Police seek new victims of abuse Molested teens told to step forward

October 23, 1992|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

Westminster police say a 46-year-old football coach who was charged with child sexual abuse in September may have molested many other teen-age boys over the past decade, and they want anyone who may have been victimized to come forward.

Richard T. Mercer of Daniel Drive was arrested Sept. 19 after police charged him with child abuse, battery and fourth-degree sexual abuse.

A 15-year-old boy told police that he was fondled by Mr. Mercer and forced to perform sex acts Sept. 18.

Mr. Mercer, who operates a trash-hauling business, could not be reached yesterday. He was released on his own recognizance after his arrest.

Since Mr. Mercer's arrest, two other possible victims have come forward and additional criminal charges are being considered, said Westminster Police Lt. Dean Brewer.

Mr. Mercer is a longtime coach for the Westminster Optimist Club football program, which fields teams of boys under high school age.

Mr. Mercer has been suspended from the program pending the outcome of his criminal case, State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman said yesterday at a news conference in his office.

Attempts to reach Optimist Club officials were unsuccessful last night.

Mr. Mercer is no stranger to county high school students and their parents, Mr. Hickman said. He has coached, officiated and volunteered at school athletic activities for at least the past 10 years.

Before he began coaching for the Westminster Optimists, he served as a volunteer at North Carroll High School.

According to Lieutenant Brewer and District Court charging documents, the boys knew and trusted Mr. Mercer. He would take them to his home or to another location -- often with the blessing of the victim's family -- and offer them alcohol.

When the boys were drunk, he would begin to rub them with hand lotion or witch hazel, then fondle them, Lieutenant Brewer said.

"Through his connections as a football coach, umpire and assistant coach, he would meet his victims," Lieutenant Brewer said.

"He would make close friends of these boys and gain their trust."

Officials publicized Mr. Mercer's arrest yesterday in the hope that other possible victims may come forward.

Mr. Hickman and Assistant State's Attorney Kathi Hill called for any boys who believe they have been victims of this type of sexual abuse to call Lieutenant Brewer at the Westminster Police Department, 848-4646.

The prosecutors said that many of the attacks might have occurred years ago.

Some are said to have taken place in the attacker's home, some at a Gettysburg campground and others at overnight outings in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Ms. Hill, who heads the child abuse investigation unit at the state's attorney's office, said that even someone who believes he was assaulted years ago should call police.

In Maryland, child abuse cases have no statute of limitations, and charges can be brought and prosecuted for abuse after years or even decades.

"It takes a lot of courage to come forward, especially since some of these boys now are grown up and have families," Ms. Hill said.

Anyone who comes forward will be offered counseling and will not have his name publicized, she said.

"The effects of child abuse are long-lasting, but victims have to realize that it is not their fault," Ms. Hill said.

The allegations against Mr. Mercer come three years after the sentencing of the man Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. said was responsible for "the worst case of child molestation" in count history.

Clarence Yinger, the former president of the Gamber Volunteer Fire Company, is serving 38 years of an 88-year prison sentence vTC on his conviction for abusing eight junior fire fighters ages 11 to 16.

Ms. Hill said yesterday that although Yinger was found guilty of abusing only eight boys, as many as 42 possible victims came forward during the police investigation that led to his trial.

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