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VOL. 126 | NO. 243 | Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Weirich Addresses Complexity of Sex Abuse Laws

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich knew the questions were coming when Memphis Police Department brass said Monday, Dec. 12, they are investigating child sexual abuse allegations passed on to them by leaders of the Amateur Athletic Union Friday, Dec. 9.

The two allegations, which were made public earlier last week on the ESPN television program “Outside The Lines,” involved recently retired AAU leader Bobby Dodd’s conduct with teenage boys in the 1980s in Memphis. Weirich knew there would be questions about the statute of limitations or the expiration date on filing such criminal charges after such a long period of time.

“Statute of limitations is an issue with any type of allegation, particularly when we’re talking about sex abuse. That, in and of itself, is a very technical area,” Weirich said. “In the last three decades, it has changed at least half a dozen times. What we don’t want to do by trying to explain it is encourage maybe made-up claims or discourage valid claims to be made to the Memphis Police Department.”

Both men who were interviewed by ESPN had talked with Memphis police by late Monday.

Deputy Memphis Police Chief Dave Martello and Col. Mike Ryalls declined to say how many allegations AAU officials reported to them or if the allegations were limited to the two men.

“Right now we’re doing follow-up work on where they happened, who was involved and what exactly did happen,” Martello said. “If these things happened 30 years ago, we’re going to have to look and see if there were some accusations made back then.”

Depending on the answer to that, the alleged victims could file lawsuits against the AAU in Shelby County Circuit Court claiming the organization knew or should have known Dodd was a danger to children.

That is how the recent string of child sexual abuse allegations against Memphis Catholic priests unfolded over the last six years.

There have been no criminal charges filed in those cases and no criminal complaints made.

Most of the civil allegations regarding priests were from about the era of the accusations against Dodd. Some were claims that repressed memories had surfaced after decades. Other accusers said they never forgot but didn’t take action, not realizing the abuse was a pattern of conduct.

The Catholic Diocese of Memphis first maintained there was a distinction between sexual abuse of those younger than 13 and those ages 13 to 17. The church’s basis for that was apparently a distinction made by county prosecutors in Nashville in a priest child sexual abuse case there.

But the Memphis district attorney general at the time, Bill Gibbons, made it clear his office made no distinction by age when it came to the church’s responsibility under state law to report allegations or suspicions of child sexual abuse.

Church leaders and Gibbons’ staff met on the difference of opinion in 2005. The result was the diocese agreed to report any past and future allegations of abuse to authorities. They turned over the names of about a dozen priests for possible criminal investigation. None have been charged to date.

The number more or less corresponds to the number of priests with sexual abuse allegations reported to Memphis church leaders over a 50-year period but never reported to police or state child welfare officials. That list and number comes from more than 6,000 pages of internal documents and depositions the diocese turned over to The Daily News under court order in 2010.

The records were from a John Doe lawsuit the diocese and the Dominican religious order settled for a combined $2 million just before jury selection was to start.

Most of the other lawsuits were settled as well.

One is on appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court on the issue of when an alleged victim must inquire about a pattern of such abuse. The Tennessee Appeals Court has ruled the victim must inquire in the year after he or she turns 18.

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