PROVO — Provo police announced Tuesday that they anticipate prosecutors will file failure to report charges against an LDS bishop accused of not reporting a sex abuse incident.
The criminal charges are expected, even though the initial abuse case has been dismissed.
"When you receive a complaint of abuse, whether you think it's valid or not, you need to give us a call," Provo Police Sgt. Mathew Siufanua said Tuesday.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement Tuesday reporting that the church has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to abuse.
"Congregational leaders are instructed to obey the law and have access to a 24-hour helpline to assist them," according to the statement. "We contacted local authorities as soon as we learned of the situation and will continue to work with them until it is resolved."
Police and city prosecutors met to discuss potential misdemeanor charges of failure to report an alleged abuse against Bishop Amado Rojas in connection with an incident from August. Siufanua said prosecutors agreed to file the charge, but no charges had been filed as of Tuesday evening.
A teen girl reported that she was at a church activity when she was groped by a 30-year-old man, Siufanua said.
According to charges, the man was at a water activity with church youth when he splashed a 13-year-old girl's shirt with water, pulled her close to him and touched her inappropriately. The girl reported that the man loitered around her middle school and waited outside her Sunday School classes.
The girl apparently reported the touching to her bishop, then later reported it to police directly, Siufanua said.
The man was charged in 4th District Court with sexual abuse of a child, a second-degree felony, and stalking, a class A misdemeanor. But the charges were dismissed at a court hearing on Oct. 14. Prosecutor Craig Johnson said the decision to dismiss was made after interviewing a witness who described the touching as accidental.
"It seemed that while we could prove there was touching, we could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was for a sexual purpose," Johnson said.
He said prosecutors still believe the victim's account of events, but didn't feel they could proceed given the information they had.
Siufanua said charges against Rojas will send a message about the importance of reporting abuse, regardless of whether the report is accurate.
"We have trained investigators that go through the process of interviewing the victims, interviewing the suspect and we will figure out whether it was a valid complaint or not," he said. "But you can still be arrested for not informing police and the proper authorities even on false allegations."
He referred to the abuse scandal at Penn State as an example of the importance of reporting inappropriate behavior to authorities whether you personally witness it or hear about it firsthand.
"We have a duty to protect those who can't protect themselves, which are our children," Siufanua said. "If you reasonably believe that there is abuse that has occurred, or even may occur, … please give us a call."
Utah law requires that when someone "has reason to believe that a child has been subjected to abuse or neglect, or who observes a child being subjected to conditions or circumstances which would reasonably result in abuse or neglect, that person shall immediately notify the nearest peace officer, law enforcement agency, or office of the division."
It states that a clergyman or priest who learns of abuse from the confession of the perpetrator is not liable unless they also receive information from the alleged victim.