Jury gives abused girl $2 million
An 11-year-old son of a church pastor molested a 5-year-old in 1997.
CARA ROBERTS MUREZ
October 25, 2002
A Marion County jury has awarded $2 million in damages to a Salem girl after finding that her church was negligent in not preventing her pastors son from sexually abusing her.
On Thursday, attorneys gave opening statements in a second, similar civil lawsuit filed against the Oregon Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists. That lawsuit also seeks $2 million in damages for not preventing sexual abuse against a second girl.
Both cases allege that Pastor Dennis Pumfords son, then 11 years old, touched the girls inappropriately, including putting his mouth on their genitalia. Pumford was the pastor at South Salem Seventh-Day Adventist Church at the time of the alleged abuse.
In these civil, not criminal, trials, neither the defense or plaintiffs dispute whether the abuse occurred, but whether the churchs governing body should be held accountable.
The pastors son was found guilty in 1999 in Marion County juvenile court after admitting to one charge of sodomy for incidents in 1997.
The case is similar to several civil suits across the country charging negligence against churches and their governing bodies for alleged sexual abuse of children by church officials. The Mormon, Roman Catholic and Jehovahs Witness churches are among those under fire.
What sets this case apart is that the accused abuser is not a church employee but a minor child of a pastor.
Greg Smith is an attorney whose firm is working with Gatti Gatti Maier Krueger Sayer & Associates in Salem on numerous sexual abuse cases against the Catholic church in Oregon. He said Wednesdays
$2 million verdict against the Oregon Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists shows that religious organizations will be held to a very high standard of accountability in protecting children from sexual abuse.
It is so clear how important it is to protect childrens physical and sexual privacy, Smith said.
Lawyers for the Oregon Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists have denied the allegations in both cases in court records. The church had no duty to supervise employees children nor to require employees to supervise their children when they were not on church premises or participating in church duties, said defense lawyers Susan Whitney and Todd Foster of Portland. They have declined to comment at least until after a verdict is reached in the second trial.
The parents named with their daughters in the lawsuits are Barbara Spane and Kelly Kerbs of Salem. Their lawyers, Kevin Strever and Bill Barton of Newport, also declined to comment while the second trial was in progress.
Both lawsuits were filed in March 2000. In each case, according to documents, plaintiffs charged that the church was negligent in failing to adequately supervise the pastors son and failing to require the pastor to supervise his son, in failing to warn church members of the sexual acts and threats of sexual acts the son had made while Pumford was an assistant pastor in Orchards, Wash.
The cases also allege that the church was negligent in transferring the pastor to Salem without notifying members or elders here of the alleged acts and in failing to require Pumford to supervise his son in the company of girls.
The female victim in the just-completed trial was 5-years-old when the alleged abuse occurred. The girl in the ongoing case was 3-years-old at the time of the abuse. They are now 11 and 9 years old. The boy is now 16.
The suits charge that in 1996, someone notified a church employee that Pumfords son was bullying church children, using sexually inappropriate language and threatening sex acts against at least one girl at a church in Orchards, Wash. Later church employees were told that the boy had sex with a girl.
Pumford was promoted to pastor and transferred to the South Salem Seventh-Day Adventist church in December 1996, the same year those allegations surfaced.
From January through July 1997, the boy is accused of performing sex acts on the two girls when going to the girls homes with his father, during music rehearsals and other events related to the pastors job.
In opening statements Thursday, defense attorney Susan Whitney said the incidents occurred during social settings, not church functions.
Under what circumstances are we going to hold the employer liable for what the pastors son does? Whitney asked the jury.
The boys behavior in Washington state wasnt documented in his fathers personnel files, Strever told the jury during opening statements. Strever also said Pumfords son was abused by other boys in 1991 and never treated.
This case is about abuse of trust and violation of human dignity, Strever said.
In the juvenile case against Pumfords son, the boy was referred to the Marion County Juvenile Department in January 1999, at age 13, said Juvenile Department Director Larry Oglesby. He was charged with one count of first-degree sodomy and one count of sodomy on a child for incidents that happened when he was 11. He admitted to one count of first-degree sodomy. He was given standard juvenile probation and sex offender counseling that was not to exceed five years.
The boys probation ended after 27 months, in June 2001. The charge was later vacated, meaning its as if he was not convicted of it. He can have it removed entirely from his record when he turns 18, Oglesby said.
South Salem Seventh-Day Adventist Church did not return calls Thursday. The Oregon Conference, which oversees most of Oregon and southwest Washington, declined to comment until after the second trial is completed.
