Police received complaints from the parents of at least two other children
who were patients of Dr. Earl B. Bradley before allegations from a third this month led officers to move in and file rape charges against the Lewes pediatrician.
Investigators actively looked into the two earlier allegations but found there was not enough evidence to support any criminal charges or even request a search warrant, said state police Cpl. Thomas Guarini.
Guarini said the matter was not dropped, even though police felt they had hit dead ends. When allegations came from the parents of a 2-year-old girl against the 56-year-old Bradley, investigators late Tuesday filed charges of second-degree rape, unlawful sexual contact with a child and child endangerment. They also followed up with a search warrant that in part was designed to substantiate or disprove the two earlier allegations.
Guarini stressed Thursday that in a Wednesday search of Bradley's BayBees Pediatrics office, police took only the medical records of patients involved in the case.
In general, Biden acknowledged such cases can be problematic because the children involved may be unaware they are victims and may be unable to clearly articulate what happened.
"They are voiceless oftentimes," Biden said. And protective parents may not want their child "to have to relive it and be re-victimized during the process of prosecution."
Legal experts said child sexual-abuse cases present challenges because of the potentially explosive and scandalous nature of such criminal charges and because of the unique legal and practical considerations involved in dealing with a child victim.
Even if a child can manage to state what happened, there could be difficulties in having a child's testimony admitted at trial,
said Widener Law School Associate Professor Jules Epstein. Some courts do not recognize a child under 3 as competent to testify, he said.
And if it is allowed, the court is presented with the challenge of how to deal with the right of the accused to confront or cross-examine a child while providing a measure of protection for a vulnerable victim, he said.
To get around these issues, a prosecutor might turn to the physical evidence, Epstein said. "The more physical evidence, the greater the ability to prosecute,"
But attorney Donald Roberts, who prosecuted sex crimes for 12 of his 15 years with the Delaware Attorney General's Office, said in child sexual-abuse cases, "there is seldom any physical evidence to substantiate a claim."
This leaves police and prosecutors back where they started, with the statements of a child and their parents.
One way state law enforcement deals with this is by having children interviewed at the Children's Advocacy Center of Delaware by a trained interviewer, who is careful to avoid "tainting" a child's description of events. Those interviews are generally recorded, providing first-person testimony from a child that could be used at trial in certain circumstances.
Roberts, who said he did not know specifics of the Bradley case, said the information from that interview has to be "clear cut" for police and prosecutors to act -- and indicate that a crime occurred, not just a misunderstanding.
Deputy Attorney General Patricia Dailey Lewis said those interviews, in general, often provide a framework for police and prosecutors and sometimes, when they are shown to the accused, lead to confessions.
Roberts also said that police and prosecutors are well aware of the potentially explosive nature of charging someone with a sex crime against a child
, particularly if it is someone with standing in the community such as a pediatrician.
Law enforcement does not want to move hastily, Roberts said. In other words, police and prosecutors want to make sure they have a solid case -- that they believe will lead to a conviction, not just a day of headlines -- before they act.
"Timing is very important," Roberts said, and police and prosecutors, "are going to tread carefully," while at the same time moving quickly to protect others from potential abuse.
Roberts added it would be inappropriate, and possibly lead to a civil harassment lawsuit against the police, if law enforcement attempted to do anything before charges were filed that could have put parents or the doctor on notice that complaints were being investigated.
Such a move also could ruin whatever case investigators were developing, he said.