Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Raphael Warnock’s arrest 18 years ago on charges of obstructing a police investigation have become a focus of GOP attacks in the Jan. 5 runoffs that could decide control of the U.S. Senate.
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and other Republicans have highlighted the arrest on social media to promote Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in the twin runoffs. Loeffler’s campaign joined in Thursday.
The charges are part of a series of attacks leveled against Warnock since he emerged as Loeffler’s opponent in the runoff, along with other broadsides aimed at his past sermons and his political stances.
Media reports and court records show the charges against Warnock were dropped at the request of law enforcement and investigators said he was “very helpful” with the probe. They blamed miscommunication and apologized for the arrest.
That didn’t stop Republicans from promoting the story in hopes of raising new questions about Warnock.
“What exactly was going on there? What was the nature of the child abuse? What was his involvement?” Loeffler aide Stephen Lawson asked. “If he wants Georgia voters to believe anything he says, he needs to come clean and explain what happened.”
Warnock spokesman Terrence Clark told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that it’s a “false attack" that’s taken out of context.
“The truth is he was protecting the rights of young people to make sure they had a lawyer or a parent when being questioned,” Clark said. “Law enforcement officials later apologized and praised him for his help in this investigation.”
In August 2002, Warnock was working at the Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore when he and another minister were charged with obstructing a police investigation into suspected child abuse at a church-run camp in rural Carroll County, Maryland.
He and the other minister were not suspects in the investigation, but they were charged because authorities say they interrupted an interview of a counselor at Camp Farthest Out, an outreach ministry for inner-city kids, and later tried to block a camper from talking to police.
At the time, State Trooper Diane Barry told The Baltimore Sun that she’s “never encountered resistance like that at all.” Warnock told the newspaper he was only asserting that lawyers need to be present during the interviews.
Court records showed that Dr. Lewis Richardson, who chaired the camp’s board of directors, initially allowed police to use a private on-site office to conduct the interviews. But after police conducted one interviewed with a counselor, camp officials told them they wouldn’t help find other counselors to be questioned.
Investigators then tracked down a 17-year-old staffer on their own who agreed to an interview, returned to the office and closed the door, according to The Carroll County Times. Within 10 minutes, Warnock and another minister entered and asked to be present throughout the interview.
When police asked him to leave, Warnock refused and said either he or a parent needed to be there, according to the Times. The investigators moved to a nearby picnic table, and Warnock again urged police not to talk to the counselor without a lawyer present.
Then, when one of the campers pointed out another counselor to be interviewed, the other minister told the camper not to talk to police and pulled him away, according to the court records reviewed by The Times. That’s when police placed the two men under arrest, the newspaper reported.
The charges were dropped in October 2002, and Deputy State’s Attorney Tracy A. Gilmore blamed “some miscommunication” between authorities and the ministers for the initial decision to charge Warnock.
“They were very helpful with the continued investigation,” she told The Sun of Warnock and the other minister. “It would not have been a prudent use of resources to have prosecuted them.”
Warnock was quoted as saying after the charges were dropped that it was “quite unfortunate that the overzealous actions of a few police officers resulted in our youth being subjected to this same ugly image.”
Warnock responded to the Loeffler campaign ads at a press conference Thursday that he had originally called to discuss expanding the Affordable Care Act.
“I was a youth pastor at a church 25 years ago, I had nothing to do with that program,” Warnock said of the camp. “The sad this is, they know it. But if you don’t really have an agenda for working families I guess you have to distract.”