ANOTHER Background Check Story…With A Twist. There’s A Priest This Time.

Well, I didn’t expect this.  Only a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a person in a position of leadership with those being led unaware of a criminal history (a sex offense, at that).

On Thursday?  The same.

Father Leslie “Doug” Campbell was arrested last August in a Wichita park.  Undercover officers conducting a sting operation in Wichita’s Riverside Park said Campbell and another man were caught undressing together.

Father Leslie "Doug" Campbell's August 2009 Mugshot

However, the 2009 offense wasn’t what interested me.  It was the 1988 conviction for sexual battery of a law enforcement officer.

In June 1988, an undercover officer arrested Campbell for touching the officer in another Wichita park.  As he was cuffed, court records show Campbell said he was embarrassed to be seen in public in handcuffs.  He also said he was a priest.

Campbell’s trial was scheduled to start Thursday, but it was continued by one week when prosecutors tried to enter this past conviction into evidence.

SO WHAT HAPPENED?

So the Catholic Diocese of Wichita found out back in 1988, right?  It was somehow notified or this bit of criminal news surely reached someone’s ears?  No.  At least, not according to the diocese.

The diocese says Campbell somehow handled this legal matter on his own and managed to keep it away from the bishop until last year’s arrest.

So how did the diocese go from 1988 to 2009 without knowing one of its priests sexually assaulted a cop?  A couple of hours after I asked the diocese this question, I got a call back from a public relations official and an HR guy.

Three years ago, the diocese says it began doing background checks on all of its employees, including priests.  Rather, I should say the diocese began checking backgrounds.  HR checked three public offender databases, all online and free.  I’ve used several of the same databases myself.

The problem?  The Kansas Sex Offender Registry was created in 1994.  Campbell’s 1988 conviction wouldn’t have shown up.

It should be noted Campbell was arrested on June 7, 1988.  He was transferred from a parish in Columbus, Kansas, to parishes in Fredonia and Neodesha on June 28, 1988.  The diocese maintains this is a coincidence and it didn’t know of Campbell’s past until his 2009 arrest.

COULD IT HAVE BEEN AVOIDED?

Yes.

For $30, the diocese could have had a certified, name-based background check from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.  KBI records date back to 1939 and cover all felonies, misdemeanors, and Class C assaults (basically, everything but a traffic ticket).

Barring a random misplaced record, Campbell’s 1988 conviction would have popped up.

Why the diocese does not pay for the certified background check is either an issue of money or ignorance (simply not knowing this was a possibility and they could have had a better criminal history for $30).

THE REACTION

One of Campbell’s parishioners was in the courtroom Thursday morning.  She says she was still trying to wrap her mind around the idea her priest had been arrested last year when prosecutors tried to present the 1988 conviction.

This is a woman who says she’s done her best to stick up for the religion she loves, and she’s frustrated Catholicism has become the butt of jokes to many.  However, shock and frustration was evident after the hearing.

When I spoke to her over the phone late Thursday, you could tell it had been a long day.  We’re a few years past when “Catholic Priest Does Wrong” was a mainstream headline, but this brought it back for her.

THE TRIAL

The judge in the case ruled Campbell’s 1988 conviction won’t be allowed at trial, and I lean (slightly) toward the thinking that’s best.

Prosecutors tried to enter it into evidence under a statute called 60-455.  It allows for prior “bad acts” to be presented to show the defendant’s character.

There are instances where this might seem appropriate (and I’ve covered such cases), but it often sends up a red flag to me as a slippery slope.  The judge told the city prosecutor, “You only presented this to make me not like the defendant.”

Campbell’s alleged actions from last August, and last August alone, will be tried.  His criminal history will be part of his sentencing if he’s found guilty.

For now, he’s on “sabbatical” from active ministry in Wichita, and the diocese in Wichita may face the decision of continuing to check backgrounds as is or spend the money for something more thorough.

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5 Responses to “ANOTHER Background Check Story…With A Twist. There’s A Priest This Time.”

  1. kamron Says:

    It is absolutely disturbing when something like this happens, I always useonline background checksit gives me all the information I need!

  2. Jason Grey Says:

    Wow! You are so right about knowing your neighbors. I just went through a nightmare with on of mine who was making noise – drums in his garage. I did a background check and found out he had a long criminal history. I put up with the drums now. Maybe he’ll mess up. Sometimes it’s good to know who you live beside. Keep up the good info.

  3. robert schirk Says:

    ? does the diocese do periodic (yearly) certified record checks…..seems that would be needed to be sure of employee activity…..r. schirk

  4. rose Says:

    His sabbatical is over, he is now assigned as chaplain at a local hospital.

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