AG Josh Shapiro leads roundtable discussion on reforms recommended in grand jury report on sexual abuses in the Catholic church

By Terri Hill | September 18, 2018

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro met Tuesday with state legislators, district attorneys and survivors of child sexual abuse to discuss reforms recommended by a grand jury in August, that investigated sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.

State Rep. Todd Stephens announced he is sponsoring legislation to strengthen the state law governing the mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse, one of four key reforms recommended by the grand jury.

The three other reforms are:

  1. Create a “civil window” so older victims may sue for damages.  Current law gives child sex abuse victims 12 years to sue, once they turn 18.
  2. Specify that Civil Confidentiality Agreements do not cover communications with law enforcementThe Grand Jury found that the Church has used confidentiality agreements as a way to silence abuse victims from speaking publicly or cooperating with law enforcement.
  3. Eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for sexually abusing childrenCurrent law permits victims to come forward until age 50.

“We know the vulnerability of young victims of sexual abuse, and they need every protection the law allows,” Rep. Stephens said. “We need to make sure our mandatory reporting law in place has the necessary teeth to protect victims and ensure law enforcement is notified of abuse allegations and can investigate whenever it is appropriate.”

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The 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury report was released last month and identified 301 priests and more than 1,000 victims of clergy sexual abuse within six Dioceses in Pennsylvania. It also alleged a massive decades-long cover up by church leadership.

According to a class action lawsuit filed Monday in Pittsburgh against the Diocese of Pittsburgh and seven other Catholic dioceses across Pennsylvania, “Of the 301 priests identified in the report, 10 or less appear in the Pennsylvania Megan’s Law Database.”

Mr. Shapiro and Rep. Stephens were joined at the news conference by two local prosecutors – Montgomery County D.A. Steele and Bucks County D.A. Weintraub – who voiced their support for the mandatory reporting reform.

“Victims of child abuse suffer long-term consequences of their abuse,” said District Attorneys Steele and Weintraub in a statement. “This important legislation introduced by Rep. Stevens has the capability of sparing other children the devastating effects of abuse by making the penalties for failing to report abuse by mandated reporters reflect the seriousness of the offense.”

Voicing criticism of Pennsylvania Bishops Mr. Shapiro said, “When the Grand Jury released its Report, I challenged all Pennsylvania Bishops to adopt and support each of these recommended reforms to Pennsylvania law. Sadly, none of them have.”

Since taking office in January 2017 Mr. Shapiro has led a successfull effort in prosecuting sexual abuse cases. His office filed child sexual abuse charges against a western Pennsylvania police chief, a deputy coroner, a pediatrician and many others.

In 2017 his office secured convictions against the President of Penn State, Graham Spanier, and two university officials for endangering the welfare of minors in covering up child sexual abuse by former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky.

Terri Hill can be contacted at terri.hill@grantstreetnews.com

 

Class-action lawsuit filed in Pittsburgh seeks names of all clergy accused of sexual abuse

By Amanda Klein  | September 17, 2018

A class action lawsuit was filed Monday against the Diocese of Pittsburgh and seven other Catholic dioceses across Pennsylvania, seeking the names of all priests accused of child abuse since 1948.

The complaint also alleges church officials, “systemically failed to meet their reporting obligations.”  The defendants are Altoona-Johnstown, Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg and Scranton-Wilkes-Barre and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, as well as their bishops.

In addition to the names of priests, the lawsuit is seeking the release of all church records connected with abuse cases.

The suit is brought by Penn Hills resident Ryan O’Connor, who alleges in the filing that he was sexually abused as a child by a priest, and Kristen Hancock, of Mt. Lebanon, who has a child enrolled in a Catholic school.

Mr. O’Connor alleges he was abused by a Johnstown priest when he was 9 or 10 years old. He said he has two children currently enrolled in Catholic schools and is concerned that priests who have been accused of abuse, whose names have not been disclosed, are still permitted access to children.

“I try to raise my children that way. I don’t want them or any other children to have a head full of memories that I did not ask for,” he said.

“It’s a shame that public safety and common sense does not prevail,” Ms. Hancock said. “It’s a shame that the Catholic Church is still driving which information becomes public. And it’s a shame that it takes a lawsuit to seek to release these names to protect our children,” she added.

The complaint alleges that the defendants concealed the names of clergy who were accused of abuse and continue to do so.  “Of the 301 priests identified in the [grand jury report], 10 or less appear in the Pennsylvania Megan’s Law Database.”

A spokesman for the Pittsburgh Diocese responded by saying, “The Diocese of Pittsburgh requires all clergy, employees and volunteers to undergo criminal background checks and participate in child protection training, which has been done for more than 70,000 people who serve in its churches, schools and institutions.”

A Diocese of Greensburg spokesman said, “At the Diocese of Greensburg, any and every allegation, regardless of credibility, is immediately called in to Pa. ChildLine and reported to the appropriate district attorney, whether the allegation is minutes old or 70 years old.”

According to the filing and a statement from Benjamin Sweet, the attorney who filed the case, no money is being sought, just church records and the names of clergy members.

