Failure to Report Sexual Abuse—Bisbee, Arizona

NOTE: This Q&A is about a relatively current event, and as new data is released, we will update the Q&A.

Key People involved in the Bisbee, Arizona sexual abuse case

Person

Notes

Paul Adams

  • Husband of Leizza Adams

  • Sexual abuser of his daughters[1]

  • Employed as a Border Patrol Agent[2]

  • Committed suicide while in custody[3]

Leizza Adams

  • Wife of Paul Adams

  • Described as possibly having mild autism or Aspergers[4]

  • Victim of rape and abuse from Paul[5]

  • Convicted of two counts of sexual abuse[6]

John Herrod

  • Bishop of Bisbee Ward from 2004 until 2012[7]

  • Alleged to be the "family physician" to the Adams, but this is disputed[8]

DHS Agent Robert Edwards

  • Special Agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security Investigations[9]

Robert Kim Mauzy

  • Bishop of Bisbee Ward from 2012 until 2018[10]

Shaunice Warr

  • Friend and visiting teacher of Leizza Adams[11]

  • Sunday school teacher to Adams children[12]

  • Employed as a Border Patrol Agent.[13]

Timeline of the Bisbee, Arizona sexual abuse case

Bisbee Case 2010—Present

ca. 2010

Paul Adams began sexually abusing his daughter.[14] At some point, Paul also recorded the abuse and posted it online.[15]

2011

Paul Adams confesses to a "one-time incident" of molesting his daughter to Bishop John Herrod.[BIO][16] Bishop Herrod invites Leizza into the meeting with Paul and discloses the abuse in the hopes Leizza would prevent further abuse.[17]

2011

Bishop Herrod contacts the Church through the abuse help line. During the criminal trial, DHS Agent Robert Edwards stated that Herrod told him that he was told he had no duty to report the abuse.[18] However, the civil complaint filed in 2020 alleged that the help line advised against reporting the abuse.[19] The Church disputes this claim.[20]

2011

Bishop Herrod asks Paul and Leizza Adams to contact the police about the abuse, but they refuse.[21] Bishop Herrod does not contact the police.[22]

2011-2012

Bishop Herrod has follow-up meetings with Leizza Adams and is told that there are no further instances of abuse.[23]

2012

Robert Kim Mauzy replaces John Herrod as bishop of the Bisbee ward.[24]

2012

Bishop Mauzy is made aware of the sexual abuse, and is instructed by the Church helpline to convene a disciplinary council for Paul Adams.[25]

ca. 2013

Paul Adams is excommunicated for sexually abusing his daughter in 2011 and/or having sexual relations with his mother.[26]

2013–2017

Leizza and the children continue to attend Church, though Paul "rarely" attends Sunday services.[27]

2015

Paul Adams begins abusing his infant daughter and photographing and recording the abuse.[28]

2015

Shaunice Warr,[BIO] Leizza's visiting teacher, encourages her to leave Paul.[29]

ca. 2015

Paul Adams is fired from his job at the U.S. Border Patrol for making violent threats against the agency.[30]

February 7, 2017

The Department of Child Services removes the children from the home and the FBI arrests Paul for distribution of child pornography.[31]

ca. 2017

Sometime after Paul's arrest, Leizza and Paul Adams begin divorce proceedings.[32]

December 2017

Paul Adams commits suicide in a federal prison while awaiting trial.[33]

June 2018

Leizza Adams is arrested and pleads no contest to two counts of child abuse.[34]

June 2018

Agent Robert Edwards conducts an interview with John Herrod, former bishop of Paul and Leizza Adams.[35]

August 13, 2018

Leizza Adams is sentenced to 2.5 years imprisonment, 4 years of probation, and mandated counseling.[36]

August 2018

Agent Robert Edwards discloses that there is an ongoing criminal investigation related to the Church.[37]

November 2020

Lynne Cadigan, representing the Adams children, files a civil lawsuit against the Church, Bishop Herrod, Bishop Mauzy, and Shaunice Warr.[38]

November 30, 2020

Arizona attorney Bill Maledon, representing the Church, stated "As clergy, the bishop was required by Arizona law to maintain the confidentiality of the father’s limited confession."[39]

