Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Volunteer charged with molestation

Teen's friend reported abuse

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — A former Franklin firefighter was charged Monday with molesting a 14-year-old boy in the department's Explorer program in 1998.

        A Warren County grand jury indicted Paul Johnston Jr., 22, of three felony counts of gross sexual imposition and one felony charge of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor.

        Authorities said that Mr. Johnston is accused of fondling the boy in his car and having oral sex with him in a shed behind Johnston's Lake Avenue residence.

        Mr. Johnston worked as a volunteer firefighter in Franklin from August 1998, when he turned 18, through that December — about the same time he was charged with fondling two other boys in an unrelated incident. He was convicted in Franklin Municipal Court of two counts of sexual imposition and placed on probation in April 1999 involving those allegations.

        Detective Larry Sims, the county's child abuse investigator, said the most recent accusations against Mr. Johnston surfaced in late 2000, after the boy, now an adult, mentioned it to a friend. The friend went to authorities. The boy had kept it a secret from his parents, Detective Sims said.

        “The family of this victim was uncertain whether they wanted to put their kid through any of this,” he said, explaining the lag in prosecuting the case. “Time passed before they decided whether they wanted to go through this, and they finally agreed.”

        Mr. Johnston, who will be summoned to appear in court for arraignment in about two weeks, could not be reached for comment. He faces 16 1/2 years in prison if convicted of the charges.

        Mr. Johnston was not an adviser in the Explorer program, but the boy considered Mr. Johnston a “mentor,” Detective Sims said.

        The Explorer program, a branch of Boy Scouts of America, is available to youths ages 14 to 18 who are curious about careers in the police or fire service.

        At the Franklin firehouse, Explorers accompany firefighters on emergency runs, participate in training exercises and perform tasks, such as washing apparatus and cleaning up around the station. About a dozen youths are involved in the Explorer program there at any given time, Franklin Fire Chief Jonathan Westendorf said.

        Chief Westendorf, who took over the department in fall 2000, said he was not familiar with Mr. Johnston nor was he aware of the allegations against him.


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