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Bristol, R.I., newspaper accepts blame for not looking closer at accused abuser

David E. Barboza waved to parade-goers during the 234th Fourth of July Celebration Parade in Bristol, R.I., last month.
David E. Barboza waved to parade-goers during the 234th Fourth of July Celebration Parade in Bristol, R.I., last month.(Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe/File)

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BRISTOL, R.I. — The local weekly newspaper in Bristol apologized on Thursday for not scrutinizing a prominent local resident who has been accused of sexual misconduct with three local boys, and also laid blame at area institutions for empowering him for decades.

In a blistering editorial published Thursday, the Bristol Phoenix called out various pillars of the community in the wake of the allegations of misconduct by David E. Barboza that were disclosed by the Globe late last month.

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Entitled “Lasting lessons from Bristol’s national embarrassment,’’ the Bristol Phoenix placed blame across all corners of town, including:

■  The Bristol Democratic Town Committee, where Barboza was elected in 1982 while a charge of soliciting a teenage boy was still pending. The committee had a role in his rise to political power, yet the paper called its response to the revelations “tone deaf.”

■  The church where Barboza administered communion and was employed as an administrative assistant and director of the cemetery. “The Diocese of Providence and St. Mary’s Church have been deaf, dumb and mute on this case,” releasing only a 17-word statement that Barboza had resigned, the Phoenix wrote.

■  The town itself, where Barboza was a police officer, volunteer firefighter and EMT, and civil defense director. In court records, Barboza is accused of raping one boy when he was a police officer, molesting another when he was a firefighter, and soliciting a third when he was an investigator for the state fire marshal’s office.

He was charged in one of those cases, but the indictment was dismissed without prejudice, which allows for the case to be refiled. It never was.

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“Anyone who supported or shielded Barboza as a police officer, state fire marshal or firefighter is partly responsible for enabling his horrifying behavior,” the editorial said.

The weekly newspaper also said it, too, owed the community an apology.

“As an organization that prides itself on being a watchdog for the community, we should have done more to dig for the truth about someone we always considered a man of questionable character with dubious motivations,” the Phoenix wrote. “To everyone, we apologize for not doing our jobs as well [as] we could have. And to the alleged victims, we express our deep support and sympathies.”

Editor Scott Pickering and publisher Matt Hayes declined requests for interviews on Thursday, but said the editorial was “an accurate reflection of our feelings and opinions.”

“The David Barboza story has obviously captivated our readers and our community, with a mixture of shock, horror and regret,” they said in a statement.

The allegations came to light after a local man filed a civil lawsuit against Barboza in December. Robert Powers, 54, said that Barboza repeatedly sexually assaulted him in the 1970s, starting when Powers was 9 or 10 years old. Barboza was a police officer at the time.

Powers went to the Bristol police in 2014, shortly after Barboza was chosen to be the chief marshal of the Fourth of July parade, the town’s highest honor.

At the request of the Bristol police, the state police investigated Powers’s complaint in June 2014 and also spoke to another local man who said that Barboza had molested him at one of the fire stations in the early 1970s, starting when he was 6 years old. That man later told the Globe that he’d reported the assaults to multiple authorities, but no one took any action.

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By 2014, the criminal statute of limitations had passed on both complaints. Barboza was arrested in 1982 and charged with soliciting a 14-year-old boy from the state fire marshal’s vehicle, but the case was dismissed.

Barboza denies the allegations and is fighting Powers’s lawsuit at Providence County Superior Court.

Since the Globe article on July 31, the state and local police have opened a criminal investigation into Barboza. The State Police major crimes unit is taking the lead into complaints. So far, two more people have come forward with accusations against Barboza. State Police Major Timothy Sanzi said Thursday that one of the allegations involves sexual misconduct.

The accusations against Barboza led demonstrators to hold a vigil outside his house Monday, raising accusations of complicity and shame for the town proud of its image as the most patriotic in America.

Also, though, the men who alleged they were victims have told the Globe that they’ve been deeply moved by the compassion and understanding they’ve received from their hometown.

The weekly newspaper sees an opportunity for the community to change and improve, “out of this dreadful tragedy.”

“For the moment, the David Barboza story is our national embarrassment. Let it be our cultural turning point.”

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Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.