November 30, 2020

Sam Penrod, Media Relations Manager of the Church Communication Department, issues a statement similar to the Maledon statement, adding, "The church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no tolerance for abuse of any kind."[40]

January 2021

Cochise County begins a closed grand jury investigation related to the civil case against the Church, designated GJ21-0072.[41]

August 4, 2022

Michael Rezendes, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, publishes "Seven years of sex abuse: How Mormon officials let it happen" in the Associated Press.[42]

August 5, 2022

The Church issues a statement in response to the Associated Press article, stating the sexual abuse help line "was seriously mischaracterized in a recent Associated Press article."[43]

August 8, 2022

Associated Press releases audio segments of Bishop Herrod stating that the Church help line said "we can do nothing except for encourage [Paul] to turn [himself] in."[44]

August 17, 2022

The Church issues a statement "Church Provides Further Details about the Arizona Abuse Case" and details errors and mischaracterizations about the case in the Associated Press story.[45]

Did a bishop in Bisbee, Arizona fail to report the sexual abuse of children in his ward?

Yes. Two bishops, Bishop John Herrod[BIO] and Bishop Robert “Kim” Mauzy failed to report the abuse of Paul and Leizza Adams's children to the police between 2010 and 2017.[46]

Have the bishops made any statement about why they didn't report the abuse to the police?

Yes. Bishop Herrod stated that Paul confessed the abuse to have been a "one-time incident that had not reoccurred" and that his understanding was that he was legally obligated to not report.[47]

Bishop Mauzy stated, "I did not know that Paul Adams was abusing his children while I was Bishop until he was arrested in 2017," and noted that his understanding was that he was legally obligated to not report the past abuse, which he understood to be a "one-time incident."[48]

Did the bishops understand the extent of the abuse?

No, not according to their testimony. They both stated that they were unaware that the abuse was ongoing past a "one-time incident."[49]

A Church spokesperson said in a 2020 statement that it wasn't until after the arrest of Paul Adams that "the bishop learned of the scope and magnitude of the abuse that far exceeded anything he had heard or suspected."[50]

But didn't DHS Agent Edwards testify that Bishop Herrod was aware of multiple incidents and video recordings?

Yes, Agent Edwards said that Bishop Herrod was aware of repeated sexual abuse and of Paul Adams's recording of the abuse.[51] Edwards also said his testimony was based on the June 12, 2018 interview Edwards had with Herrod, though the transcript of that interview is less clear about what Herrod recalled.[52]

However, in a 2021 sworn declaration, Bishop Herrod stated that until Paul was arrested in 2017, he "had no knowledge that [Paul] had viewed or disseminated photos or videos containing child pornography, including related to the abuse of his own children."[53]

Wasn't Paul excommunicated in 2013? Shouldn't they have known the extent of the abuse because of the disciplinary process?

Possibly. Bishop Mauzy stated that the excommunication was because of "a past one-time incident (and other conduct by Paul Adams that gave rise to his excommunication)."[54] The disciplinary records are unavailable.

Did they fail to report because the Church told them not to?

Yes, probably, but there are conflicting accounts. DHS Agent Edwards said that Bishop Herrod was told "there's no duty to report" due to Arizona law,[55] whereas Bishop Herrod stated that he was required by Arizona law to not report.[56]

In the 2020 civil lawsuit complaint, the plaintiffs alleged that Bishop Herrod and Bishop Mauzy were told to not report by the Church helpline.[57]

The Church's legal response to the civil lawsuit maintains that the bishop was legally constrained from reporting the abuse.[58]

The Associated Press reported that Utah Republican State Rep. Merrill F. Nelson was the worked on the Church helpline and told Bishop Herrod to not report the abuse.[59] Is this true?

According to a sworn deposition by Church helpline employee Roger W. Van Komen, Merrill Nelson worked on the helpline and spoke with Bishop Herrod.[60] However, there is no record of what Merrill Nelson advised Bishop Herrod.

What is the purpose of the Church abuse help line?

