The D.C. police officer accused of sexually abusing a young girl in the youth choir he directed would send the rest of the group to the store and order the girl to stay behind, according to court documents.
Wendel Palmer, 44, pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges of first-degree child sexual abuse in D.C. Superior Court. According to court documents, the abuse occurred while Palmer directed the youth choir at Bethuel Temple Church of Christ Apostolic in the 2400 block of Martin Luther King Avenue SE.
During rehearsals, court documents say, Palmer would tell the girl to stay with him in the pastor’s office while the rest of the choir went to a store.
The alleged assaults began in August 2004 when the girl was 11, according to court documents, and continued through August 2006, when she was 13. She told investigators that there were “too many incidents to count,” court documents say. Other incidents allegedly took place elsewhere in the D.C. area.
Police learned of the alleged abuse when the mother of the girl, who is now 19, called a hotline in March 2012 to make a report, according to court documents. Detectives interviewed the woman days later.
Palmer’s attorney, Harold Martin, argued Thursday that the allegations were “not specific” regarding the date and time of the offenses. Martin also asked why the alleged victim waited until 2012 to report the abuse.
“That should raise some question about the level of proof,” said Martin, whose firm also provides prepaid legal services to D.C. police officers in off-duty matters.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah McClellan said her office had no reason to question the woman’s credibility.
The doors of Bethuel Temple Church were locked Thursday morning. The two-story white church is located between a liquor store and a barbershop on Anacostia’s main thoroughfare.
It was unclear whether Palmer was still associated with the church. Calls to the church were not answered, and a woman who answered a Pennsylvania number listed for the pastor, Winston R. Palmer, said he did not want to talk to a reporter.
It could not be determined whether the pastor and Wendel Palmer are related.
Bethuel Temple has churches in Southeast Washington and Harrisburg, Pa. The name on the church is Bishop William Rutherford Palmer Jr., who died in 2010 at the age of 75. His wife declined to comment when asked about Wendel Palmer. Several other people listed in public records as relatives also declined to speak to a reporter.
In an interview, Pennsylvania Magistrate Judge Robert Jennings III said he knows both Wendel Palmer and the pastor but declined to detail their relationship to each other. Jennings said he has attended the Harrisburg church for about five years and has been to the Anacostia church.
Asked about the allegations, he said: “I find that hard to believe, I have to say that. I can’t fathom it. I think he is a fine, upstanding young man.”
McClellan said Palmer tried to elude police when they tried to arrest him, a claim Martin denied. Court documents say that a sergeant who knew that Palmer was wanted on an arrest warrant discreetly called 911 when she saw him inside the police union office Wednesday, but he drove away before he could be apprehended and sped away from the sergeant as she followed him in her personal car. Palmer later turned himself in, according to court documents.
Wendel Palmer is a 22-year veteran of the department who had been assigned to the Sixth District. D.C. police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump confirmed Palmer’s arrest but declined to answer further questions about the investigation.
Palmer, who joined the police force in 1990, got into trouble in 2004 after a woman flagged him down while on patrol to tell him about a domestic dispute.
City records show that Palmer allowed her into his marked cruiser, took her to a restaurant and took her back to her apartment.
The woman’s husband and aunt came home and found them, according to the records. They filed a complaint with police officials, who suspended him for 35 days for conduct unbecoming an officer, failure to obey orders and neglect of duty. In 2009, the D.C. Office of Employee Appeals reduced the suspension to 13 days and awarded Palmer back pay.
Crump declined to say whether Palmer has faced other disciplinary action.
Palmer, of Fort Washington, has six children through a previous marriage that ended in 2011, according to court records. The records show that his ex-wife took custody of the children — two are now adults — in June 2011.
A woman who answered the phone at a number listed for his ex-wife, LaVera Palmer, declined to comment Thursday.
Palmer was ordered held in jail ahead of a hearing scheduled for Tuesday. He has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the criminal charges. Magistrate Judge Karen Howze granted Martin’s request to have Palmer isolated from other inmates while jailed, which is common when officers are arrested.
Clarence Williams, Matt Zapotosky, Jennifer Jenkins and Maggie Fazeli Fard contributed to this report.