SDA Church Must Pay $2M To Abused Girl
Jury gives abused girl $2 million
Blondie, thanks for posting this. Orchards is just a couple miles from me and I hadn't heard about this before.
On a different note, I wonder if it will go through the normal appeal process and eventually, get reversed? Regardless, I hope religions take note that people are getting fed up with their conduct towards child abuse.
An appeal and a reversal is always possible. As a silentlamb myself, money wouldn't have the issue. Just public validation that I had been abused and the abuser was the criminal not me would have been enough. I'm sure many feel that way too.
I think this is excellent and may bode well for the case Kimberlee will be presenting in Oregon in the near future. Oregon may set precedents that other states will follow.
As for the monetary award, I think it is the only language that the moneylenders at the WTS and other cults recognize. The money is an important part of the punitive process, and the fact is that it does take a certain amount of financial commitment to even begin bringing a case like this to trial. That's one reason the WTS likes to keep the brothers and sisters down economically as well as intellectually - they don't want them smart enough to recognize their rights or "wealthy" enough to fight for them.
Think of the good works an "apostate" with $2M could bankroll, in addition to providing for a more comfortable old age - an old age that as a JW child she was PROMISED she would never have to experience.
On this specific case, I have to confess that I'm surprised that an eleven year old, pre-pubescent, presumably non-testosterone poisoned boy would be inclined toward this behavior. Certainly he didn't come to it on his own, but learned it from somewhere, don't you think? I wonder what stories this kid could tell about his Daddy and Mommy. Is the SDA Church halfway smart enough to understand this and investigate that family? Does the SDA Church have a commitment to righteousness, or do they view children and women as a man's property to be used or abused in any way the man sees fit?
Watchtower has a ton of cases already filed against it or going to be filed.
NN, money is nice, I won't disagree. But people are paid out of court to settle many cases with the proviso that nothing be revealed. So even if no money materializes, the publicity will warn others, and will add to letting the abused know they were not the bad one.
Ideally, money and publicity is the goal.
Nathan's comments: "I have to confess that I'm surprised that an eleven year old, pre-pubescent, presumably non-testosterone poisoned boy would be inclined toward this behavior. Certainly he didn't come to it on his own, but learned it from somewhere, don't you think? I wonder what stories this kid could tell about his Daddy and Mommy."
Those were my first thoughts exactly.
I know of a case in my old congregation where a girl was sexually abused by her older brother. It began when her brother was ten or eleven, or possibly younger. I've always believed that he had to have been abused himself.
No amount of money could ever compensate for the abuse I suffered from my Mom, Blondie, I realize that. I wasn't talking about the monetary reward, though, but the decision itself being reversed. Even if it is, the public will have seen that religion has a dismal record in helping victims and dealing with the abusers.
As for any monetary gains, the attorney's will keep their portion to keep filing these claims and fighting them. They can't be expected to fight these drawn out cases Pro Bono. Still, it is the money losses, hitting them in the pocketbook, that will make the public realize the failure of religion in general and hopefully, turn their policies around.
in failing to warn church members of the sexual acts and threats of sexual acts
now what is the policy of the wt well of course they warn the rest of the congo, in fact accoding to the rule the adult that works in service with the pedophile knows that the guy was having sex last week with a a 8yr old
The cases also allege that the church was negligent in transferring the pastor to Salem without notifying members
NOW WE ALL KNOW THAT an annoucment is made informing the members that we have a pedophile in our mist YEA RIGHT
The female victim in the just-completed trial was 5-years-old when the alleged abuse occurred. The girl in the ongoing case was 3-years-old at the time of the abuse. They are now 11 and 9 years old. The boy is now 16NOT to make light of the age, but AT LEAST they were about the same age, but a 8yr old little girl and a 46 yr old man-
point being if the jury was able to hand a victory in the case of kids being involved with kids can you imagine the disgust they will have when they see a 8yr and a 46yr old man in court-
this is they type of case that wt hates
The boys behavior in Washington state wasnt documented in his fathers personnel files, Strever told the jury during opening statements.
well just think the avg body of elders esp in the usa- i understand in europe in some countries they have been to by wt to destroy files, but in the usa they records are still at the hall, just think of a jury with those documents in thier hands
Strever also said Pumfords son was abused by other boys in 1991 and never treated.
now just think when has the wt ever directed elders to help the person seek medical help-
I would love to be a fly on the wall in the legal dept reading this article
Im an SDA myself Ill be looking carefully in their mags when this case is over to see if members are informed of this and if not ill be asking some questions. A few weeks ago I got a copy of the Record a weekly SDA mag given out to members and the subjuct was child and sexual abuse which I sent off to Bill to have a look at, maybe he will comment on it sometime when he gets time. Barry