RIVERSIDE, Calif. - A Corona police officer who did not disclose allegations that a 13-year-old boy was possibly being abused by the pastor and other members of her church is scheduled to be sentenced Friday morning.
On Feb. 22, a six-man, six-woman jury in Riverside convicted Cpl. Margaret Bell, 44, of a misdemeanor charge of failing to report child abuse or neglect. Riverside County Superior Court Judge Bernard Schwartz could sentence the 23-year law enforcement veteran to six months probation and impose hundreds of dollars in fines.
The case against Bell stemmed from the March 2012 arrests of three men affiliated with Heart of Worship Church in Corona. The defendants -- Lonny Lee Remmers, 54, Nicholas James Craig, 22, Darryll Duane Jeter, 28 -- are facing a slew of felony charges for allegedly threatening and physically assaulting a then-13-year-old boy.
The youth, Jacob, was turned over to the men by his mother, also a member of the church, to be disciplined for sexually abusing his younger sister, according to prosecutors.
Bell testified that on March 26, 2012 -- three days before Remmers and his co-defendants were arrested and charged in the case -- an eccentric parishioner, Steve Larkey, had approached her during an evening service and told her that Remmers, the pastor, had "poked" Jacob's chest with a pair of pliers.
According to Bell, she asked Larkey whether he had seen the incident, and he replied he hadn't.
"He was just rambling. Nothing was more important than the other," Bell testified. "He didn't say, `I want to report this. I need your help."'
Bell told Larkey to address his concerns to Remmers, and the witness said he would. According to the defendant, she did not feel the encounter warranted immediate action and decided she would speak privately with the boy when she saw him at church later in the week.
Deputy District Attorney Will Robinson presented mobile phone records indicating Bell either called or traded text messages with Remmers about 100 times between March 26 and March 29, 2012. However, the officer denied ever broaching the subject of Larkey's allegations and insisted that Remmers never disclosed anything potentially criminal to her.
Remmers, Craig and Jeter are awaiting trial on charges that include kidnapping, making criminal threats and inflicting corporal injury on a minor. The men allegedly strapped Jacob to a chair in the bathroom of Remmers' home and pepper-sprayed him, and Remmers alone is accused of pinching the boy's chest with pliers to punish him.