Sham Police Investigation Into Accused California Priest

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by Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  July 31, 2019   

Bakersfield Police ignored 95% of witnesses in Msgr. Craig Harrison investigation

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A small California police department ignored 42 witnesses in its investigation of Msgr. Craig Harrison's alleged sex abuse of male minors.

Church Militant obtained the 114-page investigative file from the Bakersfield Police Department, which announced July 25 it had closed its investigation into Harrison, accused by at least six men (although the actual number appears to be much higher) of sexual misconduct.

Harrison was placed on leave by the diocese of Fresno three months ago after allegations of abuse by multiple males. The day his investigation was closed, he gave a tearful press conference, where he claimed he was the target of "false allegations."

Ignoring Dozens of Witnesses

But a review of the file shows that Lead Investigator Randy Petris failed to interview 42 direct and indirect witnesses to Harrison's misconduct.

The stunning omissions have led critics to believe Bakersfield police — already suspected of being compromised for their longstanding friendship with Harrison, who served as their chaplain — conducted a sham investigation.

The stunning omissions have led critics to believe Bakersfield police conducted a sham investigation.

Petris conducted all the interviews, which in all totaled around 14.

One accuser, an Iraq war veteran, claims that as an adolescent altar boy, Harrison would grab his waist in the empty sacristy and grind his groin against the boy's, or engage in wrestling with him that became sexual in nature. 

Petris concluded there was insufficient evidence to corroborate the claims.

Another accuser detailed his abuse at age 16 to the victims' assistance coordinator in the Fresno diocese, claiming Harrison had the boy sit on his lap while the priest touched himself under his shorts.

Initially seated across the desk from Msgr. Craig, he said, "come over here" and guided [alleged victim] to sit on his lap. Msgr. Craig started to massage his back in a manly way and then the touch got softer. ... Msgr. Craig then put his hand in his right pocket and he could hear jingling of coins and so he asked what he was doing and Msgr. Craig said he was getting money out of his pocket to give to him, he felt that he was really stroking or rubbing himself.

When the boy stood up, Harrison yelled, "You are f***ing ungrateful for what I am trying to do to help you." In his own statement to police, the alleged victim claims Harrison had an erection when he stood up.

Petris told him Harrison's conduct did not rise to the level of a crime, and even if it did, it was beyond the statute of limitations.

July 25 press conference in which Msgr. Craig Harrison thanks the Bakersfield Police Department
for closing its investigation into misconduct allegations
 

In the Bakersfield police investigative file is an email dated Apr. 17, 2019 from Br. Justin Gilligan, one of Harrison's accusers, writing to Teresa Dominguez, spokeswoman for the diocese of Fresno. In the email, Gilligan sets forth the names and contact information of 28 individuals with information on Harrison's alleged misconduct.

In a follow-up email, Gilligan provided two more names, including that of Stephen Brady, founder of Roman Catholic Faithful, whose own investigation in 2008 involved a former FBI agent who uncovered alleged abuse by Harrison of male teens.

Out of a total of 30 names given by Gilligan, the Bakersfield police interviewed only one.

Another monk, Br. Charles Rodriguez, offered 14 witness names to the Fresno diocese. The diocese turned over the email to Bakersfield police — who, again, only interviewed one: Roy Keenan, one of Harrison's adopted sons, who has publicly defended the priest while characterizing the accusers as liars.

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Excerpt from Br. Justin Gilligan's Apr. 17 email providing 28 witness names

Among the individuals not interviewed by Petris:

  • A religious sister who once said something needs to be done about "getting those boys out of his [Harrison's] bed"
  • A former RCIA director whose son was among those in Harrison's inner circle
  • A doctor close to Harrison, who offered seminarians free doctors' visits and prescribed medicine for Harrison "which there is a lot of"
  • An errand boy at St. Francis Church, Harrison's parish, who could provide information about his "open rectory with minors, money issues, lying, manipulating, etc."
  • A person in financial planning involved in a deal with Harrison that went wrong involving $800,000
  • The sacristan of St. Francis Church with information on the "open rectory" 
  • A deacon who has spent a great deal of time at the parish with Harrison
  • An individual whose house is on church property and who helps Harrison with media and printing
  • A former secretary in the church office
  • A personal trainer
  • A security guard at the parish
  • A Fresno seminarian
  • A young man in rehab
  • A number of employees and volunteers at St. Francis Church who spent many hours with Harrison and witnessed his conduct with minors

Church Militant contacted Stephen Brady, one of the names offered as a witness, who confirmed he was never interviewed.

"An officer from the Bakersfield Police Department did call me when I was in Fresno for a press conference earlier this year, asking that I drive or get a cab to the police station," Brady told Church Militant. "I asked instead that they interview me at my hotel room or send a squad car to get me. They refused."

He noted that the Firebaugh Police Department, which is conducting a separate investigation of Harrison, sent an officer to drive several hours to interview Brady at his hotel.

Although Petris had conducted a phone interview with another individual during the investigation, he chose not to interview Brady by phone.


 

Church Militant asked Sgt. Nathan McCauley, spokesman for the Bakersfield Police Department, why none of those individuals were interviewed, and why they decided to close the investigation without talking to any of them. He has offered no comment as of press time.

On Wednesday, Church Militant asked McCauley for his response to claims that Bakersfield police are "compromised" owing to their longstanding friendship and association with Harrison as their chaplain.

"I don't believe that's the case," said McCauley. "Feel free to look through the investigation," which he believed speaks for itself.

Church Militant asked the Fresno diocese for its reaction, but its spokeswoman said they were unable to comment while their own investigation was ongoing.

Church Militant also contacted two of Harrison's alleged victims (we have not been given permission to release their names), who expressed shock and disappointment that so many witnesses were not interviewed. 

Contradictory Testimony

Several witnesses, including two of Harrison's adopted sons, claimed they saw no inappropriate touching or horse play with the priest, while another man who spent time with Harrison in the 1990s and who defended his character, admitted he did in fact witness the priest rough-housing and engaging in horseplay with multiple minors, both male and female.

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(Photo credit: KGET)

His testimony goes against that of Harrison's own, whose statement to police categorically denies that he ever engaged in horse play. This contradiction is not addressed by Petris during his questioning of Harrison.

Only days after Bakersfield police closed its investigation into Harrison, his parish was found vandalized, the word "rape" spray-painted in multiple places around the church. Local police are still investigating the incident.

Both the Firebaugh and Merced police departments are continuing their investigations into Harrison for separate abuse allegations. The Fresno diocese continues to look into the claims to determine whether Harrison will be returned to active ministry.

 

 

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