Baker probe ongoing

The Cambria County district attorney’s criminal investigation of sexual abuse allegations involving Brother Stephen Baker, a Hollidaysburg-based Franciscan friar, did not end with his death.

“I would still encourage anyone who feels they were victimized to come forward through the District Attorney’s Office or Johnstown police,” District Attorney Kelly Callihan said.

Callihan declined to say who the investigation targets.

“I’m not going to comment on the direction we are taking on the criminal side of this,” she said.

Johnstown Police Chief Craig Foust said the police department is not currently conducting a criminal investigation.

“If we are asked to conduct an investigation of mandated reporters, we will do that,” he said. “That hasn’t occurred at this point.”

The Johnstown police began a criminal investigation of Baker last year based on allegations of three individuals, Foust said. But those individuals chose to contact civil attorneys instead of pursuing criminal charges, he said.

Baker served as athletic trainer at Bishop McCort High School from the early 1990s to 2000.

Since Baker’s Jan. 26 suicide at St. Bernardine Monastery, Hollidaysburg, attorneys have continued to represent clients with regard to alleged negligence of Baker’s supervisors.

Altoona attorney Richard Serbin has filed five notices of civil suits naming the Third Order Regular Franciscan order, Bishop McCort, Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Bishop Emeritus Joseph V. Adamec and the Very Rev. Robert D’Aversa, who was in charge of St. Bernardine Monastery where Baker lived, as defendants.

On Wednesday, Serbin said he notified the diocese that he is representing a female who alleges abuse by Baker. Serbin has not filed a legal writ on behalf of his female client.

No attorney has contacted Serbin on behalf of the Franciscan order in response to notices of five lawsuits Serbin has filed, he said.

The diocese’s attorney, Eric Anderson, has made an appearance. Anderson is not representing Bishop McCort although the school was under the auspice of the diocese at the time of Baker’s service.

Anderson said he does not know details of the claims and will not request formal complaints to be filed.

“Time and effort would be better devoted to bringing justice,” he said.

“The diocese intends to deal with each of the claims and try to resolve them in a cost efficient, fair manner.”

Serbin’s female client, like other alleged victims, went to Baker for treatment because she understood he was an athletic trainer, Serbin said.

The alleged abuse of Serbin’s female client is similar to the males who claim abuse, except the female was clothed when Baker massaged her, he said.

Males who allege abuse were told by Baker to enter a whirlpool naked, Serbin said. Then Baker watched them get out of the whirlpool and massaged them on a trainer’s table.

From the perspective of a student, he always had an explanation to begin touching their buttocks and “area of genitals”- telling his victims that muscles for an ankle or calf injury extend upward. The abuse would occur gradually, Serbin said. Baker began treating the injury, then scheduled follow-up treatment.

Serbin said the alleged abuse sometimes included digital penetration.

But Baker allegedly touched students’ buttocks and genitals in a way that wasn’t overtly communicated as sexual, he said.

“Would he try to masturbate someone? No,” Serbin said. “He did it in a manner that concealed what his purpose was – sexual gratification,” he said.

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who has filed a writ of summons with Serbin in Blair County Court, said it’s not unusual for a sexual predator to abuse males and females because part of the gratification is having control over a victim.

Callihan declined to say what information her office has compiled on Baker, but she addressed what has been reported of Baker’s alleged abuse.

“If you have indecent contact with a minor without their consent for sexual gratification, that is what indecent assault is,” she said. “One instance constitutes a misdemeanor offense. But the indecent contact becomes a felony when it occurs repeatedly.”

Some cases of abuse might not seem like a criminal act, Callihan said, but the matter becomes increasingly grave “when you have multiple victims or the same mode of operation to get victims.”

Serbin said he is receiving clients through other attorneys’ referrals, recent clients and emails.

He has so far declined to allow his clients to speak with reporters.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.