Columbia's First Baptist Church settles sexual abuse lawsuit with apology
COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Columbia's First Baptist Church has settled a child sex-abuse lawsuit that allegedly involved a church volunteer and a young church member.
The church and its minister, Wendell Estep, issued an apology to the victim, who is now 17 years old, and have agreed to pay the family $300,000 to settle the lawsuit.
In the civil suit filed in October 2017, a minor referred to as Joel Doe and his parents, Jane and John Doe, sued the church, Estep, youth assistant mentor and small group leader Andrew McCraw, and church student minister Phillip Turner.
The suit states youth leader McCraw had inappropriate communications with the minor including sexual text messages, dinners, and sleepovers where nobody else was present. The abuse reportedly started when the minor was 11 years old and part of a youth group led by McCraw.
The suit also alleges that the church officials knew about the abuse and failed to report it.
"First Baptist has accepted responsibility for this even though we had strong policies in place and performed a background check on the volunteer which revealed no issues. What we did not have at the time was a policy specifically forbidding texting between an adult and a student without copying another adult. Such a policy, if followed, could have prevented these messages." First Baptist Church spokesman Bryan Barnes said in a written statement.
"The church condemns the volunteer's conduct in the strongest terms possible. We want to send a strong and transparent message that we regret his actions and the harm he caused."
According to the church's statement, law enforcement investigated and closed the case with no criminal charges filed.
The church's apology will be read to the congregation after a Sunday church service.
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