Bethel police look for more victims in foster care investigation

ldemer@adn.comJuly 31, 2013 

Bethel police are continuing to look for additional victims of former foster parent Peter Tony, now jailed on multiple charges in two child sexual abuse cases, one involving a child entrusted to his care by the state.

Bethel Police Chief Larry Elarton said his agency is pursuing justice for all victims.

"We're going to investigate the case fully and try to get all of our victims at least documented. It will be up to the DA on additional charges, or not," Elarton said Wednesday.

Records released last week by the state Office of Children's Services indicate there had been at least six complaints about the Tonys during the 14 years, ending in 1998, that they served as Bethel foster parents. Some records were vague, and the file is incomplete and disorganized. Three complaints involved sexual abuse. Only the last one, involving sexual abuse of a 12-year-girl in 1998, was confirmed.

Tony last month was indicted on three felony charges of sexually abusing the 12-year-old.

The Office of Children's Services is refusing to provide more records or answer additional questions about its oversight of Tony and his wife, Marilyn, during the time they cared for dozens of Alaska foster children. Marilyn Tony, who died in June, opened an unlicensed home day care in Bethel after the foster home closed. Tony was indicted in June on seven felony charges of sexually abusing a 4-year-old girl in the day care home over the course of almost a year ending in August 2012.

Tony's defense lawyer, Mark Osterman with the state Office of Public Advocacy, on Tuesday asked the Fairbanks judge overseeing the case for a gag order to bar the Office of Children's Services "from Release of Further Statements or Records in Matters Concerning Peter Tony."

"Concerns have been raised by the defense attorney for Peter Tony that the amount of information about this case being shared with the public could impact Mr. Tony's ability to have a fair defense when the time comes," Susan Morgan, spokeswoman for the Office of Children's Services, said in an email Tuesday. "As a result, for today at least, no further information will be forthcoming about the case. We will let you know if and when this changes."

As of Wednesday afternoon, the agency still wasn't answering questions about the hundreds of pages of released documents, including whether any of the complaints involved the same child.

But last week, Christy Lawton, the agency director, said her staff was trying to identify all the reported victims and assess whether appropriate actions had been taken.

She said she hadn't reached any conclusion.

"Our focus has been on reviewing information to help paint a picture specifically around the Tonys' role as foster parents and to be ready to assist law enforcement if they need us," Lawton said.

Asked whether the child protection agency, once it confirmed abuse in 1998, at that point took a fresh look at the earlier reports, she said there was no documentation workers had done so. They should have, she said.

"But the fact that it is not there isn't 100 percent certainty," Lawton said. High workloads and high turnover challenge workers to record every task and interview, she said.

Reached in Bethel, Osterman declined to answer questions. He said Office of Public Advocacy policy prohibited him from even confirming that Tony was his client. A state public defender initially represented Tony but asked to be removed because the Public Defender Agency already represented a witness in the case. The case is being heard by Fairbanks Superior Court Judge Douglas Blankenship. Bethel has two superior court judges, and the defense objected to one and the prosecution objected to the other.

Bethel police say some of the abuse accusations against Tony date back to the 1970s. One of his stepdaughters, Kimberley Bruesch, has said that as young girls, she and her two sisters were sexually abused by Tony. Both sisters committed suicide and the younger one, Teresa, in part blamed Tony in her suicide note. Bruesch and her younger sister reported the abuse to a worker at OCS's predecessor, the old Division of Family and Youth Services, in 1982 but nothing came of it at the time, Bruesch has said.

Bruesch said she remembers the foster home closing after her younger sister's suicide in April 1998. That was just weeks before DFYS substantiated sexual abuse against the 12-year-old foster child.

An adopted child, Chris, later committed suicide in the home, Bruesch said. Her older sister killed herself in 1990.

The foster care records released by OCS make no mention of any suicides.

Osterman said in his court filing that the records shouldn't have been released at all during an active criminal investigation.

Troubles in the Tony home came into public view in June after he was indicted on charges of abusing the 4-year-old girl.

Bruesch, now a stay-at-home mom living in Ketchikan, said Tony targeted her for abuse when she was 8 and the family was living in San Diego, where Tony was stationed in the Navy.

Elarton said Bethel police have "relayed all that information to California authorities and that would be up to them to decide if they can still prosecute those cases or not."

The abuse involving Teresa appears to have stretched into the family's time in Bethel and, based on what Teresa told her own daughter, went from age 7 to 14, Bruesch said.

Whether those accusations will bring more charges is still being evaluated, Elarton said.

"Obviously it is a tragedy for the family and we want to make sure even if we can't prosecute that any known victims have the ability to have somewhat of a day in court," Elarton said. "If they are still alive, they can still speak at sentencing."

Bethel police officer Amy Davis has been leading the investigation, with help from the investigative sergeant and the chief. She is continuing to interview witnesses, Elarton said.

"On our end, we will take whatever information we can get," the police chief said. "Even if the case resolves on the current people we have, if there are still more victims out there, we will continue this case until we don't feel there is anybody left that needs to talk to us."

Bethel District Attorney June Stein said prosecutors will evaluate whatever the police bring forward.

"We have been working closely with the police department and are awaiting supplemental reports on any additional victims," Stein said.

Elarton said possible victims and other witnesses can call Bethel police at 907-543-3781 and ask for him or officer Davis.

Reach Lisa Demer at ldemer@adn.com or 257-4390.

 

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