As of Monday none of the defendants named in the lawsuit have been officially served with the complaint.

Amanda Klein can be contacted at amanda.klein@grantstreetnews.com

Convicted sex offender pleads guilty to making and selling sex tapes involving a minor

By Steve Pope | September 14, 2018

Federal authorities announced Friday that a Pittsburgh resident and convicted sex offender pleaded guilty to making sexually explicit videos with a 14-year-old girl, whom he brought from Ohio, and selling them on the Internet.

Daniel Kundrat, 35, pleaded guilty to one count of sexual exploitation of children before Chief U. S. District Court Judge Joy Flowers Conti.  According to a plea agreement filed in the case Kundrat stipulated that he, “used, persuaded, induced, enticed, and coerced a 14-year-old female to engage in sexually explicit conduct, which conduct included sex acts and sexual contact, for the purpose of producing visual depictions of such conduct in video format.”

According to online court records Kundrat has seven previous convictions, some for sexual assault of a minor and possession of child pornography.

Prosecutors say on August 10, 2016, Kundrat traveled to Columbus, Ohio, picked up a 14-year old female with whom he had been communicating and brought her back to his residence in Millvale.  Over a three week period Kundrat and the teen engaged in sexual activity, which Kundrat videotaped and sold on the Internet. Authorities say Kundrat persuaded and coerced her into producing the videos.

Kundrat was arrested on Aug. 16, 2016 after he sold one of the videos to an undercover law enforcement officer who was attempting to locate the girl.

Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 9.  Kundrat faces a sentence of not less than 15 and not more than 30 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both.

Steve Pope can be contacted at steve.pope@grantstreetnews.com

 

Washington County man facing drug and firearms charges in federal court

By Amanda Klein | September 12, 2018

Federal authorities have charged a Washington, Pennsylvania man who has a significant criminal past with possession with the intent to deliver fentanyl and weapons charges.

According to the three count indictment, handed down on Wednesday, Romone Barnes, 32, distributed and possessed a large quantity of fentanyl on June 26 and Sept. 25, 2017.

The indictment also alleges that in 2013, Barnes was convicted of selling drugs in five separate felony cases filed in Washington County Common Pleas Court. Because of the convictions, Barnes was not legally permitted to possess the .380 caliber handgun and ammunition the indictment alleges he had on July 6, 2017.

Officers with the Pennsylvania State Police and Washington County District Attorney’s Office Drug Task Force conducted the investigation leading to the arrest and charges.

If convicted of both charges, Barnes faces a sentence of not less than 15 years and up to life in prison and a fine of $2,000,000, or both.

Amanda Klein can be contacted at amanda.klein@grantstreetnews.com

 

Monessen couple charged with violently abusing, burning 21-month-old toddler

By Terri Hill | September 12, 2018

A Monessen couple face multiple charges of child abuse for abusing a 21-month-old toddler over a period of several months police allege in a court document.

A doctor from UPMC Children’s Hospital notified police and CYS in July of the suspected abuse after they found significant bruises on the toddler’s buttocks and burns on the left hand.

Monessen Police wrote in a criminal complaint filed Wednesday that Amanda Billion, 33, told them her boyfriend, David Allen Jackson, Jr., 28, violently struck the child on several occasions and also stuck the child’s hands into boiling spaghetti sauce which resulted in serious burns.

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Billion admitted to police that she didn’t report the abuse or try and stop it.

Police have charged Billion by certified summons with one felony count of endangering the welfare of children. Her preliminary hearing is scheduled for Oct. 19, according to online court records.

Jackson faces aggravated assault on a child under six years old and simple assault charges.  He is currently in the Westmoreland County Prison awaiting his preliminary arraignment.

Terri Hill can be contacted at terri.hill@grantstreetnews.com

 

 

 

Man who told police he had taken pain killers charged in fatal Memorial Day accident

By Steve Pope | September 11, 2018

Sex offender sentenced to additional prison time for fleeing to Arizona

By Amanda Klein | September 10, 2018

A convicted sex offender who fled to Arizona rather than report to federal prison to serve a 10 year sentence for sexually abusing a 16-year-old girl, will serve an additional 18 months in prison, to run consecutive to his 10-year term.

Daniel Teed, 57, of Wexford, received the sentence Monday from U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab after pleading guilty in April to failing to register as a sex offender and failing to report to the Federal Correctional Institution in Loretto, Pa.

According to information presented to the court, from October 23, 2017, and continuing through February 13, 2018, Teed, who was required to register as a sex offender failed to do so.

On January 2, 2018, Teed was ordered to surrender to the prison to begin serving his sentence.  Instead he fled to Arizona, used an alias and donned a disguise.  Deputy U.S.Marshals were dispatched to multiple states and eventually developed information that Teed had traveled to Flagstaff, Az.  He was arrested in February by Deputy U.S. Marshals and local police as he was leaving a Super 8 Motel.

Teed was originally convicted for having sex with underage girls at so-called “sex parties” which were arranged by a former high school basketball coach. According to court documents at least one of the girls played on the basketball team.

Amanda Klein can be contacted at amanda.klein@grantstreetnews.com