The Duluth Salvation Army fired its youth basketball coach in November after child pornography allegedly was found on his work computer, according to court records.
But no one told Duluth Lake Park Little League — where Peter Jay Olson also coached children, and where he showed up for several weeks in May until Duluth police found out and told him to quit that position.
Lake Park parents say they didn’t find out until late June that the 47-year-old Duluth man was being investigated on suspicion of viewing child pornography and, as it turns out, sexual assault of a preteen boy.
“As a parent, I am deeply troubled by anybody not (telling us) something that could affect the safety of a child,” said Eric Beyer, a Lake Park parent and coach.
The Salvation Army never notified anyone from Lake Park, said Beyer, a Duluth lawyer who is acting as Lake Park Little League’s spokesman.
Olson coached for Lake Park for at least 15 years, Beyer said. Before he was fired by the Salvation Army, Olson wore Lake Park baseball gear at the Salvation Army and held winter practices and throwing drills regularly in the gym there, Beyer said.
“I can’t imagine anyone that knew Pete Olson didn’t know he coached baseball at Lake Park,” Beyer said.
The Salvation Army, which has previously released prepared statements to the media and sent a letter to basketball parents, declined to respond to questions last week, citing the ongoing investigation.
Pressed on why the organization didn’t tell Lake Park Little League officials about the investigation of Olson, which began in November and culminated in an arrest June 25, Salvation Army spokeswoman Annette Bauer said: “We reported to authorities and they started the criminal investigation. I’m sure you are talking to investigators as well.”
Olson, 47, has been charged with twice sexually assaulting a preteen boy and, in a separate alleged incident, photographing him in sexual positions. He’s also been charged with possessing pictorial representations of minors. His alleged victim was one of his eastern Duluth Lake Park Little League players.
According to the criminal complaint filed in State District Court in Duluth, Olson admitted to investigators that he sexually assaulted the boy in a Salvation Army office and Olson’s home between 2010 and 2011.
Coach of two sports
Olson began coaching in the Rookie Basketball program in 1988. The Salvation Army said it received a complaint about Olson in November from the parent of a child in one of its programs, and the charitable Christian organization began an internal investigation, suspending Olson the same day. The Salvation Army secured Olson’s office and hired professional investigators and specialists in computer forensics, the complaint said.
Page 2 of 3 - The Salvation Army said it notified the U.S. Attorney’s Office when inappropriate materials were found on the coach’s computer, and Olson was fired. A total of 212 images of suspected child pornography of unidentified children from around the world were found on Olson’s computer, according to the criminal complaint.
When Duluth police learned in June that Olson coached Little League, he was told to quit, Lt. Mike Ceynowa said.
“We have a duty to warn when we know someone is in imminent danger,” he said, explaining why the department didn’t contact Lake Place Little League. Once Olson was no longer working for the organization, the danger to children wasn’t imminent, Ceynowa said.
The Lake Park organization didn’t learn about the allegations against Olson until June 25, Beyer said, which is the night Olson was arrested.
Beth Olson, executive director of First Witness, said the normal procedure for law enforcement conducting a sexual abuse investigation is to ask the suspect about any regular contacts he has with children.
“They try to stop that for the period of the investigation,” said Beth Olson, who is not related to Peter Jay Olson.
First Witness is a child abuse resource center that works with a variety of agencies to “coordinate an appropriate and well-rounded response to child abuse within the community,” its mission statement reads.
Beth Olson said parents have called her office looking for guidance on how to talk with children who have had contact with Peter Olson through the Salvation Army or the Little League.
“They ask, ‘What can I say to them?’ ” Olson said. “They want to know.”
First Witness offers basics for parents to inquire with their children, but parents can only go so far until experts are needed, she said. She said it’s important, and “not too late,” for parents to learn how to make sure their children are able to know when abuse is happening to them.
First Witness is also helping Lake Park Little League parents. “They were blown away,” Olson said of the lack of communication about Peter Olson being under investigation.
Another coach case
Olson is the second Salvation Army Rookie Basketball Association coach charged with sexual assault in the last year.
Wendell Anthony Greene, 37, a coach from 2008 to 2012, has also been accused of sexual assault of three girls in two separate cases. Two of the girls said Greene had been their basketball coach, but the complaints against Greene do not make clear which leagues the girls participated in when they came into contact with him.
Page 3 of 3 - Greene also coached seventh-grade girls at Duluth East High School in 2007-08, sixth-grade girls at Hermantown High School in 2009, and he coached in the Duluth Amateur Youth Basketball Association from 2010 to 2012.
Greene is scheduled to appear in State District Court in Duluth on Aug. 2 in connection with the alleged sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl who said he had been her basketball coach. Greene has a Sept. 10 trial set in the case in which he is accused of sexually assaulting two preteen girls.
However, St. Louis County prosecutor Rebekka Stumme said last week that the timing of the two potential trials will be discussed with the court at the Aug. 2 hearing.
Greene’s attorney, Tom Skare of Cloquet, declined to comment on his client’s case. Other efforts, including phone calls, emails and Facebook messages, to reach the two suspects, their families or representatives were unsuccessful.
In court actions over the last year, Skare challenged statements of the girls, including videotaped interviews given at First Witness. Skare told the court there is evidence that one of the girls has a problem being truthful and is receiving counseling for that. Skare intends to call a national child psychology expert to testify at the September trial.
Olson remains in Pine County Jail in Pine City. The St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office said it is investigating the possibility that there is another victim.
Lake Park Little League has been in contact with First Witness and is encouraging parents and members who want to talk to reach out to that organization.
Ceynowa, too, said that contacting law enforcement and child protection services to get help for children who say they are in abusive situations should be the first options.
“Start getting that child the help they need and get them removed from a dangerous situation, or make sure the abuser is removed,” Ceynowa said.