Columbia church named in lawsuit involving sex abuse of minor
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH) —
The First Baptist Church of Columbia, as well as multiple employees, is named in a lawsuit where a minor alleges sexual abuse from a church group leader.
The victim, 17, and his parents filed the suit on Tuesday. The defendants named include the church, Andrew McCraw, Wendell Estep, and Philip Turner. According to the documents, McCraw was a youth assistant mentor and small group leader at the church. Turner oversaw McCraw as the Student Minister of First Baptist Church. Wendell Estep was the Pastor at First Baptist Church of Columbia but recently announced his retirement.
According to the lawsuit, the victim, referred to as "Joel Doe," joined the church's Small Group Program when he was 11-years-old, and Turner assigned Doe to McCraw's group.
The suit goes on to say that, over the next few years, McCraw spent large amounts of time with Doe outside of the church, such as taking Doe to see movies and eat dinner; according to the documents, "during this lengthy period, Defendant McCraw gradually escalated his inappropriate and illegal activity." This included a sleepover where McCraw and Doe slept in the same bed.
The lawsuit goes on to accuse McCraw of sending Doe "several dozen" text messages per day, with many being "sexually-motivated, inappropriate, and illegal." The lawsuit includes examples of these text messages, which are from last year. The filing goes on to say that McCraw also accessed Doe's Snapchat without permission. McCraw admitted this in a text message.
McCraw is also accused of inappropriately touching Doe on several occasions, including Doe's buttocks and inner thigh, while on church grounds.
The lawsuit says that the church, Turner, and Estep "knew or reasonably should have known that Defendant McCraw was spending inordinate amounts of unsupervised time with Joel Doe outside of the structured and supervised church environment."
Turner allegedly reprimanded McCraw in the past for having children over at his house without other adults present.
First Baptist Church of Columbia and Estep knew of this as well, according to the documents; nothing was done to prevent McCraw from continuing to spend time with children or further abuse. In addition, the church, Estep, and Turner did not alert the proper authorities.
On Saturday, the church released a statement:
Last fall First Baptist Church became aware of allegations of inappropriate conduct by an unpaid volunteer in the student ministries department.
As church policy dictates, the appropriate committee investigated. The committee concluded the volunteer violated church policies.
Disciplinary action was taken. The volunteer no longer attends First Baptist Church and was prohibited from further contact with our students.
The student making the allegations filed a lawsuit Tuesday.
Additionally, First Baptist Church respects the privacy of the parties involved in the cases arising from the John Hubner incident in 2002. Even so, First Baptist Church does not oppose unsealing those cases.
Our attorneys have advised us to make no further comment at this time.
The lawsuit says the First Baptist Church of Columbia "has been sued numerous times by children who have been sexually abused by Defendant First Baptist's employees, agents, and/or staff."
Read the lawsuit below. WARNING: Graphic Content
Doe and his family also filed a motion to unseal records involving a former Deacon's sexual crimes.