An Oregon child-welfare investigator concluded that Ed Murray sexually abused his foster son in the early 1980s, leading state officials to assert that “under no circumstances should Mr. Murray be certified” as a foster parent in the future, according to public records obtained by The Seattle Times.
The investigation by Oregon Child Protective Services (CPS) of Jeff Simpson’s allegations determined them to be valid — meaning the agency believed Murray sexually abused Simpson, the records show.
“In the professional judgement of this caseworker who has interviewed numerous children of all ages and of all levels of emotional disturbance regarding sexual abuse, Jeff Simpson has been sexually abused by … Edward Murray,” CPS caseworker Judy Butler wrote in the May 1984 assessment.
Murray, elected Seattle’s mayor in 2013, last week repeated in an interview with The Seattle Times that he never abused Simpson, and he underscored that prosecutors had decided decades ago not to charge him.
Still, the newly disclosed records reveal that a Multnomah County prosecutor withdrew a criminal case against Murray because of Simpson’s troubled personality, not because she thought he was lying.
“It was Jeff’s emotional instability, history of manipulative behavior and the fact that he has again run away and made himself unavailable that forced my decision,” Deputy District Attorney Mary Tomlinson wrote.
“We could not be sure of meeting the high burden of proof in a criminal case — of proof beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty. However, this in no way means that the District Attorney’s Office has decided Jeff’s allegations are not true.”
Unlike a criminal case, CPS child-abuse investigations determine whether “reasonable cause” exists — a lower standard of proof than for criminal cases, but still meaning the abuse likely occurred. In Oregon, about 10 percent of child-abuse reports annually have in recent years been deemed to be founded.
The newly obtained records, previously thought destroyed, provide the clearest picture yet of the investigation of Murray, then a paralegal who had worked as a counselor to Simpson and other troubled children.
The documents, released to The Seattle Times this month by Oregon’s Department of Human Services, also contradict public statements in recent months by Murray and his lawyer contending investigators had debunked Simpson’s allegations at the time as false.
A letter to The Times sent Saturday night by Murray’s Portland lawyer, Katherine Heekin, stressed: “Oregon’s Child Protective Services is supposed to err on the side of believing a child’s accusations. The agency is not responsible for judging sex abuse cases. It merely investigates allegations of sex abuse. In contrast, law enforcement is responsible for determining whether or not a crime may have happened. Here, there was no indictment, no charges filed, no conviction, and no crime.”
Murray said last week he had never been told of the CPS finding and would have appealed had he known. The Seattle Times provided him copies of the newly released investigative records Tuesday.
In an interview Thursday, Murray and Heekin questioned why Oregon officials kept the records without informing Murray. They also disputed the importance of the documents.
“Other than the salacious nature of it, I don’t see what the story is,” said Murray. “The system vindicated me. They withdrew the case.”
Murray said his previous comments that Simpson’s allegations had been discredited were based on his lawyer’s impressions about the decision to drop the case. He said he learned from the documents that the case was withdrawn before a grand jury could vote whether to indict him.
“I feel even more strongly that my statement was correct because (the criminal case) was withdrawn,” Murray added. “ … That is unusual because we all know people get indicted and they get indicted pretty easily. As I said, one of the attorneys told me you can get a ham sandwich indicted in the grand jury.”
The withdrawn case included another foster parent Simpson had accused of abuse.
Murray pointed to statements his attorneys collected and submitted to investigators from people who had known him or Simpson. They included other foster parents who described the youth as sometimes violent and impossibly difficult to care for.
Oregon officials previously said records of the investigation had been purged, but located them in April under a newer computer-tracking system. In releasing the typically private information to The Times, that state cited, in part, a provision of public-records law that allows disclosure “to protect children from abuse and neglect.”
The finding by CPS supporting Simpson — who had been abandoned as an infant and later lived under Murray’s care for nearly a year and a half as a teenager — prompted Oregon child-welfare officials to decide that Murray should never again be a foster parent, a June 1984 report shows.
The abuse finding — the result of a required administrative investigation — remains in effect and could still prevent him from being a foster parent in Oregon, officials said.
“Thank you, Jesus”
Murray, 62, a longtime Democratic state lawmaker and gay civil-rights leader, has attacked the credibility of Simpson and other men who say he sexual abused them decades ago. Murray has suggested the claims are politically motivated.
The scandal led Murray to drop his re-election bid. The mayor has said he’ll serve out his term, which ends this year.
