By Diana Hefley Herald Writer
EVERETT — A Port Townsend man accused of molesting a 4-year-old girl last year in Snohomish County is now under investigation for abusing at least two other girls.
Prosecutors say one of the assaults happened after an Everett judge released Joshua Larson from the Snohomish County Jail in March.
Larson, 39, has been held at the Clallam County Jail since May 22. He was arrested after a 9-year-old girl reported that Larson molested her at a public pool in Sequim on May 18.
Prosecutors here have since charged Larson with first-degree child molestation based on allegations that he abused a child at a Thanksgiving dinner last year in north Snohomish County.
A Snohomish County Superior Court Judge late last month issued a $500,000 arrest warrant for Larson, securing his transfer to the Everett jail if he’s released from the lockup in Clallam County.
“The facts of his case create a high degree of concern for the safety of the community. The concern was high when the state requested $250,000 bail on March 28, and those concerns have come to fruition after the defendant took his freedom as an opportunity to molest (a girl), a perfect stranger, in a public place,” Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Andrew Alsdorf wrote, asking for the arrest warrant.
In court documents, Alsdorf spent time outlining the information that was available to Everett District Court Judge Tam Bui when she decided to release Larson without imposing any bail.
Larson was in front of Bui the day after his March 27 arrest for the north Snohomish County case.
The judge was provided a document, called a superform, which generally spells out why police believe there is probable cause to hold someone in jail.
In this case, the police included details of the allegations in Snohomish County. They also noted that Larson was accused of molesting two other girls in the 1990s. The detective included concerns from one of the girl’s fathers, once friends with Larson. That man said Larson “should always be looked at as a threat.”
As a district court judge, Bui is asked to determine if police have proven that enough probable cause exists for the arrest. She also is asked to decide if bail is warranted. She is expected to consider whether the defendant poses a danger to the community and is likely to commit a violent offense, or if the defendant is likely to interfere with the administration of justice. She also is asked to consider if bail is necessary to secure the person’s appearance at future court hearings.
The law is clear that bail is not intended to be punishment, Bui said.
“At this point no charges are filed,” Bui said. “It’s not a hearing where we’re trying to seek to punish a person for being arrested or jailed.”
In non-capital cases, there is a presumption that a person will be released pending trial.
Bui declined to discuss Larson’s case specifically, saying it wouldn’t be appropriate for her to talk about a case now pending in Snohomish County Superior Court.
In general, she said that she considers what information the police have provided in the superform. She also considers the static adult risk assessment, which uses a person’s age, gender and criminal history to predict future behavior. She also may hear from alleged victims or from people who support the accused.
“These are difficult decisions. We take them very seriously. We’re talking about taking a person’s freedom and also the potential effects on the alleged victims and the effects on the public,” Bui said. “We do the best we can with the information we have. We don’t have the benefit of hindsight or a crystal ball.”
Prosecutors could have filed a charge against Larson sooner and asked a Superior Court judge to impose bail and conditions for Larson to follow, such as preventing him from frequenting places where children gather.
Alsdorf said he was in the middle of preparing for a murder trial when Larson was arrested. Once Larson was released from jail there was no deadline to file charges. Generally, if there is no deadline, prosecutors handling child sex crimes meet with the children and other important witnesses to discuss their wishes, such as whether they are prepared to go forward with a criminal case, he said.
The parents in this case, until recently, were undecided whether they wanted to involve their daughter in a criminal prosecution given her young age, Alsdorf said.
Additionally, prosecutors need time to weigh the strength of the evidence. They often request more investigation. Typically, molestation cases have little or no physical evidence and it boils down to whether a jury is going to believe the testimony of a child witness.
“I would also add that we shouldn’t have to rely exclusively on Superior Court judges in search of appropriate bail and conditions,” Alsdorf said. “Some would call that forum shopping, and if that became routine, the entire system of having district court judges make the initial bail decision would become untenable.”
Snohomish County sheriff’s detectives began investigating Larson in December after a girl he knew reported to her family that he touched her. Her parents confronted Larson, who denied the assault.
Detectives interviewed Larson in February. He told detectives he picked the girl up after taking away a hazardous toy, but denied any inappropriate touching. He said the girl may be making up the story because that’s what her parents wanted to hear, according to court papers.
Detectives continued to investigate the allegations. They also investigated previous allegations, speaking with two women who accused Larson of assaulting them as girls.
Larson was 24 when he was charged with child molestation after a 5-year-old girl reported that he abused her. A King County jury acquitted him at the 1998 trial.
During the investigation into that case, Bothell police also heard from another young woman who reported that Larson abused her in 1994, when she was 8. It doesn’t appear that Larson was ever charged in connection with those allegations.
In addition to the allegations in Snohomish County and Sequim, Alsdorf said that Larson now is being investigated by Port Townsend police. A 7-year-old girl has reported that Larson molested her in 2012.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.