Express-Times Opinion Staff, EDITORIAL: If everyone knew, why didn’t anyone confront Ed Bullock?, Lehigh Valley Live (Aug. 17, 2014, 6:30AM), http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2014/08/editorial_if_everyone_knew_why.html
The public needs answers about what happened between former Warren County Sheriff Edward Bullock, now 85, and a 37-year-old man who alleges that Bullock sexually abused him when he was 10 and 11, while in the sheriff’s custody.
That question is likely to be answered in a criminal trial yet to be scheduled, or perhaps by a negotiated settlement. Earlier this year Bullock was indicted on charges of aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault. He pleaded not guilty and rejected a plea bargain that would have sent him to prison for seven years.
A criminal prosecution based on 26-year-old evidence and youthful memories is a daunting task — but delayed justice is worth pursing in this case.
Circumstantially, many people may already have convicted Bullock in their minds, knowing his predilection for young boys — an open secret in county offices throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Yet until now, Bullock was never charged with abusing any children. Eventually he was caught in a sting, pleading guilty in 1991 to official misconduct for seeking sexual favors from a state policeman posing as a teenager. He spent nine months in jail, and still receives a public pension of about $1,600 a month.
While the criminal case seeks to address a long-smoldering “smoke-fire” suspicion about a disgraced public official, its outcome holds enormous consequence for a civil lawsuit filed by the alleged victim — and the question of whether Warren County is liable because employees looked the other way and failed to act responsibly when they witnessed Bullock’s behavior and at least the potential for child abuse.
Regardless of the outcome of the criminal case, the county failed to take reasonable measures to protect children in its care. As in the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State, it’s fair to ask why Warren County employees didn’t intervene — to confront Bullock directly, interview boys favored by the sheriff, follow up with parents, set stricter rules for transporting kids, set a trap? The fact that Bullock was an independent elected official with strong political and personal connections may explain why people were reluctant to act; it doesn’t excuse it.
In a three-part series last week, Express-Times staffer Matthew Bultman reported on interviews conducted by a detective working for the plaintiff in the civil case. They shed light on how county employees made light of the sheriff’s behavior with boys, and on an office culture that condoned it:
- Despite having a “general knowledge” of the sheriff’s alleged behavior, “no one seemed to care” and it became a running joke, a retired sheriff’s employee said. “Everybody that was involved in the Warren County Courthouse and the surrounding politics knew,” another officer said.
- John Polhemus, a freeholder from 1986 to 1992, said he believed it was “common knowledge” among many that “there was a problem.” He said he feared civil lawsuits might be filed against the county and expressed that concern to other freeholders.
- Members of the sheriff’s department commented about having to leave their offices when Bullock brought a boy into his office. “Oh, the sheriff’s got a kid in his office now you know, and they’d get like a little smirk or a giggle, or it was just understood kind of throughout the whole courthouse that Sheriff Bullock was interested in boys,” one officer said in an interview.
None of those interviewed reported evidence of improper contact between Bullock and boys in his custody. This case could come down to one person’s word against another’s. Prosecutor Richard Burke says there’s no evidence at this point to warrant criminal charges against anyone other than Bullock.
At the least, the county tolerated an elected official who made no effort to hide his preference for young boys — and by his later admission was grooming some for future relationships. At the worst — well, we’ll see.
Yet no one in county government was concerned enough about what might have been going on to speak up? No one thought the balance of power between a boy-loving sheriff and pre-teen boys caught up in family and legal crises might have dictated another adult in the room?
That’s the mystery here. Why good people didn’t make a stink.