Former chaplain gets probation in sex case

SENTENCED - Rick Sacks of Forest Grove pleads guilty to sexually harassing a 'vulnerable' woman

Rick Sacks, former chaplain of the Forest Grove police and fire departments and former pastor of Calvary Christian Fellowship, pleaded guilty April 4 to two counts of sexual harassment.

Appearing in Washington County Circuit Court in Hillsboro, Sacks apologized for what the police have described as the 'offensive physical touching' of a 23-year-old 'vulnerable' woman who was a member of his congregation.

Sacks, 54, of Forest Grove, also apologized for the 'disrepute' he brought on the police and fire departments whose members he once counseled as chaplain.

'I deeply, deeply regret my actions,' he said with a somber demeanor. 'I'm sorry to all the people, the young lady and her family, my wife and our family.'

Neither the victim nor her family attended the hearing.

Sacks was arrested Feb. 28 by Forest Grove police after a nearly three-month investigation.

He was sentenced last Wednesday morning to three years' probation. He might also serve 90 days in Washington County jail, but only if he fails to meet the terms of his probation.

He is to have no contact with the victim, and he is required to undergo a sex-offender evaluation and treatment.

His was a lighter sentence than the maximum possible, an arrangement he struck in a plea deal. Sacks had been facing as much as five months' probation or 12 months in jail for each of the two counts, according to Senior District Attorney Greg Olson.

Olson said in a subsequent interview that the charges against Sacks could have been more severe - third-degree sexual abuse instead of sexual harassment. Both are Class A misdemeanors, but only third-degree sexual abuse is a 'registerable' offense, meaning Sacks would have been registered as a sex offender if he'd been convicted of those charges.

As part of the plea deal, Sacks agreed to plead guilty to the lesser charges in order to avoid becoming a registered sex offender, Olson said. Sacks' conviction will remain on his record for 10 years, Olson said.

Judge Timothy Alexander told Sacks that he 'almost always' sends to jail the people who commit such crimes.

'If you make the slightest error in probation, you're going to spend your time in jail,' the judge warned.

The judge said he was swayed to make the exception by the compelling case presented by Sacks' attorney, Wendell Birkland of Portland.

Birkland portrayed his client as cooperative in the investigation and as having 'done all he could do prior to sentencing to accept responsibility.'

Birkland told the judge that Sacks had quit his former jobs as pastor and chaplain, finding work instead as a janitor. Sacks is also training to be a truck driver.

The attorney said Sacks was also making amends with his wife of 12 years, Helen, who watched the proceedings from the back of the courtroom. Birkland noted that she worked for the Oregon Department of Human Services in Hillsboro, which, among other things, offers services to survivors of sexual assault.

'Clearly, she's not a person who accepts this behavior, nor does she condone it,' Birkland said.

In making her case against Sacks, Deputy District Attorney Megan Johnson offered new detail about the actions behind the charges.

She said Sacks once kissed his victim in the church van after driving her home in early 2005. She said the victim told her mother, who confronted Sacks. He promised he would never do it again, Johnson said, and won back the family's trust.

But she said, that nearly two years later, in December 2006, Sacks was discovered in his kitchen with his arms around the victim and his hands down her pants. Confronted, he confessed to police.

Sacks was joined in the courtroom last week by six people, including a few pastors. After the hearing, they gathered in the hallway and formed a tight circle, from which one of them could be heard saying, 'Why don't we all just pray.'