Simpson, 49, who abandoned an effort to sue Murray in 2008 due to statute-of-limitations issues, was happy when reporters told him last week that the CPS report backed his claims.
“Wow, wow. Thank you, Jesus,” he said.
Simpson added that he and his attorney had tried to find such documents, but were told none existed.
The Times first published details about Simpson’s claims in April when a Kent man, Delvonn Heckard, made similar accusations against Murray in a sexual-abuse lawsuit. Heckard withdrew his lawsuit in June, saying he intends to refile after Murray leaves office.
Shortly after Heckard sued, Murray’s attorney Robert Sulkin attacked the lawsuit and Simpson’s allegations, saying Simpson’s claims had been “completely debunked” and “found to be false by law enforcement.”
Janet Hoffman, the Portland attorney who defended Murray in 1984, said in an interview in May that Portland prosecutors were “very hard-nosed” and must have been “thoroughly convinced” the allegations were “totally false.”
The records released this month show otherwise. Along with the prosecutor’s letter and the CPS assessment, a state foster-care specialist wrote in a summary:
“Mr. Murray allegedly sexually abused the foster child in his home over a long period of time. Although he was not indicted, the Protective Services department feels that the allegations are true, as does the district attorney’s office.”
A police report shows two witnesses also told a detective they were aware of allegations that Murray had abused Simpson and were willing to testify before a grand jury. A high-school friend of Simpson and the friend’s mother told the detective Simpson had spoken to them about Murray’s alleged abuse before telling social workers and that they had overheard a three- to four-hour phone call between the two.
Two foster fathers accused
Simpson, who grew up in group and foster homes, met Murray at the Parry Center for Children in Portland where Murray worked as his counselor in the late 1970s. Murray remained close with Simpson after the boy left the center.
At the time, Simpson had extreme emotional problems. Child-welfare records described him as a “heavy street kid” and “one of the agency’s most difficult children.” Murray was considered a stabilizing presence whom Simpson called “Dad,” the records show.
In November 1982, a court designated Murray, then a 27-year-old paralegal for a public defender’s office, to become Simpson’s foster father. The teenager lived with Murray in two Portland apartments until March 1984, records show. Social workers noted some problems, but they called Murray the most successful foster parent Simpson had ever had.
Simpson first alleged sex abuse in April 1984, a few weeks after he’d been removed from Murray’s care due to drug abuse and behavioral problems. The upheaval in Simpson’s living situation weighed on him; two days after being moved to a group home he slashed his wrist, cutting a 4-inch gash in his left arm.
When a social worker interviewed Simpson, asking if he’d ever been sexually abused, Simpson told her a foster parent had abused him years earlier. When she asked if he’d been abused more recently, Simpson wanted assurances his answer would remain confidential, the records show.
“After being reassured … that it would, Jeff acknowledged that his foster father in his most recent placement also sexually abused him,” a social worker’s report on the alleged abuse states.
CPS assigned Butler to assess the allegations a few days later. Simpson was surprised and reluctant, saying he thought what he told the social worker would stay private. He eventually told Butler about the alleged abuse in an hourlong interview.
Simpson said the abuse began in 1980, when he was 13 and spending a weekend with Murray. The abuse continued after Murray became his foster father and lasted until he left Murray’s care at age 16, Simpson said. At times, Murray paid Simpson $10 or gave him drugs for sex.
“Jeff stared at the floor and appeared to be very depressed,” Butler wrote. “At times his voice would shake as he described his disappointment when Ed Murray, whom he had trusted and seen as the only consistent adult figure in his life, began a process of sexual abuse.”
Simpson gave a second interview a day later with Butler and Portland police Detective Dave Foesch. Simpson told the detective that Murray sometimes warned him that if he told anyone, he’d be removed from Murray’s home and sent to an institution.
When the detective asked if Simpson was willing to help prosecute Murray, Simpson responded, “No, he is my father,” Foesch, who has since died, wrote in a police report.
“It was then explained to Jeffrey that Mr. Murray is not his father and that a father would not do these things to his son,” Foesch wrote. “Jeffrey then thought about it for a while and agreed that he may possibly be able to save some other child from suffering the same indignations.”
The next day, Simpson, Butler and Foesch testified before a grand jury, Butler’s report states. Meantime, Murray, unaware of the allegations, called Simpson’s group home several times, demanding to speak with him and threatening to sue when he was denied contact, Butler’s report states.
