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Mark Stodghill, Duluth News Tribune, Published June 28 2013

Duluth youth sports coach faces child sex charges

A Salvation Army youth basketball coach who appeared in televised announcements promoting the benefits of the program has been charged with twice sexually assaulting a preteen boy and in a separate incident photographing him in sexual positions.

Peter Jay Olson, 47, was arraigned Thursday in State District Court in Duluth on two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, possessing pictorial representation of minors, and use of a minor in a sexual performance. All four crimes are felonies. The guideline prison sentence for a first-degree criminal sexual conduct conviction is 12 years in prison for someone with no prior criminal record. Olson has no prior criminal record.

Olson was also a Lake Park Little League coach in eastern Duluth and his alleged victim was one of his players. According to the criminal complaint, Olson has admitted to investigators that he sexually assaulted the boy in a Salvation Army office and at the defendant’s home.

The complaint alleges that Olson acknowledged touching the boy sexually and performing a sex act upon him twice. He said that he believed the incidents happened between 2010 and 2011. He said he knew the boy and his family through the Salvation Army and when he became the boy’s baseball coach.

Police say Olson admitted that he used a timer on his digital camera to capture himself and the boy in sexual positions at his hunting shack, but denied that they engaged in actual sexual activity at that time.

St. Louis County prosecutor Rebekka Stumme told Judge Eric Hylden that Olson is a threat to public safety and is also a risk to flee because of the serious potential consequences if found guilty. She asked the court to set bail at $400,000 and to order the defendant to have no contact with minors.

Hylden set bail at $400,000 with no conditions, or $200,000 with conditions that he not leave the state, obey all laws and have no contact with minors. Olson didn’t immediately make bail and was being held Thursday evening in the St. Louis County Jail.

A Salvation Army spokeswoman said Olson started coaching in the Rookie Basketball program in 1988 and was terminated in November. A Lake Park Little League spokesman said Olson was a longtime coach there, but abruptly resigned earlier this month without explanation.

The charges against the defendant were brought after an investigation by the Lake Superior Forensic Technology and Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, based at the Superior Police Department, Duluth police and the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office.

In a prepared statement, Salvation Army public relations director Annette Bauer said the agency received a report about Olson from a parent with a child in one of its programs and “immediately launched an internal investigation and immediately suspended Mr. Olson the same day.”

Bauer said the Salvation Army secured Olson’s office, hired professional investigators and specialists in computer forensics and began interviews.

When inappropriate materials were found on data storage disks owned by Olson, the Salvation Army notified the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minneapolis. Olson was then fired.

An Assistant U.S. Attorney contacted the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, saying that information had been received from an employee of Computer Forensic Services that child pornography had been found on a desktop computer used by Olson while employed by the Salvation Army.

A total of 212 images of suspected child pornography were found on Olson’s computer. They were sent to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Law Enforcement Services Portal. None of the children have been identified.

“Our primary concern is always for the well-being of the children in our programs and the Salvation Army is committed to providing a safe environment for them,” Bauer said in her statement. “Our staff is trained to recognize risk factors and expected to report any concerns or incidents. It is because of this program we were alerted to concerns and immediately acted upon them.

“The Salvation Army has one of the most strict child protection policies in the nation and that includes background checks and significant training for staff and volunteers.”

Another man who coached and refereed in the Salvation Army Rookie Basketball Association from 2008-12 has also been accused of sexual assault. Wendell Anthony Greene, 37, is currently facing charges that he sexually assaulted three girls. Two of the girls said that Greene had been their basketball coach. Greene also coached seventh-grade girls at Duluth East High School in 2007-08, sixth-grade girls at Hermantown High School in 2009 and Duluth Amateur Youth Basketball Association from 2010-12.

Duluth attorney Eric Beyer was serving as Lake Park Little League spokesman on the Olson allegations. Beyer said the league was notified of Olson’s arrest Tuesday night and an e-mail was sent out to all the parents of the Little Leaguers first thing Wednesday.

The Lake Park Little League Board of Directors issued a statement saying that annual background checks are completed for all of its coaches using Little League International recommended procedures. No complaints of ethical violations were ever leveled against Olson, the board said.

“Lake Park Little League is both shocked and deeply saddened by today’s allegations,” its statement said. “We offer our sympathy and support for any victims. Lake Park Little League places the highest emphasis on player safety, while allowing our players to develop sports and team skills. … We will work diligently to continue that tradition.”

Duluth police Lt. Mike Ceynowa said the investigation into Olson continues. He asks anyone with relevant information to contact police at (218) 730-5070.

“I don’t want to alarm the public, but oftentimes there are more victims in cases like this,” Ceynowa said. “First Witness (Child Abuse Resource Center, 727-8353) is obviously a resource for families if they have any concerns about how to talk to their children about this if they’ve been involved with either of these organizations or have had contact with Mr. Olson. We want to investigate this completely and fully and make sure that we are identifying potential victims so that they can get the help that they need.”