Ex-arms inspector, war foe Ritter confirms 2001 arrest
ALBANY, New York (CNN) -- Scott Ritter, a former U.S. Marine and U.N. weapons inspector who has been an outspoken critic of a possible war with Iraq, was arrested in 2001 and charged with a misdemeanor after allegedly communicating with an undercover officer posing as a 16-year-old girl, a source close to the investigation has told CNN.
Ritter confirmed the arrest in an interview with CNN Wednesday but declined to confirm any detail about the nature of the case.
"The facts are simple," Ritter said. "I was arrested in June of 2001. I was charged with a Class B misdemeanor and I stood before a judge in the town of Colonie in a public session with my wife by my side."
"The file was sealed. Those are the facts. I am ethically and legally bound not to discuss any aspect of this case," Ritter said. "So is everybody else involved. Unfortunately, there appear to be those who don't feel to be bound by rule of law."
The source said Ritter had arranged in an Internet chat room to meet with the girl at a Burger King in Colonie, a suburb of Albany, so she could witness him masturbating. The source said Ritter was charged with "attempted endangerment of the welfare of a child," a Class B misdemeanor.
The source also said Ritter was confronted by police in April 2001 after communicating with an undercover officer posing as a 14-year-old.
Ritter declined comment on those claims.
"It's not my duty to clear the air. I'm not asking for forgiveness," he said. "I'm not asking to wriggle out of my responsibility. The judge made his determination. The case was dismissed."
Ritter's case received an "adjournment in contemplation of dismissal," or ACOD, Ritter and the source said. That meant the case was adjourned for six months; if the defendant stayed out of trouble in that time, the charge was to be dismissed and the record sealed.
"An ACOD means that it's expunged from the record, as if it never happened," Ritter told CNN affiliate WRGB-TV in Albany.
The dismissal of the case carries the presumption of innocence, Ritter said in an interview on CNN's "NewsNight with Aaron Brown."
"By sealing the file, it's designed to prevent the stigma attached with any unsubstantiated allegations [that may be] arising," Ritter said. "So as far as I'm concerned, as far as everyone should be concerned, this is a dead issue."
Efforts to confirm the case status or obtain records from the court and police were unsuccessful.
An ACOD does not prevent a defendant from commenting on a case, according to CNN's source, but Ritter disputed that assertion.
"That is not my understanding of the law," he said. "I've been advised by counsel that I am obligated legally and ethically not to discuss matters pertaining to a sealed case."
Albany's district attorney, Paul Clyne, refused to discuss the case. He also declined to respond to news reports that he fired an assistant district attorney, Cynthia Preiser, because of her handling of the case. He said only that he fired her because "she failed to inform me of the existence of a sensitive case."
"Cases involving adults soliciting minors over the Internet are not the kind of cases which should be handled by adjourning them in contemplation of dismissal," Clyne said. He emphasized that he was speaking in general -- not about any specific case.
Preiser declined comment.
Clyne said a prosecutor can use his or her discretion in seeking punishment in a case. The maximum penalty for a Class B misdemeanor is 180 days in jail, he said.
Ritter, who has recently appeared in major newspaper and television news reports warning that a U.S. attack on Iraq could kill thousands of U.S. soldiers and Iraqis, said he was angered that a case more than a year old would come to public attention now.
"I was a credible voice, I am a credible voice, and I will be a credible voice in regards to issues pertaining to Iraq, and obviously what you are not mentioning here is the timing of all of this," Ritter told "Newsnight." "Why did it come up now?"
Ritter said a media "feeding frenzy" stopped him from flying to Baghdad on Tuesday as scheduled to undertake a "personal initiative" dealing with potential conflict in Iraq. Ritter told WRGB that he decided not to go to Baghdad.
"If I went to Baghdad and tried to talk responsibly about issues of war and peace, this issue would have come up and it would have been a distraction that would have actually been a disservice," Ritter said. "There are people in Baghdad pursuing the initiative that I started, and I want to give them every chance of success. I don't want to provide any distractions."