Separating Church and State
Lawyers in abuse case claim Salinas PD is too tight with accused priest to investigate.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Attorneys representing the victim of alleged sexual abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest have asked the Salinas Police Department to recuse itself from the case, citing an entrenched relationship between law enforcement and the alleged perpetrator.
“We believe the Salinas PD has an unavoidable conflict in this case,” lawyers John Manly and Vince Finaldi wrote in a Feb. 22 letter to Salinas Police Chief Louis Fetherolf and Deputy Chief Cassie McSorley.
Salinas police would not comment on the letter. “We’ve investigated our own employees, so I don’t know what the conflict of interest would be,” says police spokesman Lalo Villegas.
The priest, Rev. Edward Fitz-Henry, served as a chaplain or quasi-chaplain for Salinas police, and as a San Benito County sheriff’s chaplain for 15 years until he resigned that role last month.
If the investigation fell under jurisdiction of the San Benito sheriff, the department would pass it to another agency. “We would probably not investigate… so there’s no perception of impropriety,” says Sgt. Scott Becker.
Before the Diocese of Monterey suspended Fitz-Henry last month, he had been a priest at Mission San Juan Bautista since 1996, with the exception of a two-year stint at Madonna del Sasso from 2005 to 2007. The alleged abuse took place at Madonna.
The Diocese began investigating in January, an effort led by recently retired Salinas police sergeant Don Cline.
Finaldi says the Diocese’s inquiry is contaminating witnesses and undermining detectives’ ability to conduct a fair criminal investigation. Villegas, whose wedding Fitz-Henry officiated, agrees. “Why was the Diocese approached first?” he says. “In circumstances like these, the police department would be the first one notified.”