Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Failure to report?
Sex acts allegedly occurred in church, school

by Robert Ireland & Chris Schultz

June 23, 2011

Elkhorn — A former Walworth minister may not be the only adult who will face charges of failing to report child abuse or neglect, according to Walworth County District Attorney Phil Koss.

“There could be potential for other defendants depending on where this case goes,” Koss said in a telephone interview on Monday.

Joseph R. Fultz, 47, of 103 Prairie Drive, Walworth, former pastor of Grace Evangelical Church, Walworth, is charged with five misdemeanor counts of failing to report child abuse or neglect.

The charges stem from incidents involving six boys, now between the ages of 7 and 12, who engaged in sex acts on each other from Sept. 1 to Dec. 21, 2009, and again March 20, this year.

Faith Christian Letter to Parents

According to the criminal complaint, incidents occurred in a restroom at Grace Evangelical Church and Faith Christian School, Williams Bay. Another incident reportedly happened at the Abbey Resort in Fontana, and a fourth allegedly took place at a private residence in Walworth.

According to a report from the DA’s office, Fultz, as pastor, met with five boys he allegedly knew had been abused by other boys but he did not report it to the authorities.

Fultz is free on a $5,000 signature bond. His next court appearance is set for 8:15 a.m. Thursday, June 23, before Walworth County Judge David Reddy.

Fultz recently resigned as pastor of Grace Evangelical Church in Walworth.

Koss said Faith Christian School is cooperating with law enforcement. However, he declined to state whether they reported the incident that occurred in the school.

State law requires adults — professionals including teachers, administrators and pastors — to report sexual assaults involving children. Koss said the law requires professionals who have a “reasonable suspicion” to come forward.

“It’s a very low threshold,” Koss said.

Parents don’t fall into this reporting requirement.

Koss said the sex acts were only allegedly perpetrated by children.

“There is no allegation that adults were involved in these acts,” Koss said.

Asked whether charges might be filed against some of the youngsters in juvenile court, Koss said he couldn’t comment on juvenile proceedings. However, because of the ages of the children involved, he didn’t think charges would be filed.

Law enforcement first learned of the sexual assaults when a parent reported it.

According to the criminal complaint, the first three charges allege that some time on or between Sept. 1 and Dec. 21, 2009, Fultz, in his capacity as a pastor, saw and talked to two boys, one age 5 or 6, and the other age 10, and had cause to suspect that the boys had been abused or were threatened with sexual abuse. Fultz did not report that suspicion to the authorities.

The last two charges allege that on or about March 30, 2011, Fultz talked with a two boys, one age 7 and another 6, and, again, had reason to believe the boys had been abused or had been threatened with abuse, but did not report it to authorities.

On each count, Fultz could be fined no more than $1,000 and spend no more than six months in jail.

According to the narrative in the complaint, authorities learned of the complaint through parents who reported it to Walworth County Child Advocacy Center.

During one of the encounters, one of the boys involved in the sexual assault invited his companions to join him in “The Weiner Club.”

According to the complaint narrative:

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 that the “incident was nonreportable because of the ages of the children,” according to the complaint narrative.

Investigators also talked with teachers at Faith Christian, and were told that Fultz came to the school and pulled children out of class to question them about one of the incidents.

An investigating detective also reportedly reviewed a written report by Craig Skrede, administrator at Faith Christian, 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.

Officials at Faith Christian School, where one of the alleged incidents took place, stated in a letter addressed to parents of its students saying that no sex club exists or has ever existed at the school.

It further stated Fultz was never assigned to conduct any investigations at Faith Christian School.

“Pastor Fultz was never affiliated with Faith Christian School other than being a parent of a student at the school,” the unsigned letter read in part.

The letter also states that Faith Christian officials were made aware of only one incident, and that in January 2010, two 5-year-olds “may have touched each other inappropriately during a bathroom break after gym. There were no allegations of any sexual conduct or assault.”

School officials met with the parents of the two children and with their consent have a plan to monitor the two boys during bathroom breaks, the letter says.

“The board and administration are confident that when all of the facts are revealed, not only will it be clear that Faith Christian has acted responsibly, but that the students of Faith Christian remain safe from harm,” the letter concludes.

When contacted by phone, Skrede referred the Regional News to Brian Pollard, a member of the school’s board of directors.

Pollard, who returned a Regional News phone call, said the school stands by the letter it released earlier in the week. He said he preferred not to comment directly on the DA’s complaint. He added that the school officials handled the situation responsibly.

According to the narrative in the criminal complaint, one incident occurred in rest room at Grace Evangelical Church, and another was in a rest room at Faith Christian School, Williams Bay. Another incidents reportedly happened at the Abbey Resort in Fontana and a fourth allegedly took place at a private residence in Walworth.

“I believe with the information we had, we responded properly,” Pollard said.