The Church established the help line in 1995.[61] On the Church website, it states that when "bishops or stake presidents call the help line, legal and clinical professionals will answer their questions and provide instructions about how to assist victims, comply with local laws and requirements for reporting abuse, and protect against further abuse."[62]

And in a 2022 statement, the Church clarified that the "help line is instrumental in ensuring that all legal requirements for reporting are met. It provides a place for local leaders, who serve voluntarily, to receive direction from experts to determine who should make a report and whether they (local leaders) should play a role in that reporting."[63]

So is the help line just run by lawyers?

It is run by a "specialized group of attorneys and mental health professionals."[64][65] Kate Taylor Lauck, a survivor of child sexual abuse and an attorney who worked for the Church abuse help line described the purpose of the help line as "assisting victims and survivors of abuse to get the help they need and also reporting abuse to law enforcement."[66][67]

However, the Associated Press story reported that an attorney that worked for the help line said he did not work with social workers.[68]

What is the policy of the Church on reporting sexual abuse?

The policy is that bishops should take action to stop abuse.[69] The handbook also states that laws differ in various states and countries and that local Church leadership should follow the local law in regard to reporting abuse to governmental authority.[70]

Did the Arizona bishops follow this policy?

Yes and no. The first step of Church policy insists that the abuse be stopped.[71] Bishop Herrod reportedly attempted to stop future abuse by separating Paul from his family, which he believed was effective, but it wasn't.[72] Both bishops did satisfy Arizona reporting law, which gives clergy discretion on whether to report.[73]

What is the Arizona law with respect to reporting abuse?

Arizona Revised Statute § 13-3620 states that because the clergy-penitent relationship is privileged, clergy are exempt from mandatory reporting of child abuse "if the member of the clergy . . . determines that it is reasonable and necessary within the concepts of the religion."[74]

And Arizona Revised Statute § 12-2233 states that "clergyman" cannot be made to testify against someone who has confessed to them in a civil action.[75]

If the helpline advised Bishop Herrod to not report the abuse, why would it do so if it is optional under the Arizona Revised Statues?

It's unclear. Attorneys representing the Church noted that "defendants were constrained by applicable law from reporting the abuse without permission of the perpetrator or his wife," which is consistent with the official statements made by the Church in 2020.[76] This seems to conflict with Arizona Revised Statute § 13-3620.[77]

The help line may have made an interpretation of Arizona Revised Statute § 12-2233 which states that "clergyman" cannot be made to testify against someone who has confessed to them in a civil action.[78]

Wasn't Shaunice Warr, the visiting teacher, a law enforcement officer? Wasn't she legally required to report abuse?

Yes, Shaunice Warr was a Border Patrol officer and was required to report abuse.[79] She testified that she was not aware of any particular abuse, but she suspected abuse was occurring in the Adams's home and encouraged Leizza to leave Adam.[80]

Wasn't John Herrod the family doctor of the Adams? Wasn't he legally required to report abuse?

Possibly. According to the 2020 civil lawsuit documents, Herrod saw the parents as a doctor, but "never treated or examined the Adams children, had no physician/patent relationship with any of them, and never obtained any information from or about them in his professional capacity as a physician."[81]

However, the plaintiff alleged that John Herrod was the "family physician"[82] and under Arizona law, doctors are required to report sexual abuse.[83]

Was Paul Adams an active member of the Church during the time of the abuse? Was Leizza?

Paul was reported to have "rarely" attended after his excommunication in 2013.[84] Leizza reportedly attended with her children nearly every Sunday and held a calling to play the piano in the primary.[85]

There are no records available that indicate if Paul was a Melchizedek priesthood holder or not.

What has the Church said about the bishops’ actions or the lawsuit?

The Church has made four statements. The first two statements said that the bishop made efforts to protect the children, but did not know the scope and magnitude of the abuse and that the bishop and the Church worked within their limited knowledge to prevent the abuse.[86]

The third and fourth statements were in response to the Associated Press story released on August 4, 2022, and clarified the nature of the abuse hotline[87] and the facts of the case.[88]

What happened with the criminal investigation of the Church that started in 2018?

