She was excited that her nominee for the Journal’s annual Angels Among Us award was indeed eligible, concerned as she had been that his living in Tijeras would preclude his inclusion.
Yes, I told her. Anyone anywhere in New Mexico who is an unsung hero doing good deeds for others is eligible.
“I’m delighted,” she wrote back that December in 2013, giddy that her pick, Dave Sarver, had a chance to be feted on the front page of the Journal for his work as a dog rescuer and a foster parent for pups whose humans are deployed in the military service of the country.
Sarver seemed to be a worthy Angel nominee even without considering the years he had opened his mountain home to foreign exchange students and volunteered with the Boy Scouts.
Sarver was among 18 finalists that year, earning a mention in the Christmas Eve edition of the Journal.
But Sarver was no angel.
Or so say Bernalillo County sheriff’s investigators, prosecutors and jurors who last week found Sarver, 80, guilty of two counts of criminal sexual penetration of a minor and a single count of kidnapping. In addition, jurors found that aggravated circumstances existed because a gun was used during the assaults.
The charges stem from the repeated rape of a preteen boy from Sarver’s Ramblewood neighborhood between December 2017 and January 2020 beginning when the boy was 10. The boy also told investigators that he feared that if he told anybody about the assaults “something bad would happen.”
The criminal complaint and initial indictment had also included four additional counts, including a charge of extreme cruelty to animals. Those charges were dropped before trial.
Sentencing is scheduled for July 6 before state District Judge Stan Whitaker. Sarver faces up to 66 years in prison.
“It is a relief to know that David Sarver will serve the remainder of his life in prison,” tweeted the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, which investigated the case.
“Today the jury believed the victim and justice was served,” said Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez, whose office prosecuted the case.
But many who have known Sarver for years aren’t sure what to believe. And some don’t believe he is guilty.
“Dave spent his life helping people and animals,” said Chris Dowd, who knows Sarver through his work with a local basset hound rescue. “Dave would do anything to help a friend, not hurt them and certainly not assault them.”
Dowd said she watched the entire six-day trial and concluded that while the victim was clearly traumatized it wasn’t because of Sarver. She also questions how a man of Sarver’s age with a host of medical issues involving his heart, knee and hip, would have the ability to carry out such horrific acts.
“The incidents the child described are hard to reconcile with reality,” she said.
Dowd also said she is in touch with many of the foreign exchange students who lived with Sarver and that none of them say he acted inappropriately.
Sarver’s witness list included the names of four foreign exchange students who lived with him at different times between 2008 and 2015 and were prepared to testify that he was an “involved mentor who provided ample attention and was never inappropriate.”
The allegations against Sarver came to light in October 2020 after a friend and fellow dog rescuer contacted investigators over her concerns about the way Sarver talked about the boy.
In January 2020, the friend said she visited Sarver while he was recovering from surgery in a hospital and that his comments there prompted her to also alert the boy’s parents.
According to the criminal complaint, Sarver’s comments included saying the boy was “the right age,” “perfect looking” and had “beautiful eyes,” as if he was infatuated with the boy.
A full year later, the boy was interviewed and began disclosing how he went to Sarver’s home believing he was going to help with firewood but that Sarver often just wanted him to hang out. Sarver, he said, started giving him small gifts like candy and Legos and sometimes tried to touch his private areas. Sarver also wanted to photograph the boy, but the boy declined.
In March 2021, the boy was interviewed a second time and disclosed more disturbing recollections about assaults that occurred while a gun was pointed at his head or resting on his buttocks and one assault in which he had tried to run away but was knocked to the floor by being zapped with a Taser, according to the complaint.
Sarver, whose criminal record was nearly spotless save for a traffic citation, was arrested shortly afterward and remained jailed on pretrial detention over concerns for the safety of his accuser and the number of firearms at his home.
Few friends knew why he had suddenly vanished.
“My hero miss you and your post and chatting,” a woman named Melissa wrote on Sarver’s Facebook. “Much love.”
I suspect there will always be those like Melissa and Dowd who cannot fathom that this good guy could break bad. It’s also true that juries can make mistakes. Justice can be denied.
But bogeymen don’t always look like monsters. Dark sides can be hidden behind a carefully crafted facade. We’ve learned that from the numbers of child molestations committed by Roman Catholic priests, Boy Scout leaders, teachers, the politically powerful and, as law enforcement reports revealed earlier this month, a bank manager.
What is important here is that we accept that we do not always know a good guy as much as we think we do. Child molesters are notoriously manipulative, and some statistics indicate that one can get away with multiple assaults before ever getting caught – if ever caught.
One in nine girls and one in 53 boys will be sexually assaulted before they turn 18. Eight out of 10 of them will know their molester. These sexual predators aren’t strangers jumping out of bushes but people who built trust over time. You can learn more about detecting the signs of this grooming on the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network’s website at rainn.org.
Anyone anywhere can and must speak up when something seems horribly amiss, because while there are angels among us, the sick and twisted lurk among us, too.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, firstname.lastname@example.org.