In North Baltimore Aquatic Club Sex Abuse Scenario, We Wait For More Documents and Victims to Emerge

Published October 26th, 2012, Uncategorized

In the wake of the Rick Curl arrest in Montgomery County, Maryland, let’s go back to where we left off with Michael Phelps’ team, the North Baltimore Aquatic Club (NBAC). I’m calling for the open release of more documentation of local law enforcement and child protection agencies’ roles in the 2010-11 dissemination of information regarding a former swimmer’s claim that she had been molested in the distant past by the club’s Hall of Fame founder, Murray Stephens. (So far this blog is alone in naming Stephens, whom NBAC quietly dumped last fall.)

In a letter yesterday to Chief James W. Johnson of the Baltimore County police (full text below), I dispute the department’s refusal to release the October 2011 record of the referral of the NBAC investigation to the Crime Against Children Unit. With USA Swimming’s alleged 2010 letter “missing” from the police files, I also raise these related questions:

* an explanation of police policies on retention and disposal of documents

* whether the officers with first-hand knowledge of the USA Swimming letter will be made available for interviews

* same question with respect to the Crime Against Children Unit detectives who contacted the alleged victim last year

*****

Dear Chief Johnson:

Through your public information officer, Corporal Cathleen Batton, Department legal counsel Officer Shawn Vinson has explained the denial of my Maryland Public Information Act request for the October 2011 document by which the Baltimore County Police Department referred to the Crime Against Children Unit information regarding an allegation of sexual abuse by a coach at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club.

I will outline why I, in turn, am studying whether to seek review of this decision by the circuit court. But the burden of this letter is further below, in as-yet-unanswered narrative questions regarding Baltimore County’s role in the North Baltimore Aquatic Club investigation. Today’s news of the arrest in Montgomery County of prominent swimming coach Rick Curl underscores the fact that the public is processing these questions in the context of a widespread scandal of systematic sex abuse and related cover-up in our national youth swimming program. Narrow rulings on record-release applications, even if technically justified, do not begin to discharge the responsibilities of law enforcement to educate the public on this issue and promote community safety.

I am consulting with experts on the First Amendment and the Maryland statute on the grounds of the October 2011 document denial. According to Officer Vinson, Maryland Code of Regulation 16.03.02.01 preempts the public information act by prohibiting the release of all Department of Juvenile Services records. That strikes me as overbroad: by such an interpretation, any county employee seeking to block disclosure of any sort of malfeasance could achieve this end simply by forwarding relevant documents to Juvenile Services. More fundamentally, the public interest is ill served by failure simply to use privacy-protecting measures such as the redaction of names, and to clear for release historical records of closed cases — of which the Department has characterized the instant matter as one.

Now allow me to proceed to the other questions, to which the Department in its discretion, and in my view misguidedly, so far has declined to respond.

USA Swimming claims to have sent a letter to Baltimore County Police in 2010 but refuses to release it. Your Department first said it needed more specifics from reporters in order to search for the document. However, after I also requested the 2011 referral to the Crime Against Children Unit, the Department suddenly had a detailed recollection of the USA Swimming letter, including an unsolicited opinion that it contained no useful hard information — while simultaneously stating that the letter itself possibly is missing from your files due to “the passage of time”: a mere two years.

Sir, the above sequence stretches credulity.

Accordingly, I respectfully request that you explain the Department’s policies on retention and disposal of documents. In addition, I request that you make available for interviews the officers with first-hand knowledge supporting the assertion of the existence of the USA Swimming letter, as well as the description of its contents. Finally, in light of the denial of my request for release of the Crime Against Children Unit referral, I ask that you make available to me the detectives who contacted the alleged North Baltimore Aquatic Club victim between October 5, 2011, and October 11, 2011.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Irvin Muchnick