SOUTH BEND — Charges against Michael E. Nolan have been dropped after months of witnesses and alleged victims refusing to cooperate as they pursue civil litigation against the state.
His attorney, Wayne C. Fricke, made it clear that if there was no cooperation before July 9, he would be seeking to get the case dismissed, and he kept his word.
Five felony countsNolan was arrested on Jan. 26 after a lengthy investigation between the Washington State Department of Children and Youth Services and the Pacific County Sheriff’s Office. As a result, he was facing four counts of sexual exploitation of a minor and one count of attempted sexual exploitation of a minor.
The alleged victims each reported similar accounts while at the Naselle Youth Camp of Nolan taking them to a stream and asking them to enter the water naked. Additional allegations recounted advances and inappropriate touching by Nolan.
The Pacific County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case between January 2020 and January 2021 before official charges were filed in the Pacific County Superior Court on Jan. 26. Nolan was arrested the same day with bail set at $100,000 and was bailed out on Jan. 28. He has since remained free.
Months of no cooperationDuring a pretrial hearing on June 18, Fricke informed the court that he had spent months attempting to gain cooperation from the victims, but even with the prosecution’s assistance he could not set up necessary interviews. He went as far as to state the case was “treading water.”
As a result, Fricke requested the hearing be set over three additional weeks to July 9 to see if cooperation with the victims and an attorney representing them could be established. If not, he would likely request the charges against his client be dismissed.
“We attempted to secure the victims to accommodate the defense’s right for those interviews, and the victims were not cooperative,” Pacific County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Tracey Munger said. “We could not get the state, who has the tort claim to work with, to get their client to cooperate.”
Fricke submitted a motion to dismiss all five charges on July 9, and they were all dismissed without prejudice by the court. This means the charges can be refiled at a later date if the victims decide to cooperate. The prosecution can also refile charges without their cooperation, but is not expected to do so.
Incentive to not comply?After the hearing on June 18, it was learned that the attorney representing the victims is also representing them in a tort claim against the state. The lawsuit seeks monetary payment for the alleged damages suffered to the victims by the state, Nolan’s former employer.
Victims can be incented not to comply with a criminal case because anything they say to the prosecution, defense, or during court could potentially affect a tort claim, specifically if any statement they make could be considered “less sympathetic” by a jury for their civil case.
“Because they are represented, their attorney has zero interest in helping us out,” Munger said. “She may be the one who is uncooperating, and she may not be explaining to them that it is vital that they cooperate with us to get this done.
“I can’t necessarily say that these kids don’t want to pursue the criminal side, but I can say there is an attorney running interference between the criminal and civil side,” Munger added regarding the problematic time the prosecutor’s office has had with the case.
Where’s the justice?Prosecutor Ben Haslam has admitted being perplexed by the case and even reached out to the Washington State Attorney General’s Office multiple times and received no assistance with the matter. He emphasized the lack of justice without cooperation, but the state’s primary interest has remained in handling the claim for monetary damages.
While Nolan’s arrest will likely show up on employment background checks as a prior arrest, nothing holds him accountable for the alleged crimes he conducted between July 2018 and August 2019. Haslam and his office also admit they are very disappointed in the case’s outcome and lack of justice being served.
But regardless of the circumstances, all suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. The case, as of now, is dismissed.
“Hopefully, at some point in the future, we can work something out with the state to where these types of claims do not end up in this position,” Munger said. “Because you should never have to choose between a monetary value and justice for sexual assault victims, ever.”