December 07, 2011 | 07:35 AMELKHORN — For now, the criminal charges that were filed against a former Walworth minister have been dismissed, but that doesn't mean his legal troubles are behind him.
Joseph R. Fultz, 47, now of Milton, is accused of having knowledge of sexual abuse occurring between children at his church and Faith Christian School and not reporting it to law enforcement. He was charged with five counts of failing to report child abuse or neglect.
All those charges were dismissed Monday morning because law enforcement didn't provide evidence that Fultz had contact with any of the children who were allegedly sexually assaulted by other children. Although the complaint failed to state that Fultz had direct contact with the children, it did report that he had several meetings with parents.
Judge Robert Kennedy said Fultz probably should have reported the incidents to authorities, but he didn't legally need to based on the evidence he reviewed.
According to the criminal complaint, six boys, who are now between the ages of 6 and 12, engaged in sexual contact with each other at Faith Christian School, The Abbey Resort and in a restroom at Grace Evangelical Church, where Fultz was a minister. In the case, no adults are suspected of having sexual contact with children.
During a Monday morning hearing, Walworth County District Attorney Phillip Koss said some of the concerns Kennedy expressed with the criminal complaint could be addressed.
After Kennedy made his ruling, Koss asked the judge to keep Fultz's bond intact for another 72 hours while he decides what to do next.
"We have to determine if we are going to appeal the decision or file an amended complaint," Koss said.
Fultz appeared in court Monday morning with about half of the courtroom filled with his supporters. Another court hearing is scheduled for Wednesday morning.
Kennedy said there are several elements to crime that need to be proven. One of the elements is that the defendant is required to report the abuse.
Parents and other adults aren't required to report suspected abuse, but the law requires certain professionals, doctors, police officers, teachers, school administrators and members of the clergy to report suspected abuse.
Kennedy also said Fultz should have had reasonable suspicion of abuse, because he met with parents regarding the incidents.
However, Kennedy dropped the case because there was no evidence Fultz had direct contact with the children involved.
"I don't see any facts in the complaint that the defendant saw these children in the course of his professional duty," Kennedy said.
According to the criminal complaint:
When interviewed by authorities, Fultz said he was aware the children involved in the assaults and their families were members of Grace Evangelical Church.
Fultz told investigators he contacted the superintendent of the district church and another unidentified pastor to discuss the situation. He said after discussing the situation, it was agreed the "incident was nonreportable because of the ages of the children," according to the complaint narrative.
An investigating detective also reportedly reviewed a written report by Faith Christian Administrator Craig Skrede referring to a Jan. 7, 2010 meeting with parents about the incident at Faith Christian School. It was agreed that the school would make sure the assaults did not happen again.