A sex abuse trial involving a former surgeon has been delayed due to two Facebook posts in which the victim’s mother discussed the case. Robert John Gustafson, 49, of North Dakota, was accused in 2015 of sexually abusing a girl over a two-year period while he lived in Seaside. He was indicted on 10 counts of first-degree sex abuse and two counts of first-degree encouraging child sex abuse. The indictment alleged he repeatedly touched a girl under 14 and had her touch him between 2009 and 2011.
He posted $250,000 bail and was released from jail. Over the past three years, a host of factors delayed and complicated the case. The lengthy proceedings were mentioned in the woman’s Facebook posts.
“I hate the justice system,” the woman wrote in the first post in early July. “I hate that we’ve waited for a trial for over three years. I hate that the victim will be on the stand and called a liar.”
The Clatsop County District Attorney’s Office learned of the posts last week and notified Paul Hood, Gustafson’s Portland-based attorney, and Circuit Court Judge Cindee Matyas. Deputy District Attorney Ron Brown, the lead prosecutor, said he advised the woman — who has since removed the posts from public view — to stop posting about the case on social media.
“We can’t forbid people to use social media, but we can try to warn about the perils of social media,” Brown said.
At a hearing Tuesday, Hood largely focused on another one of the woman’s posts in July. The woman posted a news story about the case and complained that Gustafson is still out of jail despite a 2015 drunken-driving arrest, a violation of his release agreement.
“If you would like to fill the stands with your support, or peacefully protest outside, I would welcome your company. While I know the entire trial will be spent with the defense trying to discredit me and my child, I know people who care about us will see through the mess,” she wrote. “Fingers crossed the jury will too.”
Hood accused the woman of trying to “poison the jury pool” and inciting violence against Gustafson. “I think she hopes someone will assault or kill (Gustafson),” he said. “I say that and I mean it.”
Hood told Matyas he would need more time to investigate how widely the posts were viewed and survey the hundreds of comments they attracted. Brown did not object. The estimated five-day trial, which was set to begin July 31, has been rescheduled for December.
“I’m willing to grant a set over, but it’s been really difficult to schedule this case,” Matyas said.
Since the case began, lawyers have filed a number of motions, many of which asked for a continuation due to scheduling conflicts. Other motions centered on pieces of evidence that surfaced as information was shared between police in North Dakota — where the abuse was reported — and Seaside — where the abuse allegedly occurred.
Seaside Police Sgt. Jason Goodding was investigating the case before he was shot and killed in the line of duty in 2016. Goodding was a witness who would have provided key details about two child pornography charges, according to court documents. Brown filed a new indictment last year, and those two charges were dropped.
Earlier this month, following a number of lengthy hearings in which a host of witnesses were called, Matyas denied part and granted part of a motion to exclude evidence regarding Gustafson’s past sexual tendencies, including incest stories found on his computer and alleged possession of child pornography.
The Facebook posts began one day after the judge’s rulings.
“All evidence is not allowed. Try wrapping your head around that one,” part of the post read.
In addition to other complaints about the justice system, the woman lamented the fact Gustafson was able to hire an attorney while the victim could not choose the prosecutor.
“We tell our daughters to speak up, but what we don’t tell them — there will be men being paid to fight the truth, those evil lawyers will call your baby girl a liar,” she wrote. “You, on the other hand, get a court-appointed attorney, overworked and underpaid. You have no choice in who represents you. Because it’s not actually you against the pervert, it’s the state against the pervert.”
After reviewing the Facebook posts over the next few months, Hood may file a motion to move the case out of Clatsop County, he said. “It is a terrible situation that has developed here.”
In the first post, the woman said she didn’t want to discourage people from reporting sex abuse but noted that court proceedings “will rip and tear at you for a long time.”
“And I don’t know that anyone ever ‘wins,’” she wrote. “But as the trial date approaches, the fear creeps in. How many more safe days do we have? And will my daughter’s fight for justice be in vain?”