After testifying to the grand jury, Foesch called Murray to inform him of Simpson’s allegations and set up an interview. A lawyer for Murray later told Foesch his client was “too emotionally upset at this time to be interviewed,” the detective’s report states.
Murray changed lawyers several times before settling on Hoffman, who soon provided statements to investigators from people who knew Simpson and Murray, and did not believe the allegations.
Murray also reportedly took a private polygraph, but “since the exact results were not released to the D.A. my assumption is that it was inconclusive,” Butler wrote in the assessment. She noted Hoffman described Murray as “coming out ‘Real good’” in the test.
Murray and Hoffman said last week they didn’t have records of the polygraph results.
Simpson, who state foster reports show was prone to lying, stealing, using drugs and running away, presented problems for the district attorney in proving the case. About a month after the allegations emerged, the prosecutor’s office withdrew the case against Murray and the other accused foster parent from the grand jury.
But in her CPS assessment, Butler found Simpson believable. She noted he’d expressed concern that his claims would ruin Murray’s career, and had “no motive to make something like this up” because Simpson knew he’d likely be placed in an institution and never allowed to live with Murray again.
“It is unfortunate that the criminal justice system chose not to act in this case simply because a conviction of … Mr. Murray would probably be the only way of mandating (him) in to treatment for … sexual deviancy,” Butler added.
A few months after the investigation ended, Murray left Portland and moved to Seattle.
“Those records exist”
Simpson said Friday he didn’t remember accusing the other foster parent of abuse when he spoke with reporters earlier this year, saying that was probably because it didn’t compare to what Murray allegedly did to him.
“It upsets me that I didn’t remember,” he said. “I’m not trying to be deceitful or anything like that. It hurts my validity.”
The other man was Simpson’s foster provider for about a month, the records show.
Simpson is one of four men who have publicly accused Murray of sexual abuse decades ago when they were teenagers. Heckard claimed Murray started paying him for sex in 1986, when Heckard was a drug-addicted 15-year-old. Lloyd Anderson and Lavon Jones also separately allege Murray paid them for sex as teenagers.
In May, Murray’s personal spokesman, Jeff Reading, provided The Times with copies of several statements from people who supported Murray when Simpson first made his allegations in 1984.
Reading said he was providing the information because “there is an existing body of evidence that rebuts and contradicts what Jeff has said.”
The statements were given by people who had counseled or taken in Simpson and described him as emotionally unstable and Murray as having tried hard to help.
One couple, who took Simpson on weekend outings, told a Murray defense investigator Simpson didn’t respond well to discipline and in his early teens “seemed to be very obsessed with the fear of being a homosexual.”
The couple believed the boy’s sex-abuse allegation “was nothing more (than) Jeff acting up” and “striking back” for “some form of rejection.”
Another statement, from a counselor who had worked with Simpson at Murray’s request, said the teenager previously had claimed sexual abuse.
The counselor said “he recalled a telephone call in which Jeff alleged that Ed had forced him into sex and paid for it,” he told Murray’s defense investigators.
The counselor dismissed Simpson’s claim, saying “he did not believe that allegation at the time, and found it to be completely irrational.”
Some of the same statements were included in the state foster records released to The Times this month. The CPS investigator considered them before making her finding.
Murray said the CPS report doesn’t accurately reflect what happened, noting other important records from Simpson’s foster file and the D.A. inquiry that no longer exist would illustrate Simpson’s destructive behavior.
“He got angry at every foster parent that he’d ever been involved with,” Murray said.
In interviews, Simpson has acknowledged his troubled youth, drug problems and lengthy criminal record, including a 10-year prison term.
He also has signed several waivers to allow authorities to release his private counseling and other records.
In June, after Heckard withdrew his lawsuit, Murray held a news conference at City Hall to declare he’d been vindicated. The mayor also told reporters the media hadn’t gone far enough in seeking information that would demonstrate his innocence in the Simpson case.
“All those records exist,” Murray said. “Also, that a prosecutor and grand jury investigated it and didn’t pursue it, all those facts exist.”
When reminded Thursday of his statements criticizing the press for not pursuing more records, Murray responded: “But you cherry-pick records. You cherry-pick records.”
In the Saturday night letter, Murray’s attorney Heekin also said, “The Seattle Times … seeks to reinvestigate the case, to take the place of law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office, act as judge and jury without a full vetting and disclosure of the facts that were available to law enforcement in 1984, rewrite history, and mislead the public.”