains active and ongoing,” Dallas police spokesman Carlos Almeida said.
State District Judge Brandon Birmingham, who signed the search warrant for the records, has issued several rulings that limited what records the police could keep from the highly publicized May 15, 2019 raid.
In an order issued in October, the judge specifically noted any record that “exceeds the scope of the search warrant as written,” should be returned by police to the diocese. Some records were also exempt from disclosure because they were protected by attorney-client privilege, according to the judge’s ruling.
Attorneys for the city and the diocese spent weeks in the fall reviewing about 100 boxes of records to determine what should be excluded. The documents were taken from three sites: the diocesan chancery; a warehouse storage facility; and St. Cecilia’s parish in north Oak Cliff.
In February, the judge issued his latest order declaring that digital evidence found on employee computers or servers seized in the raid must also be returned to the diocese.
“The court finds that the [search] warrant does not sufficiently describe or connect evidence of any alleged conduct with any of the seized digital evidence,” Birmingham said in the order dated February 21.
Early morning raid
The early morning raid was one of many actions taken by law enforcement in recent years against the Catholic Church across the country, where authorities in at least a dozen states opened investigations into allegations of sex abuse by priests and cover-ups by church officials.
Dallas police searched the diocese’s offices after a detective said church officials had “thwarted” his investigations into allegations of sexual abuse by priests.
Detective David Clark wrote in a search warrant affidavit the investigation is focused on five priests: Richard Thomas Brown, Alejandro Buitrago, William Joseph Hughes Jr., Jeremy Myers and Edmundo Paredes.
Clark said that he had uncovered new accusations involving the five priests who were all on a list of 31 priests “credibly accused” of sexual abuse of minors since 1950 that the Dallas diocese published on its website in January 2019.
The diocese added another name to the credibly accused list in July, bringing the total to 32. Many of the others on the list have died.
In the affidavit, Clark wrote that the diocese was making it nearly impossible for police to determine whether the accusers’ claims had been fully examined by the church and also criticized the diocese’s efforts at transparency.
Clark was not available for comment this week.
|In a file photo, Dallas Bishop Edward J. Burns enters a room at Holy Trinity Catholic Church to speak to members of the media after a police raid on several of the diocese's offices May 15, 2019. (Ryan Michalesko / Staff Photographer)|
In its statement, the diocese said it is continuing to cooperate with police investigators looking into cases of alleged sexual assault of minors, including “voluntarily providing police with the location of a laicized priest.
That information led to the only arrest so far in the case. Richard Thomas Brown, 78, was charged with one count of sexual assault of a child, was arrested in January. He was taken into custody in Missouri and extradited to Texas.
|Thomas Brown(Dallas County Sheriff's Department)|
Brown served at several North Texas churches after he was ordained in 1980, including St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Philip, both in Dallas; Holy Family of Nazareth in Irving; Our Lady of the Lake in Rockwall; and St. Mark the Evangelist in Plano.
Brown was forced out as pastor of Our Lady of the Lake in 1994 after a young woman told church leaders he had abused her in 1981, when she was a girl and he was in Washington, D.C., on a summer study leave.
The diocese said that after the accusations emerged, Brown underwent therapy and served in adult-only ministries. He was officially removed from the clergy in the last year, according to the diocese.