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Further Developments in the Case of Former Member Michael Smith

Message from the Interim Board: Recent Arrests of Former Shambhala Members

The Interim Board issued a communication addressing the arrest, stating that neither it nor the International Care and Conduct Panel were aware of any incidents involving Michael Smith prior to his arrest, and that during the subsequent information discovery process, questions arose related to how the case was handled internally by Shambhala leaders in the 1990s. As a result of this, the Interim Board has decided to formally investigate this case by hiring a third-party investigator, and will report back with details once that is completed.

On June 30, they also suspended a leader who had been involved with handling this incident, Dennis Southward, from all teaching and authorizations, pending the results of the investigation. They also urge anyone with information about criminal activity to report it to local authorities, and provide the contact of Det. Ross Richert of the Boulder Police Deparment (303-441-1833).

More information about Dennis Southward was provided in this article in the Religion News Service - he told police in May that the victim was "exploring her own sexuality" and that this fed Michael Smith's addiction to pornography. Many have identified this as a 'DARVO' tactic - Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.

One is left to wonder the intentions behind Southward's pointing out that the incident occurred several years ago and that Smith is a business owner who is still involved in the Shambhala community within Colorado, and that police needed to tell Smith's accuser about the counseling he received after his alleged assault. This response, in line with other official responses to crises within Shambhala, seems entirely tone-deaf to the situation, with a desire to minimize the perceived wrong-doing.

The Interim Board subsequently suspended Southward from his leadership roles within the organization, and issued a statement reaffirming its commitment to creating a safe environment for families and children, as well their intention to cooperate and assist authorities in this investigation, or any others.

Southward, who was initially brought into the situation after the alleged assault occurred, helped bypass the legal system and keep knowledge of the allegations within the Shambhala community. He provided rules and boundaries for Smith - making him move out of the young woman's home, arranging for him to pay for her counseling and obtain counseling himself, and limiting his potential contact with children at Shambhala events.

Police say neither of Michael Smith's victims knew each other and that both came forward after the William Karelis arrest, also for alleged sexual assault of a minor. It is encouraging to see more people coming forward as their confidence that the crimes will actually be investigated increases. As painful as this process can be for an organization, it is the only approach that will actually cause the underlying issues to be addressed; crimes need to be prosecuted. And the pain for the organization pales in comparison to the pain of the victims, who have had to carry this burden for so many years.

It outlines how Michael Smith underwent therapy and treatment in exchange for his name being withheld from police, a deal that was orchestrated by Dennis Southward. Members of clergy are mandatory reporters under Colorado State law, which this act potentially violated. It also outlines Southward's focus on the public perception of Shambhala, and how that managing that seemed to be a priority for him. In a particularly telling statement, Southward told the detective that Smith had "done the work and made the adjustments," and that it would not be "in the best interest of society to drag him out into public and say that we are looking into him."

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