St. Margaret of Cortona Church in Little Ferry, N.J. this week is dealing with the arrest of its pastor, The Rev. Kevin Carter, 54. Even more shocking is the charge: aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of a child. However, on closer examination, the arrest and charge seems wildly out of place according to published reports. What was a gag based on football rivalry has turned into a full fledged criminal case due to the refusal of the police or prosecutors to show a modicum of discretion or logic.
This whole mess arose when an eight-year-old boy showed up in a Cowboys jersey in the middle of New York Giants country. Carter saw the boy and called him into a side room. In front of witnesses, he pulled out a Civil War musket and pretended to prepare to execute the boy by pointing it at him. A parishioner was aghast and called the Archdiocese which called the police (after the abuse scandals, the church is now under strict instructions to call police on any allegation of abuse). Father Carter was then arrested and charged.
Here is my problem with this case. First, no one has suggested that Carter was actually trying to scare the boy or intended to harm him. Second, while the musket could have been fired, I am assuming that this is a muzzle loader that would have taken steps to actually load — even if it could fire (which police say it could). Third, it is not clear that Father Carter knew the musket could be fired.
This does not mean that Father Carter was in the right. It is extremely poor judgment to point any weapon, even a vintage weapon, at a child. Had this been a toy gun, there would be no issue. There are many tragic cases of people who assume a gun is unloaded — only to cut down a loved one or acquaintance.
So what are you left with? An act of good-natured, but ill-considered fun. It was a mistake. But I fail to see the need for a criminal prosecution.
Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli clearly views this differently. Malignly said “Prior to the mass beginning, Father Kevin Carter asked to see him in one of the rectory rooms. Once in the room, Father Carter had the victim stand against a wall. He then retrieved a long gun from nearby and pointed it at the child with an indication that he would shoot him.” Yes, but various witnesses have said that it was clearly a joke and people were laughing. Doesn’t that factor into prosecutorial discretion? Does Molinelli think that the priest was serious about executing the boy and knowingly put him at risk? If he knew the musket was a working weapon, this was a very very stupid thing to due. However, it seems clear that he it was unloaded (which was true). (In fairness of Molinelli, police did find gun powder and ammunition in the room so someone clearly knew it was a working weapon if the ammunition was for this musket). Molinelli insists that Carter should not be given special treatment because he is a priest. That is far enough, but I would have the same reservations about prosecuting a non-priest. Indeed, the testimony of credible eyewitnesses would seem to support the exercise of prosecutorial discretion to forego a prosecution in the case.
Richard Fritzky, an adjunct professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University, was apparently a witness and said that the musket was brought down originally to show him.
“I was in the rectory at Saint Margaret de Cortona in Little Ferry visiting Father Kevin Carter at the very moment that the incident with the Civil War era rifle, the young 8 year old boy with the Cowboys Jersey and the alleged threat took place . . . I can definitively state that the only reason the rifle was in his hands at all was because, fellow Civil War buffs that we are, he brought it down to show it to me and was in the process of taking it back upstairs, when the boy and his parents or parent, I assume, came walking through the long hallway or entrance to the rectory from the church . . . I could clearly see Father Kevin to my left and what I witnessed and heard was this: he feigned being struck and hurt that anyone would dare come into his home with Cowboys colors on and he loudly and good naturedly teased the boy, who had quite apparently come to do the same to Father Kevin,” he said. “It was all loud and good humored fun and nothing but, as everyone involved, including the boy, was clearly laughing. In fact, boisterously so.”
He insists that Carter did not raise the rife or threaten anyone.
Of course, the kid is not the only Cowboys fan in the state.
Carter is charged with one count of fourth degree aggravated assault by pointing a firearm and one count of third degree endangering the welfare of a child. Bail was set at $15,000.
What do you think?