A Bellingham childcare worker must serve 2½ years in prison for molesting a boy he babysat near Kendall, a Whatcom County judge ruled Wednesday, Aug. 10.
The boy and his two brothers told their mother in September 2015 that their live-in babysitter, Austin Lee Carlson, 26, of Bellingham, had been touching their privates “for a long time,” according to charging papers. All of the boys were under 10.
Their mother called the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office. She reported she first talked with Carlson about babysitting through a Craigslist ad he posted in late 2014. He had good references, he’d babysat for about a dozen other families, and he worked for Junior Achievement, a nonprofit group that prepares K-12 students for the grownup world of finances and work. He was hired.
Carlson slept at the boys’ house and helped them get ready for school in the morning.
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Law enforcement interviewed the children two days after the report. Only one boy – the youngest, who was under the age of 6 – made a specific disclosure to law enforcement about being sexually touched by Carlson, according to court records.
Detectives spoke with Carlson in late October. He confessed to cuddling, kissing, and sexually touching the youngest boy, according to charging papers. He denied molesting the others. A few days later, he texted an apology to the boys’ mother, telling her he “honestly was not thinking.”
Carlson surrendered himself to the jail on Oct. 30 to face one count of child molestation in the first degree. He pleaded guilty to second-degree child molestation in early May. The prosecution and defense agreed to suggest a sentence of 30 months, above the standard prison term, i.e., 15 to 20 months, for that crime in the state of Washington.
Superior Court Judge Ira Uhrig approved the plea deal in court Wednesday morning. Upon his release from prison, Carlson will have to register as a sex offender.
A Department of Corrections report from this month states Carlson expresses remorse for his actions, but he has “no insight” into what caused him to sexually abuse the child. He recalled no physical or sexual abuse in his youth, an evaluator noted. None of the other children he babysat in the past reported any sexual abuse, according to court records.
Before his arrest, Carlson, a multi-instrumentalist musician, had plans to open an all-in-one coffeehouse, recording studio, and all-ages music venue in Bellingham. He reported to a DOC evaluator that he still has friends willing to help him with that plan.
His court record shows just one prior misdemeanor: disorderly conduct for a 21st birthday party at his home that got too rowdy.
His defense attorney, Mark Kaiman, said Carlson needs treatment to help him to understand why he abused the boy and how to prevent it from happening again.
“There is some demon inside him,” Kaiman said, “that drove him to do this thing that he did, to hurt this child.”
On Wednesday morning, the boys’ mother told Uhrig, in a letter, that the abuse devastated the family, and she feared she’d never have peace of mind again.
“My sweet little boy has had his innocence ripped away by this disgusting man,” she wrote. “He has nightmares about what happened to him.”
Carlson read an apology from a brief typed statement. He faced the boys’ mother, who sat in the courtroom gallery.
“I broke your trust and caused a lot of pain to everyone involved,” he said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to learn from this and to make sure nothing like this happens again. That may not bring much comfort, because I cannot undo what I did.”