Fresno Sheriff’s detectives investigating sex abuse allegations at local Christian schoo

Fresno Bee [Fresno CA]

May 21, 2022

By Robert Rodriguez

The Fresno County Sheriff’s office is investigating allegations of sexual assaults against children involving members of the Riverdale Assembly of God Church in west Fresno County.

Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti said that while he couldn’t release specific information about the investigation, this isn’t the first time the church and it’s school, the Riverdale Christian Academy, have been investigated.

Detectives in the office’s Sex Crimes Unit received a report in 2015 of misconduct taking place at the church.

“The allegations were investigated, however, due to issues with statute of limitations, the investigation could not move forward,” Botti said. “Earlier in 2022, our detectives received new information about sexual misconduct tied to the church, so they are currently pursuing these allegations to see if they reach the threshold to make any arrests.”

The church, founded in 1965 by Charles and Wilma Spencer, has recently become the target of several civil lawsuits by former students who attended the church and school in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Two of those students, who are now adults, allege they were groomed and repeatedly sexually assaulted by Charles Spencer Jr., teacher and pastor.

Meanwhile another lawsuit was filed earlier this month against the Riverdale Assembly of God, the Riverdale Christian Academy, James Davis and others.

This suit accuses Davis, a music director, photography director and choir director of sexual assaulting a male student for several years.

The civil lawsuits seek monetary damages for the trauma and emotional distress they have endured.

Attempts by the Fresno Bee to contact Spencer Jr., Davis or church officials was unsuccessful Friday.

Attorney Steven Dias of law firm Dias Hall in Fresno represents several of the former students who have filed civil cases.

Dias said changes by the California Legislature extended the statute of limitations for sexual assault survivors to file a civil lawsuit.

One of Dias’s recent cases involves a former academy student and church member, who alleges he was groomed and later sexually assaulted from the age of 15 to age 18, during the early to mid-90s.

John Roe 9, as he is identified in the lawsuit, alleges Davis, one of the school’s staff members used his position as music director, photography director and choir director to gain his trust and take advantage of him at school and during class trips.

One such trip was a church camp retreat in the Los Padres National Forest when Roe 9 was 16 years old. Davis was a chaperone on the trip and was sleeping in the same cabin with the other male students. Also in the cabin was his young son.

According to the suit, Davis asked the alleged victim if he could push their bunks together so his son wouldn’t fall out of his bed. Roe 9 agreed, but a short time later he woke up to find Davis with his hands down the front of Roe 9’s pajama pants, according to the lawsuit.

“In shock of the wrongful sexual act that was being committed upon him ROE 9 pretended to remain asleep,” the lawsuit states.

Three weeks later Davis sexually assaulted Roe 9 again, this time inside a modular trailer on campus where Davis was giving haircuts to the students.

According to the lawsuit, the assaults, abuse and wrongful sex acts continued from 1992 through 1994. Roe 9 was assaulted during school, church retreats and church sponsored activities.

Even after graduating high school, Davis continued to sexually prey on Roe 9, the lawsuit states. He is accused of visiting him numerous times while Roe 9 was away at college.

Roe 9’s roommate became concerned about the visits and told Roe 9’s guidance counselor, who reported the alleged assaults. Soon after Davis stopped visiting, the

Church officials called Roe 9 and requested a meeting with him at the senior pastor’s home. He agreed, according to the suit.

At the meeting were church elders, academy elders, employees, directors, senior pastors, associate pastors, teachers and directors, who “berated, criticized, scolded and humiliated ROE 9 for seducing and tempting (Davis) to engage in a wrong sexual relationship with ROE 9 while he was a minor,” according to the lawsuit.

“Humiliated and shamed, ROE 9 was made to apologize for the childhood sexual abuse perpetrated upon him by (Davis). “

Dias said the intent by the church was clear. They wanted to shame and embarrass him from disclosing Davis’s prolonged alleged sexual abuse.

Sheriff’s spokesman Botti urged anyone with information about “wrongful behavior that has taken or is taking place at the church in Riverdale” to email detective Lindsay Kitchens,