The Rev. Michael Hands, the priest who has admitted to sexual molestation of a minor and is a cooperating witness to a Suffolk County grand jury’s investigation into the Diocese of Rockville Centre, was jailed yesterday after the district attorney’s office asked a Riverhead judge to revoke his bail.
Family Crimes Bureau Chief Emily Constant told Suffolk County Court Judge Stephen Braslow that police are investigating whether Hands may have committed a crime that was in violation of his cooperation agreement with the district attorney’s office. Constant, who is heading the grand jury investigation, said police confiscated Hands’ laptop computer over the week- end and forensic experts were analyzing it for evidence.
Hands has not been charged with any new crime, pending the outcome of the investigation. Sources said the computer was being checked to determine whether Hands had visited inappropriate pornographic Internet sites on the machine.
District Attorney Thomas Spota said the new disclosures did not damage Hands as a major witness in his probe into how the diocese handled sexual abuse complaints. “I am disappointed but I am absolutely convinced that the information he imparted to us was absolutely credible. It has been corroborated in all respects,” Spota said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Peter Rubin, Hands’ attorney, did not oppose the action by the district attorney’s office and asked that his client be put on a “suicide watch” and housed in the jail’s psychiatric wing. Hands, who looked pale and weary during the courtroom proceeding, made no comment. He was then handcuffed and led from the courtroom by sheriff’s deputies.
Outside, Rubin said he was very concerned about his client’s mental state. “He has an aura about him that is frightening,” said Rubin. He described his client as having a “vacuous stare” and being repetitive. “He is very depressed by the latest turn of events, he used the word suicide this morning,” before his courtroom appearance, Rubin said.
Braslow rejected the district attorney’s motion to revoke Hands’ $25,000 bail and hold him without bail; instead, Braslow increased it to $1 million cash. Rubin said Hands could not meet the bail and would remain in the Riverhead jail.
In response to the rapidly moving legal developments, Nassau County Court Judge Donald DeRiggi postponed Hands’ scheduled sentencing tomorrow. Hands pleaded guilty in Nassau last year to sodomy and endangering the welfare of a child for having a sexual affair with the 13-year-old son of a family he had befriended. Similar charges involving the same teen are pending before Braslow.
Regardless of the outcome of the current probe, Spota said yesterday that he was withdrawing his promise to Hands that he would recommend probation when he was sentenced.
Michael Dowd, the attorney representing the family of Hands’ victim, said yesterday that the family would still honor its commitment of not asking for jail time for the priest. The day after Christmas, Hands gave Dowd a lengthy sworn statement about how the diocese handles sexual abuse cases. Details from that transcript were the basis of a front-page Newsday story on Jan. 3 and other media reports. “He gave us truthful information,” Dowd said.
Constant and Spota would not further detail what police are investigating. However, sources familiar with the case said that last week a tipster telephoned the Suffolk district attorney’s office to say that Hands had sent an instant message to an acquaintance in December asking him to tell his victim’s family that he was sorry. The priest also asked the person if he could get together with Hands. This person, who said he didn’t want any contact with Hands, told a friend who used to work for a diocesean high school. That person contacted law enforcement.
Under questioning Saturday, Hands admitted to meeting this fall with two Long Island men he met through an Internet chat room. Yesterday, sources said detectives determined the men were over the age of 17, making any relationship with them legal.