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A client of Three Rivers Mental Health Solutions stands accused in a child pornography case, and the Three Rivers employee who reported him to police has been fired, in part because she took that action.

John Gribble is scheduled to appear in Missoula County Justice Court later this month on a single charge of sexually abusing a child; specifically, the middle-aged man possessed child pornography, according to a complaint and affidavit filed by Deputy Missoula County Attorney Jason Marks. As outlined in Marks' affidavit:

Gribble came to the attention of Missoula police when a Three Rivers employee contacted them on Oct. 17 with her concerns. She first went to her supervisors at Missoula counseling service after seeing the words "female child nude" and "preteen nude girls by themselves" in the browser window of Gribble's computer.

But, said the affidavit, "she has been dissuaded to report anything in regards to Gribble to the authorities with a threat of dismissal."

The woman eventually was fired. Three Rivers Administrator Shea Hennelly said there were several reasons for that action, including the fact that the employee contacted police about Gribble after being told her concerns did not meet the criteria for notifying authorities.

"In order to provide mental health services, we can't engage in dual roles. We're not allowed to go to police" unless actual child abuse is observed, he said. "She didn't witness someone abusing a child. What this woman reported to this office was she saw the tab of Web browsers that said teenage girls. That's a lot different."

For one thing, he said, there was no way of identifying the potential victims, one of the criteria he said must be met before a possible victim is warned or authorities are contacted.

The affidavit also said the woman had concerns about the young daughters of two single mothers for whom Gribble babysat, and about one family in particular. The woman "feels very apprehensive about this family's safety, which is one of the reasons she is telling authorities about Gribble," the affidavit said.

She relayed those concerns to supervisors, too, "but the employee couldn't tell me any names," Hennelly said. "In the past, this gentleman babysat kids and we were able to identify the mother and were able to carry out our duty to warn."

He said, however, that he knew nothing about photos Gribble allegedly took of two young girls at a food pantry, something else the Three Rivers employee reported to police. Gribble showed her the photos, calling the girls "my new little friends," the affidavit said. The woman "states these girls were clothed, but feels these girls are in danger."

Police executing a search warrant of Gribble's home and computer on Oct. 19 found a DVD with photos of children, "some prepubescent in a state of undress."

Gribble "admitted that officers would find on his computer a fictional story he wrote about spanking a naked little girl and giving her oral sex. Gribble agreed this was a problem," the affidavit said.

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The charge against Gribble was filed amid a national discussion, spurred by child sex abuse allegations against a former assistant coach in Penn State's football program, about legal and moral obligations to report such abuse to authorities.

Hennelly said that in the case of Three Rivers, medical confidentiality was part of the issue. "Confidentiality is not just when it's convenient," he said. "The issue on the table for us is not the mandated reporting. It's the duty to protect exceptions. That requires five criteria being met" - involvement of a client, communication to a professional, a threat to a child's safety, an identifiable third party, and the apparent intent and ability to harm a child - "in order to breach somebody's confidentiality. We ultimately determined we shouldn't do it."

Montana law requiring certain professionals and officials to report suspected child abuse specifically states that someone "may not refuse to make a report ... on the grounds of a physician-patient or similar privilege."

However, the law also says such reports must include the names and address of the child involved and the child's parents or others responsible, and the nature and extent of the child's injuries.

"Breaching a patient (confidentiality) in a mental health center is not a clear-cut issue," Hennelly said. " ... We're not law enforcement officers and we can't go policing our clients."

The charge against Gribble is a felony that carries a maximum penalty of life or 100 years in prison, and a $10,000 fine.

Reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, gwen.florio@missoulian.com or CopsAndCourts.com.

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