Man Files Sexual Abuse Lawsuit against Former St. Louis Pastor
By Tim Townsend
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
November 21, 2006
A 25-year-old man who says he was sexually abused as a minor by a former St. Louis pastor and community leader filed a lawsuit Monday against the pastor, the Rev. Sylvester Laudermill Jr., and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the denomination Laudermill served.
The man, who filed the suit as John Doe T, said in the lawsuit that Laudermill began abusing him in 1995 "in the church parsonage and other locations" when he was 14 or 15. He has said previously that a sexual relationship with Laudermill lasted until he was 21.
Laudermill, 48, was pastor at St. Peter AME Church at Margaretta and Shreve avenues from 1994 to 2004 and served with numerous clergy-activist groups, including Metropolitan Congregations United for St. Louis. In 2004, Laudermill returned to his native Los Angeles, where he was pastor of Ward AME, the denomination's second-largest church in Los Angeles, until he stepped down in May. Neither Laudermill nor his attorney returned calls for comment Monday.
Laudermill was defrocked in May by Bishop John R. Bryant, head of the church's 5th District (which includes Missouri and California), after two internal church investigations in St. Louis and Los Angeles sustained allegations of sexual abuse in both cities. But in September, the church's judicial council overruled Bryant, based on procedural errors in the internal investigations, and reinstated Laudermill.
In an interview outside the St. Louis Civil Courts building Monday, the alleged victim said it was the church's reversal of Laudermill's defrocking that led to his decision to file a civil lawsuit.
"It came down to this because we haven't gotten anywhere with the church," he said.
No criminal charges have been filed against Laudermill. Ed Postawko, an assistant St. Louis circuit attorney, did not return calls for comment Monday, but the circuit attorney's office has been investigating the allegations against Laudermill since last spring.
Lt. Emmanuel Hernandez of the Los Angeles Police Department said the police investigation of the California case had been submitted to the Los Angeles district attorney's office. Attorneys in that office did not return calls Monday seeking comment.
Besides Laudermill, the suit named the following defendants: the AME Church corporation, the church's board of incorporators, the church's 5th District, Bryant and St. Peter AME Church.
The lawsuit contends that church leaders knew that Laudermill had a history of sexually abusing children and "acted with depraved hearts" by allowing the pastor to be around children in St. Louis "knowing harm could occur."
The Rev. Anthony Steele, current pastor at St. Peter AME Church, said he had not seen the lawsuit and would not comment until he did.
Neither Bryant nor his attorney returned calls for comment Monday. The church's general secretary, the Rev. Clement W. Fugh, was not available for comment Monday.
The alleged victim's attorney, Ken Chackes, said his client's motivation for coming forward "has always been to protect other children from Reverend Laudermill" and that filing a civil lawsuit was his client's "third choice."
"He went to the St. Louis police in December 2005, but prosecutors have still not prosecuted this case," Chackes said. "Then he went to the church and, despite telling my client that they believed him, they eventually and surprisingly overturned their findings."
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