Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

DA files charges against minister again
Judge Kennedy has twice dismissed case

by Rob Ireland

January 26, 2012

ELKHORN — A judge twice dismissing criminal charges against a former Walworth minister hasn’t dissuaded the District Attorney’s Office from pursuing the case.

On Monday, Walworth County District Attorney Phil Koss filed, for the third time, a criminal complaint against Joseph R. Fultz, who was the minister at Grace Evangelical Church.

Fultz is accused of having knowledge, but not reporting to law enforcement, sexual assaults that occurred between young boys at his church, at Faith Christian School and at the Abbey Resort. Fultz is not accused of having direct inappropriate contact with children.

Judge Robert Kennedy dismissed the first two criminal complaints because they failed to show Fultz made direct contact with the children during the course of his “professional duty.”

Fultz, 47, now of Milton, faces five misdemeanor counts of failing to report child abuse or neglect. Each misdemeanor charge carries a maximum penalty of nine months imprisonment and $10,000 in fines. Each count is related to a child that Fultz allegedly had knowledge of being sexually assaulted.

State law requires certain professionals — teachers, members of the clergy, doctors — to report suspected child abuse to authorities. However, the law also requires that those professionals need to have direct contact with the children.

In an e-mail, Koss said he decided to continue to pursue the charges because it is important to safeguard children from sexual assaults.

“I think it’s crucial that those who watch over the welfare of children, know there have been sexual assaults, and our mandated reporters follow the law so kids are safe,” Koss wrote in an e-mail Monday.

In a phone message, one of the victim’s parents said she, and others, are attending the court hearings to support the truth. The Regional News is not identifying the parent because her child is allegedly the victim of sexual abuse.

“(The victim’s families) are not there in support of the pastor,” the woman said. “They are there in support of the truth and what really happened and how really wrong it was.”

In the newest criminal complaint, Koss includes more details about a meeting that allegedly occurred between Fultz, one of the victims and that victim’s parents.

What’s included in the newest complaint, but not in the previous two, is that one of the victim’s parents told law enforcement that their son directly told Fultz about the sexual assaults.

In a meeting with Fultz, and another church elder, the parents were advised not to talk to anyone about the incident and to “give it over to God,” according to the criminal complaint.

On Monday morning, Fultz pleaded not guilty to all five misdemeanor charges.

“We intend to actively contest this manner,” Fultz’s attorney, Steven Harvey, said during Monday morning’s court hearing.

After the hearing, Harvey said he plans to make arguments similar to the ones that led to the previous two complaints being dismissed.

Harvey said his first impression of the complaint filed Monday is that there isn’t new information relating to a few of the alleged victims. However, the latest complaint does provide new information relating to at least on of the victims.

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 after discussing the situation, it was agreed the “incident was nonreportable because of the ages of the children.”

The sexual assaults allegedly occurred between boys who at the time of the incidents were between the ages of 5 and 11.

One of the incidents involved an 11-year-old boy pinning down a 6-year-old and attempting to assault him.

Inside of Fultz’s office at the church, several boys, Fultz and the victim’s parents talked about the incidents.

Another incident occurred inside a restroom at Grace Evangelical Church. After the incident, a church official contacted the boy’s parents and told them about it.

The parents met with the church board. After that meeting, Fultz called the victim’s father and advised him he didn’t need to report the incident.

The complaint also outlines some of the duties of the pastor of the church, according to the Grace Church Constitution and bylaws.

The duties include “Earnestly seeking the salvation of the lost,” and “watching over the spiritual care of the congregation.”