Grand jury: State police sergeant co-owned hunting camp with the Rev. David Poulson and knew Poulson ‘frequented the camp with young boys.’
The statewide grand jury presentment used to charge the Rev. David L. Poulson with child sex abuse is built around the testimony of two men who said Poulson, a former priest in the Catholic Diocese of Erie, molested them as boys in 2002-2010.
As supporting information, the presentment, which is similar to an indictment, cites statements that a Pennsylvania State Police sergeant made about Poulson.
The sergeant, however, did not investigate against Poulson.
The sergeant was Poulson’s friend.
His statements to the grand jury, according to the presentment, show that he was aware of Poulson’s habit of being alone with boys long before the state attorney general’s office charged Poulson on Tuesday.
The sergeant, Mark Bettwy, since 2003 has co-owned with Poulson the hunting camp in Jefferson County where the attorney general’s office alleges Poulson abused the two boys in the case when they were 8 to 18 years old.
As the attorney general’s office investigated Poulson earlier this year on child abuse charges, Bettwy testified before the grand jury that heard the case. The grand jury on April 19 issued the presentment that led the attorney general’s office to charge Poulson on Tuesday with eight counts, including the third-degree felony of indecent assault.
According to the presentment: “During the week of March 12, 2018, the Grand Jury heard testimony from Bettwy who confirmed that he shared ownership of the property with Poulson. Bettwy stated that he was aware that Poulson frequented the camp with young boys.
“Bettwy then returned to the Grand Jury on April 16, 2018, and recounted a statement that Poulson had made when they purchased the property. Specifically, Poulson indicated his desire to see property ownership relinquished to the Bettwy family in the event that he (Poulson) was ever accused of molesting altar boys.”
Four days later, on April 20, Bettwy retired from the state police after reaching 25 years of service, a spokesman for the state police in Harrisburg said. He was last known to be commander of the state police station at Marienville, Forest County, in Troop C, which includes Jefferson County.
Sergeant has no comment
Bettwy, reached by phone on Friday, said he had no comment because of a gag order he said was imposed on him in the Poulson case.
Bettwy appeared before the 40th Statewide Investigative Grand Jury, which meets in Allegheny County. Supervising the grand jury, which meets in secret, is Judge Norman A. Krumenacker III, of Cambria County. He was out of the office on Friday and unavailable for comment on whether he had issued a gag order in the case.
The only person charged in the case is Poulson, who is being held on $300,000 at the Jefferson County Jail in Brookville.
“We cannot comment or confirm or deny any other aspect of the investigation, beyond the charges against Poulson,” said Joe Grace said, the spokesman for Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
‘Off the grid’
Poulson, 64, and Bettwy met nearly 30 years ago, according to the presentment, when Poulson was a faculty member at Gannon University in Erie and Bettwy, a native of the Pittsburgh area, was a student majoring in criminal justice.
They have been “friends ever since,” Poulson told lawyers for the Catholic Diocese of Erie in February, according to the presentment. The lawyers, according to the presentment, investigated Poulson for the diocese and gave the information to law enforcement.
Bettwy graduated from Gannon in 1991. Poulson, according to the presentment, said that Bettwy in the mid-2000s found a 40-acre hunting camp in Jefferson County, and that they bought it.
The hunting camp is in Union Township, west of Brookville in Jefferson County and east of Clarion in Clarion County, both of which are part of the 13-county Catholic Diocese of Erie. Bettwy and his wife bought the camp for $40,000 with Poulson on Oct. 8, 2003, according to the deed. The Bettwys and Poulson each hold a half share.
At the time of the purchase, according to the deed, Poulson was living in Fryburg, Clarion County, where he was pastor of St. Michael Church. Seven years later he was assigned to St. Anthony of Padua Church in Cambridge Springs, where he was pastor until the diocese forced him to resign in February and removed him from ministry in response to a complaint that led to the criminal investigation.
Shortly after the purchase of the camp, Poulson bought a one-room cabin that he had placed on the property.
“The cabin was off the grid and located 10 minutes off the main road in a rural location,” the attorney general’s office, which searched the cabin as part of the probe, said in a statement. “It lacked electricity, heat or running water. Poulson would bring the youths to the cabin, watch horror movies with them on his laptop and then assault them.”
The witnesses who testified before the grand jury about their experiences with Poulson at the camp as boys “all noted that Poulson was neither an outdoorsman or a hunter,” according to the presentment.
One of Poulson’s two victims, now 23, told the grand jury that the cabin had no furniture, and that Poulson had him share an air mattress. The victim told the grand jury that Poulson abused him when he was 8 to 16 years old between 2002 and the summer of 2010, including five to 10 times at the cabin when he and Poulson were alone.
The other victim in the case told the grand jury that Poulson abused him at the camp when he was 15 to 18 between 2003 and 2006.
“On several occasions over the course of those years, he went with Poulson alone to his hunting camp,” the grand jury presentment said of that victim’s testimony. “He knew that Poulson co-owned the property with a policeman whom he met while he (the victim) was at the camp on an altar server retreat. The policeman was not wearing a uniform at that time, however.”