DHS Agent Robert Edwards testified that there was a criminal investigation of the Church in 2018 related to the reporting of the sexual abuse.[89] This may be connected with the Cochise County closed grand jury proceedings (GJ21-0072) in January 2021.[90]

Cochise County grand jury trials are legislated to be six months in length, so it is likely that the grand jury concluded.[91] There are no known criminal indictments filed against the Church related to this case.

What policies and practices does the Church have in place to prevent abuse?

The Church has systems and processes in place to protect children from abuse, such as two-deep leadership;[92] mandatory abuse training for leaders;[93] a help line staffed by mental health experts and attorneys;[94] handbook instructions on definitions, responses, and how to address abuse;[95] windows into the classroom of children to allow observation;[96] and a membership record annotation system for members that may be seen as a risk to children.[97]

Shouldn't the Church policy be to always report abuse no matter what?

Possibly. Some people believe mandatory reporting would be in the best interest of protecting children from abuse,[98] but others believe it would prevent abusers from coming forward which would result in more children being abused.[99]

In 2014, the University of Michigan published research that indicated that counties in the US that had mandatory reporting for clergy were correlated with lower reporting rates than those that didn't.[100] A 2017 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found similar results and concluded that universal mandatory reporting may "lead to poorer outcomes" for endangered children.[101]

The Facts

  • Paul and Leizza Adams of Bisbee, Arizona, abused their children between 2010 and 2017.

  • Two bishops had some level of awareness of the abuse and state they understood it to be a "one-time incident" in the past.

  • Bishop Herrod contacted the Church abuse hotline.

  • Bishop Herrod stated that his understanding was that he was legally restricted from reporting the abuse.

  • DHS Agent Robert Edwards testified that Herrod told him that the helpline advised him that reporting was optional.

  • Neither bishop reported the abuse to law enforcement.

  • In 2017, Interpol discovered child pornography linked to Paul Adams and the FBI arrested him.

  • Paul Adams committed suicide while awaiting trial.

  • Leizza Adams was convicted of two counts of sexual abuse.

  • The Church is being sued by the victims of the abuse in a civil lawsuit.

Our Take

In Matthew 18, Jesus explained that it would be better to have a millstone hung about your neck and be drowned in the sea than to offend “one of these little ones.” In the strongest possible terms, we denounce and decry the abuse of children and the circumstances that protect abusers.

Paul Adams committed evil and reprehensible abuse against his own children, and Leizza Adams did not stop the abuse. But why did Church leaders and Church systems not stop the abuse when they learned about it? Does this indicate a systemic problem in the Church related to sexual abuse?

The bishops stated that they understood the abuse to be a "one-time incident" and that it had stopped. However, the abuse continued. Church policy directs bishops to stop abuse, and both bishops ultimately failed to do so. An attorney on the Church helpline may have shared responsibility for this failure if they advised to not report the abuse to law enforcement. In this case, it is clear that the system failed critically. In the end, these children were left in an abusive situation they never should have been in due to these failures.

The Church has policies and practices in place to protect children. But leaders that hold stewardship over Church members and their children need to be accountable when these systems fail. Members and Church leaders need to continually evaluate the policies and systems in place and how they safeguard members and children from abuse. As we advocate for that work, we extend increased love and pray for healing for victims and their communities.

If you, or someone you know, is being abused, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline for confidential 24/7 support: 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit hotline.rainn.org/online

What's Your Take?

280 characters remaining
These takes are curated for a general audience and may contain minor edits when posted.
  • Christian
    This is unfortunate all around with *perhaps* miscommunication between the bishop and helpline (recounting this from years before), but without honesty and candor from Paul in his initial confession, the fault still rests on the parents.
  • K
    I would have reported it no matter what the liability. No children should have to go through what they did and have people know about it and not protect them.
  • MICHAEL L.
    My first response was that I would have reported the abuse to police despite the law or helpline advice. However, would that have exposed me to civil liability from the perpetrators ( !) for ignoring confidentiality? Good luck if you're a Bishop or otherwise learn of such sins.
  • Allen
    I admit, I struggled with this one when I read the AP story. I'm grateful for the church's response. Maybe this situation will result in all of us doing better.
Footnotes