Nienstedt issued a public apology over the Wehmeyer case less than two months ago and said the church “immediately contacted law enforcement” after the first allegation of abuse.
Police records reviewed by the Star Tribune suggest that was not the investigators’ view of the case. In the full police report describing the 2012 arrest and prosecution of Wehmeyer, the first sign of notification by the archdiocese is an e-mail from Vomastek to the head of the sex crimes unit at 5:58 p.m. June 20. One day earlier, a church employee had “conducted a full interview of [the boy] and made an audio recording of it,” police records said.
Vomastek, a former senior St. Paul police commander who retired about two years ago to work for the archdiocese, e-mailed Cmdr. Axel Henry with a suspect’s name and the name of the victim’s mother.
Vomastek said in the e-mail: “Can you let me know if you have the original case of a few weeks ago when I called and if you need any help from our end? The person we talked about will be relieved of duties tomorrow.”
The next morning, Henry replied, “We have NO reports with the names provided. It could be possible that the family made the report and never gave a suspect name. If you have the original victim(s) names that would confirm this. Otherwise we will need to go to plan B because we have no report.”
Accurso said Wehmeyer’s name was not mentioned in the first discussions of the case but Vomastek did tell Henry that Wehmeyer was the suspect in a phone conversation before the e-mail.
On the morning when Wehmeyer was to be removed as pastor, Accurso said Vomastek called St. Paul police from the car. “Deacon Vomastek was calling the police and asking them to get over there,” said Accurso, who answered questions Thursday night with Vomastek at his side.
The police file shows that at 11 a.m. on June 21, while McDonough and Vomastek were reportedly confronting Wehmeyer, a police detective at the department received “preliminary information” about the abuse.
The timeline is important because state law requires “immediate” reporting of suspected child abuse to civil authorities by teachers, clergy members and other “mandated reporters.” Under extenuating circumstances, reports are required “as soon as possible but in no event longer than 24 hours,” the law says.
Vieth, who trains educators, clergy, medical professionals and others on how to respond to suspected child sexual abuse, said churches and other institutions have a right to act quickly to remove a potential predator — but they should only work in conjunction with law enforcement.
“You really need to talk to the police to make sure you are not contaminating their investigation,” Vieth said.
When an institution confronts a suspect before police, Vieth said, offenders have a chance to destroy evidence, silence victims and script their response to arrest.
Church interviews victim
The parish employee with knowledge of the police investigation said lead investigator Sgt. William Gillet was “furious” when he learned that an archdiocese employee had interviewed Wehmeyer’s victim. The police report indicates that the church interview was arranged June 18, two days before Vomastek first e-mailed Henry.
Huemann wouldn’t comment directly on the Wehmeyer case but said the “general scenario” of church officials interviewing a victim before calling police or a child protection agency subjects the victim to needless repeat interviews.
Nash said another danger of institutions’ interviewing the victims of their employees is that the victim can be unfairly led in one direction or another.
“You hand it off [to authorities] and they figure out who takes the lead,” Huemann said.