Charles Co. had evidence on child sex abuse suspect for a month

WASHINGTON — The Charles County Sheriff’s Department had evidence against a former school teaching assistant and coach accused of sexual crimes against dozens of children for a month before turning it over to state investigators.

That month falls within a time frame in which police are investigating the abuse of two teenagers, according to court documents.

A grand jury indicted 30-year-old Carlos Bell last month on 206 state charges, including child sex abuse, solicitation, attempted transfer of HIV and sex offense in Charles County; he was arrested in July. The charges involve at least 42 children. Bell is also facing federal charges of producing child pornography and was indicted by a grand jury in the case involving 10 victims.

The investigation began after a parent reported an inappropriate text their child received; court documents show the Charles County Sheriff’s department served a warrant at Bell’s home on Dec. 22, 2016.

Deputies collected phones and a computer from Bell’s Waldorf home.

“Once we seized the electronic devices, through a search warrant … in December of last year, we took that information and we submitted to the Maryland State Police for examination,” Sheriff Troy Berry said at a news conference in July after Bell’s arrest.

But county investigators requested to transfer the evidence to the state police on Jan. 25; at the request of the state police, they made the transfer Feb. 2, according to the sheriff’s office.

Investigators were unaware that, according to court documents, Bell was sexually abusing two teenagers during that time.

In that month, investigators were getting warrants necessary to access Bell’s devices, communicating with cellphone companies to maintain the text records and talking with potential victims, said sheriff’s department spokeswoman Diane Richardson.

“Please understand that in December the only thing that was on the table, if you will, was an inappropriate text message and it does not appear that the young man that that was targeted at fell prey or victim to any sexual assault itself,” said Charles County State’s Attorney Tony Covington at the July news conference.

A previous WTOP investigation discovered that it took Maryland State Police digital analysts months to get to the evidence once it was delivered by sheriff’s deputies, due in part to a 10-month backlog at the state lab.

County officials didn’t know what they would find on those cellphones when they were submitted to the state police lab. But even if they did, it would not have jumped the Bell case to the front of the line, Covington said.

“Sure we wish [the timing] would be better. But this is not TV,” Covington said in announcing the charges against Bell. “Unfortunately, the time frame is what it is.”

Bell worked at various Charles County schools from October 2014 through December 2016 when he was terminated from his positions as a teaching assistant and track coach.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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