A lawsuit filed Sunday against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims church officials in Utah and Bisbee knew three young children were enduring repeated sexual abuse by their church member father but never reported it to authorities.
The lawsuit filed in Cochise County Superior Court comes nearly three years after the father, U.S. Border Patrol agent Paul Adams, killed himself in December 2017 while awaiting trial on state and federal charges. Adams admitted filming himself sexually abusing his children inside the family’s Bisbee home; it was those images which Interpol and federal agents used to identify Adams.
“This case involves the horrible sexual, physical and emotional abuse of children between the ages of six (6) weeks and twelve (12) years old that went on for seven (7) years,” the lawsuit states. “The Mormon Church leaders gave guidance and care to this children for seven (7) years, sat next to them in Church and allowed these vicious crimes to continue.”
After his arrest at a USBP station in February 2017, Adams confessed he abused one of his daughters -identified in the lawsuit as Jane Doe 1- for several years. He also described in graphic details his sexual abuse of another daughter, identified as Jane Doe 2, starting when she was a newborn. The lawsuit also details repeated sexual abuse of a son, identified as John Doe 1, which was not previously disclosed in the criminal cases.
Special Agent Robert Edwards of Homeland Security Investigations later interviewed two former Bisbee area bishops, Dr. John Herrod and R. Kim Mauzy, about Adams. Both admitted counseling Adams and his wife Leizza Adams about the ongoing abuse although neither reported the abuse to authorities, Edwards later testified in court.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the President and Presiding Bishop of the Mormon Church, as well Herrod, Mauzy, and Shaunice Warr, a USBP agent who served as the family’s religious teacher on behalf of the local stake. Herrod’s medical practice is also named as a defendant.
Jane Doe 2’s new mother told Arizona Daily Independent the girl’s family supports the lawsuit in hopes of bringing changes to how LDS officials handle such matters, and that people within the church community understand the case is not about money.
“It is about protecting children and sending a message to the Church that they can’t keep child abuse ‘in-house’ anymore,” she said Monday. “The rape of babies and the damage to children far outweighs any religious freedom to keep abuse a secret within the Church.”
Among the exhibits included in the lawsuit is a copy of an Aug. 4 letter from the Office of the First Presidency restating the church’s “long-standing policy” that Church leaders are should not involve themselves in civil or criminal cases regarding members without first contacting the Church’s legal counsel.
“This same policy applies to leaders corresponding with court personnel on behalf of criminal defendants or others, including through email,” the letter states. “However well intentioned, Church leaders sharing information in legal proceedings can sometimes be misinterpreted and even damaging. Such sharing can be especially harmful to victims and their families.”
The letter also states the importance of adhering with the policy, as it “keeps the Church from being inappropriately implicated in legal matters.”
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.”
During a 2018 court hearing in the criminal case against the mother testified he interviewed Herrod and Mauzy. Herrod, according to Edwards’ testimony, recalled learning of the ongoing abuse from Adams around 2011 but did not notify police nor a child welfare agency.
Edwards also testified Herrod, who the lawsuit states was also the family’s physician, frequently addressed the situation with Leizza Adams until his service as bishop ended in 2012. The mother was later sentenced to prison for her role in taking no steps to stop the abuse.
Mauzy, who succeeded Herrod as the local bishop, purportedly told Edwards he contacted higher-ranking church officials about Paul Adams’ conduct but was told he had no duty to report the abuse. The lawsuit states that even after Paul Adams was excommunicated, church officials took no steps to report the abuse.
Arizona law states clergy members need not report suspected child abuse if the information is obtained 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.
On Dec. 15, 2017, Adams appeared in a Cochise County courtroom in Bisbee where he offered to plead guilty if all charges would be dismissed against his wife. The judge declined the offer; the next day Adams was found hanging in his one-person cell at a federal pretrial detention center in Florence.
In April 2018, Leizza Adams pleaded no contest to two counts of child abuse endangerment. She completed her prison sentence last month and is now serving 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. The children have been adopted into new families, according to the lawsuit.
The case has been assigned to Judge Timothy Dickerson. Once each defendant is served with the civil complaint they will have 20 to 30 days to file a formal answer with the court.
The children are being represented in the case by attorneys Lynne Cadigan of the Cadigan Law Firm and John Manly of Manly, Stewart, and Finaldi. Cadigan said Monday the attorneys believe there are multiple witnesses with knowledge of how the Adams abuse issue was handled by church officials.
“Secrecy that harms children is never the best policy,” stated Cadigan, who encourages anyone with information, however insignificant it may seem, to contact her office at 520-622-6066.