PART ONE OF A MULTI-PART SERIES
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — An Iredell County man will face up to two years in prison and 30 years on the state’s sex offender registry for a sexual relationship with a minor he says lied about his age and had fake photo identification that indicated the minor was 18. The case, the man’s attorney says, exposes a potential blind spot in current law which does not account for modern-day technologies allowing individuals, regardless of age, practically-immediate, on-demand sexual encounters.
Bradley Olson, 31, was originally charged in June with the statutory rape and kidnapping of a 15-year-old minor. But, Olson contends the teenager lied about his age. That and other mitigating factors — Olson has no prior convictions, for example — may have weighed into a decision by the Cabarrus County District Attorney’s office to offer Olson a plea arrangement. In the arrangement, Olson will face reduced charges of taking indecent liberties with a minor and kidnapping. For that, he’ll face a minimum of 13 months and as many as 25 months in state prison and three decades on the sex offender registry. The plea is scheduled to be entered in court in November.
The punishment, though reduced, still doesn’t fit the crime, Olson says.
“I will take punishment,” Olson tells qnotes. “I understand the law is the law. Ignorance isn’t bliss.”
But, Olson isn’t pleased with how his case has been handled by the Cabarrus County District Attorney’s office. Olson says the minor and the minor’s family hold some responsibility because the minor lied about his age, showed Olson fake photo identification and has a history of using dating apps and websites to solicit sexual encounters with older men.
Those are facts Olson and his attorney claim are understood by the minor’s family, the District Attorney’s office and law enforcement. qnotes reached out to Cabarrus County Assistant District Attorney Ashlie Shanley, who is prosecuting Olson, and spoke to her assistant. The newspaper’s requests for comment were not returned.
“Because the way the laws are written, I may have to face the punishment, but the punishment is unfair,” Olson says. “He’s getting counseling and I’m going away to prison.”
‘Never a tip off’
Olson’s legal troubles can be traced back to around October 2012. It was then Olson contends the minor approached him for conversation on Scruff, a mobile dating app for men. Olson says the youth’s profile indicated he was 18. In further conversation, Olson says the teenager told him he was 17, but would turn 18 in March 2013. The two chatted for the next six months. Olson says he considered it a dating relationship. They first met in person and had sexual contact in April, one month after the youth said he turned 18. They met three times after that.
Olson says he never had any reason to doubt the minor wasn’t telling the truth about his age. The teenager stood nearly as tall as Olson, himself about six feet tall.
“If you met him on the street you would think he was at least 17 or 18 years old,” Olson says. “He didn’t dress or act like a typical 15 year old. He was immature, but, hell, I am too and I’m 31. There was never a tip off.”
Sometime after their first meeting, Olson says he and the youth had a conversation about going out to a local gay bar in Charlotte. Olson says the youth told him he had twice visited another local gay bar with an ex-boyfriend and another alleged sexual partner. Olson told the youth he should remember to bring his I.D. In return, the teenager sent him a text message with a picture portraying a photo identification card that also indicated the youth was 18.
Olson’s kidnapping charge stems from his helping the minor leave his home without his parents’ permission. Olson alleges the teenager had threatened to hurt himself after the minor was allegedly locked in his room by his mother. It was only then Olson says he began to question the minor’s real age, but, he agreed to help the minor out of his home. Around 11:30 p.m. on June 20, Olson drove to the minor’s home with a ladder and helped the minor out of the bedroom window. Olson says he and the minor booked a hotel room and discussed breaking up. Upon driving the minor back to his home around 3 a.m. on June 21, Olson was detained by police, but was eventually allowed to go home.
Olson says he insisted with police that the minor had told him he was 18. Officers, he says, seemed confused, too. They cited three ages for the teen — 14, 15 and 16 years old.
In reality, the minor was 15 years old, a fact Olson says wasn’t clear to him until after he voluntarily met with police and was subsequently arrested on the afternoon of June 21.
A call to Concord Police Detective Roger Landers wasn’t immediately returned. Sgt. Phillip Carlton, of the Concord Police’s Criminal Investigations Division, spoke briefly with qnotes, confirming only the dates and times of the incident reports and arrest related to the case. Carlton declined to answer why officers decided to let Olson go after first detaining him during the early morning hours of June 21.
No concession in the law
Despite the complex story presented by Olson and his attorney, North Carolina’s statutory rape law makes no concession for mistaken age.
“The law is the law,” Justin Olsinski, Olson’s attorney, told qnotes. “That’s the problem, the way the law is written, there’s no way out of it.”
The law is clear cut: “A defendant is guilty of a Class B1 felony if the defendant engages in vaginal intercourse or a sexual act with another person who is 13, 14, or 15 years old and the defendant is at least six years older than the person, except when the defendant is lawfully married to the person.”
Olsinski knows why the statutory rape law was written as it is. If it did include an exception for mistaken age, he says, any person who was ever charged would “just say, ‘Oh, I thought she was 18.'”
“There is a legitimate purpose for the way the law is written,” Olsinski adds.
North Carolina’s statutory rape law was last revised in 1995, right as the internet was being introduced to the public in the form of America Online and other dial-up services. At the time, the legal revision raised the the age of consent from 13 to 16 years old.
But, the reality of modern technology combined with the mitigating factors in Olson’s case might potentially prove the law antiquated.
“Especially now with the prevalence of [dating] websites and, I think, more or less the over-sexualization of younger high school and middle school young adults,” Olsinski says, “[legislators] haven’t written a statute in a way to prevent people from getting charged like this when the real person who’s out there trolling for sexual encounters and doing all this stuff is lying and giving misinformation and putting so many people at risk of prison time.”
Olsinski encouraged his client to reach out to the media, even though Olson’s agreed-upon plea arrangement is a significant drop in charges. Statutory rape is a Class B1 felony, the second highest felony category in the state, and could mean a 20-year prison sentence; the indecent liberties charge is a Class F felony, one of the state’s lowest felony classes. Olson’s attorney says he doesn’t feel confident taking his client to a jury trial, given current sentencing guidelines. Additionally, the attorney says, there are high-stakes risks in simply hoping members of a rural, small-town jury find the emotional sympathy needed in a case as complex as Olson’s.
“The only way he’s going to get anything better than this or ultimately change the way the law is written [and applied] in the future is the media getting involved or politicians, though obviously it’s tough to get a politician behind a sex offense case.”
Olson knows the law, as written, gives him little room for justice, or simply to take into account many of the mitigating factors weighing in his favor. Even so, he’s willing to acknowledge he made mistakes.
“I’m not saying I’m not guilty of being stupid,” he says. “It’s not like I’m [saying], ‘Oh, I should be vindicated.’ No, I know what the laws are.”
But, Olson’s case is more complicated than the law allows. He says he followed the law, as far as he was aware. He never sought out a sexual relationship with a minor. He simply wants people to hear his side of the story.
“I know how hard it is to get people to see your side,” he says.
Part two of this series explores reaction to this case. Part three, exploring the institutionalized homophobia and other factors affecting the case, will be published at a later date.
[Ed. Note — This article was updated Oct. 31, 2013, 4:21 p.m., with information from the newspaper’s conversation with Concord Police Department Sgt. Phillip Carlton.]