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LDS bishop charged with failure to report

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Sandy city prosecutors have charged an LDS bishop for failing to report the alleged sexual abuse of a teenage church member.

David Maxwell, 36, was originally charged with failure to report, a class B misdemeanor, for not coming to police in December 1999 when he learned about the alleged sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl.Maxwell waited until February to contact police after the girl also disclosed the information to an LDS seminary teacher, who then spoke with Maxwell, according to a Sandy police report. The boy who allegedly committed the assault faces charges in juvenile court.

Sandy prosecutors have filed a motion to reduce the charge to an infraction, a routine procedure that helps cases move along more quickly "if they think that's what is warranted," said Rick Davis, Sandy community affairs director. The maximum penalty for an infraction is a $500 fine.

A bench trial was scheduled to begin Wednesday before Sandy Justice Court Judge Donald Sawaya but was postponed because a prosecution witness was unavailable.

"We have every reason to believe that Bishop Maxwell handled this situation properly, in full accordance with Utah law and church policy," said LDS Church attorney Von G. Keetch in a statement. "We expect him to be exonerated by the judicial process."

Maxwell's attorney, John Walsh, was not available at press time Wednesday.

Davis said he doesn't know of a clergy person ever charged for failing to report a sex abuse case, but "the chances of it happening are not too remote probably, given the number of LDS people that live in the city."

The reason Sandy prosecuted Maxwell is because "there was a (alleged) crime and it wasn't handled properly by (Maxwell)," said Sandy Police Department spokesman Kevin Thacker. "It's not a family matter, it's a criminal matter, and it's not up to anyone who doesn't do this for a living and understand what the laws are to make these decisions. It's got to be handled by the proper authorities."

According to the report, Maxwell learned of the rape in December. He then interviewed the victim at least three times and also spoke with the boy involved. The police report states Maxwell told police he sought other church leaders and the LDS Confidential Offices for legal advice. "Maxwell said he was informed that his obligation was to not report," according to the police report.

"I don't know at what point the waters became so muddied," Thacker said.

While it is not uncommon for clergy to be faced with this type of delicate information, a law passed in 1994 makes it clear that when any kind of child abuse, child sexual abuse or neglect has taken place, an adult person or institution with knowledge of that act is required to contact authorities, Thacker said. Failure to do so is a crime.

In 1995, the LDS Church established a 24-hour toll-free help line for ecclesiastical leaders in the United States and Canada who become aware of abuse involving church members. The church has also published a pamphlet that gives ecclesiastical leaders guidance on dealing with child-abuse cases. Salt Lake City attorney Roger Cutler said he is unaware of any cases ever being filed in the area against clergy who fail to report child abuse, unless they are directly involved with the crime.

E-mail: hans@desnews.com and dobner@desnews.com

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