CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Emotions flared from both a teenager’s and adult defendant’s family and friends while accusations of bias were leveled against prosecutors as an Iredell County gay man accused of statutory rape and kidnapping accepted a plea arrangement in Cabarrus County Superior Court on Monday.
Bradley Olson, 31, was sentenced to 13-25 months in prison, after which he’ll serve 36 months probation and will be listed on the state’s sex offender registry for three decades. Olson was initially charged with statutory rape and first-degree kidnapping. His accepted plea arrangement reduced those charges to lesser felonies of indecent liberties with a minor and second-degree kidnapping.
He and his attorney have claimed the case was complicated by an array of mitigating factors. The 15-year-old minor with whom Olson had a relationship allegedly lied about his age, used fake photo identification which indicated he was 18 and has a documented history of using online dating sites and mobile apps to solicit sex from older men.
[Ed. Note — qnotes has been covering the case in a multi-part series. The facts of the case are explored in more depth in part one. A second part, published Monday, explores some of the legal questions raised by the case. A third part, to be published at a later date, will explore some of the institutionalized homophobia affecting this case and other sex offense crimes generally.]
Disagreement over details
Attorneys for Olson and the state differed on their interpretation of the case during arguments in court on Monday.
“What [the prosecution has] failed to mention here is what this real case is about,” Olson’s attorney, Justin Olsinski, told the court. “Mr. Olson got into a relationship with someone online. He was provided fake identification. He met him at an over-18 club, as well. They carried on a relationship for months and months. This wasn’t something where Mr. Olson sought out someone hoping to find some underage person. He went to verified websites where everyone is supposed to be over 18 and [the victim] showed Mr. Olson his I.D. card that said he was over 18.”
Both the prosecution and Olsinski admit the minor, who was not in court on Monday, supported the relationship and does not want it to end.
“They had a relationship and part of what the district attorney has mentioned and part of the reason why the victim doesn’t really want to testify against him, is because he still has feelings and it was an emotion connection,” Olsinski said. “It wasn’t simply, as many cases are in this type of charge, it wasn’t a victim-predator relationship.”
Olsinski added, “Unfortunately for Mr. Olson, the way the statue is drawn up doesn’t give him many opportunities to avoid punishment in this scenario.”
Assistant District Attorney Ashlie Shanley dismissed Olson’s and his attorney’s allegations regarding confusion over the victim’s age. She said the victim told her the defendant knew how old he was.
“There is no confusion over age,” Shanley told the court. “It wouldn’t matter if there was. It has nothing to do about age. You have a man who is 15 years older than this 15-year-old boy.”
Olson’s kidnapping charge stems from his decision to use a ladder to help the teenager out of his parents’ home. Olson had claimed the youth had been in a fight with his mother and was being held in the home against his will. It was that same night law enforcement became first involved in the case, and Olsinski said his client has cooperated with law enforcement from the very beginning precisely because he thought the youth was of age.
Shanley argued there were plenty of signs warning Olson otherwise.
“Certainly, you wouldn’t think that an adult male would have to have you bring a ladder to break him out of his parents’ home,” she said. “If there was any clues that this young man was underage, this should have been it.”
Family and friends on both sides were emotional as they addressed the court.
Olson’s family and friends say anti-gay bias has played into the case. Olson himself has claimed the teen’s mother would often say derogatory things about gay people, which he once overheard when speaking to the boy via the iPhone’s FaceTime.
“If anybody in here cares to look at this case and try to understand it, it’s pretty lousy to say the least,” Olson’s father, Jeff Smallwood, told the court. “These are, in my opinion, trumped-up charges because my son is gay. I just want to tell him and everyone in here that if you have a gay child, love them. That’s all they are asking for is somebody to love them. They don’t need the extra crap that goes along with it. Society puts labels on them. He’s labeled now.”
Shanley, whose office previously declined comment on the story, also dismissed any concerns about bias.
