Metropolis: Wednesday, October 05, 2005
Norris’ Sept. 12 jail book-in mug shot.

Probation officers couldn’t get answers about whether he’d been at an evacuees’ shelter.


Rumors about Wirt Malcolm Norris swirled around Fort Worth for years before he faced his accusers in a courtroom. This time, it took only a few days for allegations about the 77-year-old former diving coach to land him back in jail and in front of a judge. It’s taking longer for facts about his new legal problems to become clear, however.

Norris, who earlier this year pleaded guilty to a single count of indecent exposure, was re-arrested on Sept. 12 and jailed for about an hour and a half before being released to one of his attorneys, Leonard Schilling. The arrest followed “conflicting rumors” that Norris had been “cruising’’ or had volunteered at shelters for Hurricane Katrina evacuees, Schilling said. Records show that, following the arrest, State District Court Judge Wayne Salvant, who sentenced Norris to probation last spring, amended the terms of probation to require him to take a polygraph test.

The arrest stemmed from information Fort Worth police received and passed along to probation officers, said Tom Plumlee, director of the local adult probation office.

“The rumor or the allegation was that he [Norris] was around one of those shelters and they [probation officers] were looking into that,’’ he said. “Shelters being shelters, you would assume there were kids around there.’’ He said the reports have not been substantiated.

Probation officers questioned Norris about the reports, but he wasn’t being cooperative, Plumlee said. “The officers were asking him questions, but he didn’t answer them,’’ he said.

Defense attorney Mike Ware said Norris’ arrest stemmed from “a case of mistaken identity combined with a breakdown in communications.’’

“Mr. Norris did not refuse to answer questions, but rather followed the advice of his attorneys — namely, he asked to wait until he had an attorney present before answering questions,’’ Ware said. Norris “has adhered to the terms and conditions of his probation and has not been in the presence of children at all.’’

Much about his arrest remains murky, however. Tarrant County prosecutors, for instance, said they didn’t learn about the arrest or the change in probation conditions until after the fact. “I wasn’t invited to any of the meetings,’’ said Alan Levy, one of the prosecutors who handled the original case. “I thought it was odd that he [Salvant] would meet with the defense lawyers without meeting with us. The normal practice is, if you have lawyers involved, you have both sides involved.’’

And when Norris showed up to take the polygraph Salvant had ordered, the examiner, according to Schilling, refused to administer the exam because of concerns about Norris’ health and the medications he was taking. The examiner, Rick Holden, did not return a reporter’s telephone call. But Schilling said Holden told another Norris lawyer that, “I don’t want him [Norris] to drop dead on me. He can’t stand a polygraph.” Whether the judge will require Norris to take the test despite Holden’s concerns — and exactly what the judge wanted him questioned about — is not known; Salvant didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.

In an agreement announced May 11, Norris pleaded guilty to a single charge of indecent exposure that took place 10 years ago and involved a 12-year-old boy. In return he was placed on 10 years probation, ordered to register as a sex offender, and required to stay at least 1,000 feet away from places where children commonly gather, a restriction that presumably would include shelters housing evacuees and their kids. The plea meant that Norris avoided a trial in which about a dozen other men, many now well into their middle years, were prepared to testify that Norris had abused them decades ago.

Norris, a real estate broker who catered to the city’s wealthiest families, had been the subject of a whispering campaign for years before Will Hallman publicly accused him of molestation. Will’s story and a similar account from another accuser, Rolf Kaastad, seemed to break a dam of silence, and one accuser after another came forward to tell law enforcement that Norris had molested them as well.

However, all but Hallman, who said he was molested in 1995 when he was 12, had waited too long to speak out. The complaints from Kaastad and the other men, going back to the 1950s, were outside the statute of limitations and too old to prosecute. (Kaastad and Hallman wanted their names known. Most of the other men requested not to be identified.)

Though none of Norris’ older accusers testified during a trial, many did tell their stories in a hearing before the plea bargain was announced. Norris himself never testified but denied the accusations in court papers and in brief interviews with reporters.

Fort Worth police, meanwhile, said they could find no incident report or 911 call record documenting a complaint about Norris.

When Levy did learn about the change in probation conditions, he said he decided there was nothing for his office to do. “They had done all this unilaterally,’’ he said. “They had created a mess and there was no point in me jumping in there with them.’’

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