PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Former Mormon leader and driver’s ed teacher Paul Burdick pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to the 15 sex abuse charges he’s facing.
Each of the 15 charges represents a victim in his case. He’s accused of abusing girls and young women who took his driver’s education course at Portland Community College.
“He was staring at their bodies, making inappropriate comments and was touching them in intimate areas,” said Detective Mark Povolny.
Detective Mark Povolny started the latest round of investigation in 2018. Originally, deputies arrested Burdick for the same crime in 2016 — but the district attorney decided to drop the case due to a lack of evidence.
Then in August 2018, more students came forward reporting abuses during driving lessons with Burdick.
“Obviously right away we were concerned because this was the second pair of girls who had come forward in 2 years reporting very similar things,” he said.
Portland Community College and the Church of Latter-Day Saints removed him from his roles immediately as detectives continued to search for more victims. The church has cooperated with the investigation from the beginning.
“It’s great to see because we know in all kinds of organizations, religious or other, we see people trying to protect their people, unfortunately sometimes we’ve seen at the expense of kids,” he said. “But in this case, they absolutely did the right thing and pulled him away and have been totally cooperative.”
At this point, detectives have found a total of 30 girls who were all 15, 16 or 17 at the time of the abuse. After the original 4 girls came forward, officials poured through records of all the students who had taken classes with him — there were about 900 students on that list.
“I reached out to them and ask them if they’d experienced anything to let me know,” said Povolny.
Those calls got them up to 20 total victims.
However, 5 of those abuse incidents happened beyond the statute of limitations, essentially too long ago to be included in the charges.
“We still want to talk to them, every one of them is important to our case,” he said.
“But what we see in working out child abuse and sex abuse cases is that the people who want to do this will look for those opportunities where kids are — we know that,” he said.
That’s why detectives were concerned that as a bishop at the Church of Latter-Day Saints he would have access to kids. Through their investigation, they learned that multiple children who went to the church took driving lessons from him.
Since his arrest became public 10 more victims have come forward — all students have similar stories while then-Bishop Burdick was teaching them how to drive.
“Because their families knew he was a driver’s ed teacher and they knew him, they sent their kids to driver’s ed with Bishop Burdick from their church,” said Povolny.
As this sex abuses case moves through the court, detectives want to make sure parents are talking to their kids about this.
“I want to encourage parents and kids to have that conversation — to know these are the clear boundaries, this is what’s okay and this is what’s not,” he said.
Detectives said abuse starts small — and no child should ever be taken advantage of.
“I think in what we saw in talking to these young women was that a lot of them didn’t feel like the behavior was “bad enough” in their minds to say something,” said Polovny. “Or if they did say something, they thought they wouldn’t be believed or there was no other evidence — so nothing would come of it.”
KOIN 6 News will continue to follow this story.