“As for the family or anyone else, let’s get the record straight about what we’re prosecuting the defendant about,” she said. “This case is simple. It’s about an adult man taking a young child, 15 years old, and putting him in a position he shouldn’t have been in. Anyone in this courthouse knows this county is tough on prosecuting all sex offenders. I don’t care who they are, what they look like or where they are from. … I’m certainly not going to five the defendant different treatment because of his case.”
Shanley continued, “These parents are doing the best they can with a very bright 15 year old to putting him back into a position where he can consider his school work and so forth, but it’s been extremely difficult for them … because this 30 year old put that 15 year old in a position he shouldn’t be in and is making him think about things he shouldn’t think about at 15. He should be thinking about school and his career and his future. … Frankly, the state’s been very gracious. If the defendant doesn’t feel like he wants to take the plea, we’ll be happy to take it to trial.”
Olson’s attorney had said taking the case to trial would have put Olson at a higher risk, facing as much as 20 years in jail. The plea arrangement, he said, was a result of “so many mitigating factors” weighing in Olson’s favor.
The teenager’s parents, said their son’s involvement with Olson has forever changed their lives. [Ed. Note — qnotes has chosen not to name the minor or those of his family.]
“Our lives are different now,” said the teen’s mother. “We don’t sleep anymore. We fear people are breaking in.”
The mother said she hopes no others experience what her family has.
“When I went outside and saw a brand new ladder by my house when my son was taken from my home, I will never forget the guttural fear that he is gone forever,” she said. “I do thank God daily that Mr. Olson returned my son and for that I’m grateful. However, if he is good and kind, it is inappropriate for a 30-year-old man to be embracing my 14-year-old son. If he was honorable and came and asked permission, we would have said no. We’ve gone to great lengths to say no and make it a safe space for my son.”
The youth’s father said he wants his son to have a childhood.
“I would like me child to be able to be a child and not have to deal with adult things,” said the father. “My concern is that this adult will continue to approach and coerce my son into this relationship even though he knows that it’s wrong, both legally and morally.”
Prosecutors claimed Monday that Olson had continued to have contact with the minor, even after his initial arrest in June. Olson has denied those charges.
“I would just appeal to you that Mr. Olson would let my son be a child and leave him alone,” the teen’s father added. “We will do everything in our power to protect our son if he tries to ever contact him again. I would like for him to grow up as a child and when he becomes an adult, he’ll go to college, he’ll establish a life for himself and make choices as an adult, but not as a 15 year old. … I just pray that he will be able to be allowed to return to being a child.”
Olson addressed the court before being sentenced. He said he was a victim of childhood rape.
“Never did I go to a playground, never did I go to a school or never did I do anything to deserve being called a predator,” Olson said. “I was raped as a child. I know what it’s like to have it taken away from you. I’m not a rapist. I’m not a monster. I’m not a predator. I can’t deal with the label of that. … I would not do anything to hurt anybody. I couldn’t. It’s just not me, and that paper you’re looking at that says my case is not me.”
Olson added, “I did not do anything willingly wrong. But, if you see fit, if they see fit to judge me, let them judge me, because I know in my heart I will not be judged by anybody else if they read my case and saw what I saw and knew what I knew.”
Olson will spend at least 13 months and as many as 25 months in state prison for the indecent liberties conviction. The second-degree kidnapping conviction carries a suspended 25-42 month prison sentence; Olson will serve 36 months probation instead of active prison time. Additionally, Olson will be placed on the state’s sex offender registry for three decades. A permanent no-contact order is also place; Olson may not attempt to contact the teenager for the rest of Olson’s natural life.
This article is an extra installment in a multi-part series covering this case. You can read more about the facts of the case, as explored in-depth, in part one. A second part, published Monday, explores some of the legal questions raised by the case. A third part, to be published at a later date, will explore some of the institutionalized homophobia affecting this case and other sex offense crimes generally.