The Seattle Police Department’s watchdog agency closed its investigation into a former victim advocate who was accused of sexually abusing a child decades ago when he was a Catholic priest without concluding whether he engaged in misconduct.
The Office of Police Accountability (OPA) noted in its report released earlier this month that the lack of a finding is “not an exoneration” of Garry Boulden, who had worked for the police department since 1989. The OPA said its investigation raised “significant issues” but that there wasn’t enough evidence to come to a conclusion.
In 2003, Spokane police received a second hand report alleging that Boulden molested a girl when he was a priest at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the 1970s and 80s. The Seattle Police Department was aware of the allegation against its employee but did not take action itself, as The Seattle Times reported last year.
Spokane detectives dropped the investigation at the request of the alleged victim, who was by then an adult. She sued the Spokane Diocese soon after, and the lawsuit was settled as part of the diocese’s bankruptcy plan. Boulden’s name appeared on dioceses’ subsequent lists of credibly accused priests, while he continued to work for the police department.
After advocates for clergy abuse victims pressed the Seattle Archdiocese to be more transparent about past cases and The Seattle Times asked about Boulden, former police Chief Carmen Best placed him on leave and asked the OPA to investigate in February. Boulden, 71, retired in September, according to SPD. The OPA completed its investigation in August but the case was not closed until the end of the year.
Boulden denied the allegation to the OPA. His attorney, Anne Bremner, said she believed the diocese determined the allegation was credible without evidence.
Boulden was assigned to Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary when he was 28. He told the OPA that he spent time alone with the alleged victim when she was a girl, as part of his efforts to connect with members of the parish. He said he saw her outside of church several times, including when he went to a concert with just her on his birthday, according to the OPA report. Boulden said her parents were aware and there was “no particular reason” why they went alone.
“When pressed on this, he said that this was just what was done at the time. He acknowledged that she may have been under 16 for at least part of that time but thought she was over 16 when they went to the concert,” the OPA report said, adding that Boulden said, “Not that this would have made any difference.”
OPA Director Andrew Myerberg wrote in the report that he found this explanation “questionable.” He also noted that Boulden didn’t provide an explanation for why he believed the woman made up the allegation.
The woman ultimately declined to take part in the OPA investigation, according to the report. The OPA also had challenges gathering information about how the diocese determined the allegation was credible.
The OPA found that after the woman reported to the Spokane Diocese in 2002, then-Bishop William Skylstad determined the allegation was credible and barred Boulden from ministry. Boulden did not challenge the decision, which Myerberg noted as a concern.
Boulden and his attorney told the OPA they believed the decision was not based on a rigorous review, and that he did not have the chance to present his side of the story. Boulden said he did not object to the determination because he did not intend to return to ministry, according to the report.
An attorney for the Archdiocese of Seattle told the OPA that it appeared the determination was solely based on the bishop’s decision. The bishop “had no specific recollection as to what was done at the time to deem the allegation credible,” according to the report.
Myerberg wrote that the lack of other public allegations against Boulden is relevant, but doesn’t diminish the credibility of the allegation the OPA investigated.
Boulden received acclaim for his work in the aftermath of tragedies like the Marysville Pilchuck High School shooting, and he provided support to the families of victims who were sexually assaulted and killed in several high-profile cases.