The Cochise County Attorney’s Office is looking into whether local members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints violated state law by not contacting law enforcement even though they knew a church member was engaging in ongoing sexual behavior with his children, including an infant, the Arizona Daily Independent has learned.
Cochise County Attorney Brian McIntyre confirmed Wednesday that there is an active criminal investigation “into the actions/failure to act of certain local individuals who had connection” with Paul Douglas Adams, a U.S. Border Patrol agent who committed suicide in late 2017 while awaiting trial on state and federal charges that he repeatedly sexually abused his two daughters.
Adams, 37, shared several videos of the abuse, including a graphic nine-minute video filmed inside the family’s Bisbee home which federal authorities used to identify him. He was arrested at a USBP station in February 2017 and later admitted abusing his 11-year-old daughter for several years. He even described to investigators the difficulty he had trying to vaginally penetrate his recently-born infant daughter.
McIntyre would not reveal the names of those who are or have been under investigation, but he and other sources previously confirmed it is related to possible violations of Arizona Revised Statute 13-3620, commonly known as the mandatory abuse reporting law. Among those involved in the current investigation are special agents with Homeland Security Investigations, the federal agency which played a key role in the initial Adams’ sexual abuse case.
Arizona law requires various people such as medical professionals, educators, and the clergy to report suspected child abuse to a peace officer or the department of child safety. Doctors, for instance, must report if they come to suspect abuse “in the course of treating a patient” while teachers have a duty to report suspected abuse if developed “in the course of their employment.”
Last summer, HSI Special Agent Robert Edwards testified in a criminal case against Leizza Adams, the girls’ mother, that two former Mormon bishops in the Bisbee area admitted that Paul Adams confessed to them during several counseling sessions about his ongoing acts of sexual abuse of his then-only daughter.
According to Edwards’ testimony, one of the bishops is a prominent Sierra Vista doctor who said Adams first told him about the abuse around 2011. The bishop did not notify police nor a child welfare agency, but did tell Adams’ wife, apparently hoping she would take the children away from the home.
Edwards also testified that when that bishop left the position in 2012, his successor bishop claims to have contacted higher-ranking church officials for guidance on dealing with Adams. The second bishop told the HSI agent he was advised there was no duty to report the abuse under the clergy exemption in the mandatory reporting law.
Under state law, clergy members need not report suspected child abuse if they obtain the information by way of “a confidential communication or a confession” and if the clergy determines maintaining that confidentiality is “reasonable and necessary within the concepts of the religion.”
The statute does not address whether the confessional communication exemption applies only to admissions of past abuse, or whether reporting is required when a clergy member has reason to believe a child is being subjected to ongoing criminal sexual abuse.
The second Adams daughter was born in late 2015 or early 2016. The sexual abuse apparently continued in the home until Adams’ arrest. By then Paul Adams had been excommunicated from the church although court records are unclear as to when that occurred or what reason local officials gave for the action.
McIntyre’s confirmation of an ongoing criminal investigation came one day after Tucson attorney Lynne Cadigan appeared at the Cochise County Superior Court in Bisbee for a hearing whether she can have access to sealed and confidential court records related to Paul and Leizza Adams. Cadigan, who is known nationally for bringing lawsuits on behalf of abused children, was approved earlier this year by Judge Laura Cardinal to serve as victim representative for the two Adams girls.
McIntyre was present at Tuesday’s hearing but did not oppose Cadigan’s request for documents, which Cardinal granted. After the hearing, Cadigan declined to comment about whether she plans to initiate a lawsuit against anyone on behalf of the girls.
Paul Adams was found hanging in his one-person cell at a pretrial detention center on Dec. 16, 2017, one day after learning he would stand trial on both state and federal charges. In April 2018, his wife pleaded no contest to two counts of child abuse endangerment and is slated to be released from state prison in July 2020 after which she must serve four years of supervised probation.
In asking for leniency, Leizza Adams’ defense attorney contended his client did her best to protect her six children but “relied too much” on guidance from local church officials. All of the children have been adopted or placed into new families.