A 20-year-old Hot Springs Village man’s lawsuit against the Southern Baptist Minister, whom he says he sexually abused as a child, is at a crossroads as a Pulaski County judge ponders whether the litigation against the Church which the defendant once led as a pastor, and the network can go on from churches to which it belongs to the nationwide Baptist Convention.
Judge Herb Wright said he would decide in the coming days whether Riley Fields’ lawsuit against Millcreek Baptist Church of Hot Springs can be brought to justice. the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, a network of churches and affiliated organizations; its executive director, James Tucker; and the Diamond Lakes Baptist Association, one of the 41 members of the convent of which Millcreek is a member.
The Church’s three defendants have asked the judge to dismiss them from the lawsuit. You cannot be sued because only a few states other than Arkansas have long national court-recognized legal safeguards and special safeguards that generally protect nonprofits from litigation.
The two associations also argue that they cannot be held responsible for what happens to their church membership, as each church is an independent operator who makes its own decisions, even when it comes to hiring and firing pastors. The role of the associations is to support their membership without overseeing the internal affairs of their members, their lawyers told the judge.
A negative decision for Fields would not necessarily end the lawsuit. He could continue to pursue his claims for penalties and damages against church insurers, although there are questions about the scope of this coverage.
If the judge rules against the Church’s defendants at this point, they may be given another opportunity to appeal the lawsuit through a summary judgment once the parties have completed the evidence exchange process known as the discovery, which includes the testimony of the litigants and their representatives can.
Fields’ attorneys claim it is too early in the trial for the defendants to claim immunity from the Church, and that discovery should move further to see if the evidence really supports their claim that they cannot be sued.
Fields sued Teddy Leon Hill Jr. and the Church’s defendants in December 2019, accusing the 60-year-old Greenwood man of sexually abusing him for years, starting when he was 14. His attorneys Josh Gillispie of North Little Rock and Eva Ravindran of Florida describe Hill as a “sexual predator” in a suit.
Gillispie, along with legal partner Chad Green, has received public attention for representing victims of childhood sexual abuse, including five who sued the Boy Scouts, as well as religious freedom advocates who question the legality of a Biblical memorial for 10 Commandments, according to the state Capitol grounds.
Hill has not been charged and denied wrongdoing. He informed authorities that he had sex with Riley, but only after he was 18 years old. This emerges from the state’s investigation into ill-treatment, a copy of which Fields provided to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Lawyers.
The abuse report, the result of an investigation by the Arkansas State Police Crimes Against Children Division, said Hill, who was Fields’ court-appointed guardian for a year, told authorities that Fields had years of sexual advancement against him, from as Already at the age of 13, occasionally feeling it, rubbing it against Hill, or making comments on its anatomy. Hill told investigators that he hadn’t told anyone in church what was going on, or that he was seeking advice on Fields or other help.
In the lawsuit, Fields alleges that Hill used his “mentor, pastor, and spiritual leader” position to harass Fields and that church officials knew, or should have known, what Hill was doing. The abuse caused by Hill humiliated Fields and, according to the lawsuit, made him depressed and suicidal.
According to the lawsuit, Fields became interested in Millcreek when he was 13 and “his troubled life at home made him seek solace in church”. At Hill’s suggestion, Fields volunteered regularly to help with church services. He eventually moved into the rectory to live with Hill.
Hill began sexually abusing him in 2014, about a year after they met, Fields alleges in the lawsuit that Hill regularly molested and raped him, sometimes on church property, until July 2018, just before Hill left church.
A family torn apart
In a court affidavit supporting Hill’s guardianship of Felder, his adoptive parents described him as being disciplined at home and school in February 2017, including an open trial in a juvenile court that resulted in his temporary detention in a juvenile detention center. The couple stated that Hill, the family adviser, was ready to take him in.
“Riley is our son and we love him and we want the best for him,” said her affidavit. “We believe this arrangement is best for everyone at this point. Riley has agreed to this arrangement and is fine with Pastor Hill.”
The couple said they were concerned that Fields’ return home could lead to a “physical altercation” between the father and son.
“We are working on our family relationship,” says her affidavit. “However, we do not believe that it is appropriate or safe for anyone involved in this to have Riley return to our home at this time. Pastor Hill has agreed to be Riley’s guardian.”
According to state investigations, the mother of a friend of Fields told investigators that she took him to her home in June 2018 after Hill “kicked out” the boy.
Fields claims church authorities knew for sure what Hill did to him as of February 2018, which is when Hill’s ex-wife said to Tucker, the executive director of the state convention.
Tucker has denied in his response to the lawsuit that Hill did something inappropriate, and certainly not any type of child abuse.
In court records, Tucker said he contacted Hill’s ex-wife in February 2018 at the request of the woman’s mother because the woman had “persistent extreme emotional difficulties”.
The woman complained that Hill was a “bad person” to be deposed as pastor of Mill Creek, but did not accuse him of child abuse, the file said.
Tucker said removing Hill was beyond his ability or the authority of the Baptist Convention. All he could do was pray with her and, as a former pastor’s wife, offer her free counseling services.