In the company of boys
Poulson said he was often with boys at the cabin. He gave his account to the diocesan lawyers, and that information became part of the presentment. The diocese also provided the attorney general’s office the names of boys whom Poulson said he was with.
The grand jury heard from nine other men, other than the two victims, who said they were with Poulson as boys. The attorney general’s office said investigators believed that evidence of sexual assault existed in at least one of those other cases, but the statute of limitations had expired.
“Poulson estimated that he took 20 trips to the cabin and that approximately one-half of those trips were made in the company of minor boys,” according to the presentment. “All of the trips required at least one overnight stay at the cabin. Poulson admitted that he was attracted to young men and had spent many hours, days and nights with several young men under the age of 18.”
The visits to the cabin happened between 2003 and 2010, Poulson said, according to the presentment. He said he had not been to the hunting camp since he left St. Michael in Fryburg in 2010 for St. Anthony of Padua in Cambridge Springs.
As for the future of the camp and cabin, Poulson “noted that Bettwy and his family did not use the property as often as anticipated,” according to the presentment. “Poulson stated that he and Bettwy were waiting for the timber to mature and were ‘getting ready’ to sell the property.”
Staff writer Tim Hahn contributed to this report.
Ed Palattella can be reached at 870-1813 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNpalattella.
A priest and former Bradford Central Christian High School teacher has been arrested on indecent assault allegations filed in Jefferson County.
The Rev. David Poulson, 64, of Brookville, was incarcerated in Jefferson County Jail Tuesday in lieu of $300,000 bail in the case.
Poulson was arraigned Tuesday morning before District Judge Gregory Bazylak on allegations that he sexually assaulted boys at church rectories in Clarion and Crawford counties and a hunting camp in Jefferson County.
In addition to the two victims named in the case, the statewide investigating grand jury heard from nine witnesses who had contact with Poulson when they were minors. This includes one man who was a minor student at Bradford Central Christian in 1979.
At a press conference Tuesday on the charges against Poulson, Attorney General Josh Shapiro was asked about the former Bradford Central Christian student.
Shapiro pointed to the student as a reason to eliminate the current timeframe for the statute of limitations on sexual assault cases. He implored the state legislature to do away with the time limit in which charges may be filed.
“The statute of limitations prohibit us from pursuing charges,” he said. “This victim and all victims are entitled to justice.”
Shapiro added, “That victim has a voice and it is important for him to be heard.”
Poulson was 26 years old when he received his first assignment in Bradford following his June 22, 1979, ordination as a Roman Catholic priest. From July 5, 1979, to June 9, 1982, Poulson served as a faculty member at Bradford Central Christian and as a weekend education staff member at St. Francis of Assisi, court records stated.
During the course of his career, he had assignments in Erie, Clearfield, Morrisdale, Clarion, Fryburg, Cambridge Springs and Meadville.
On Feb. 13, The Diocese of Erie announced that Poulson was being removed from ministry and being prohibited from having contact with minors due to an investigation into sexual abuse allegations against him.
According to the diocese, Poulson was serving as pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Cambridge Springs at the time and was removed from assignments including chaplain at the state prison in Cambridge Springs, bishop’s delegate for Mass in the Extraordinary Form, diocesan liaison to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and diocesan chaplain for the World Apostolate of Fatima.
On April 6, the diocese released a list — which included Poulson —of priests with “credible accusations” against them of abusive conduct. The release coincided with the announcement of updates to the diocese’s Policy for the Protection of Children and Youth.
Poulson is charged with indecent assault of a person less than 13, endangering the welfare of children and corruption of minors, all third-degree felonies; indecent assault of a person less than 13, endangering the welfare of children and corruption of minors, all first-degree misdemeanors; indecent assault of a person less than 16 and indecent assault without consent, both second-degree misdemeanors.
The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office and the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office are both listed as prosecutors on the case docket.
According to court records, Poulson would take minor boys to a small cabin in Jefferson County that he owned with a friend, state police Sgt. Mark Bettwy. Poulson, a former faculty member at Gannon University, met Bettwy when Bettwy was a student there. The pair bought the approximately 40-acre property in the mid-2000s.
Bettwy told the grand jury on March 12 that he knew Poulson would take boys to the cabin. On April 16, Bettwy returned to the grand jury and reported that Poulson told him when they purchased the property that it was “his desire to see property ownership relinquished to the Bettwy family in the event that (Poulson) was ever accused of molesting altar boys,” court records stated.
Poulson admitted to the Diocesan counsel “that he was attracted to young men” and provided the names of six children he took to the cabin, court records stated. Counsel provided the names to the Attorney General’s Office.
Court records stated that one alleged victim told law enforcement that Poulson began to molest the boy when he was about 8 years old; the abuse continued on a bi-weekly basis from 2002 to 2010, lasting until the boy was 16.
During this time, Poulson made the boy “go to confession and confess the sexual abuse to Poulson in his capacity as a priest,” records stated.