Texas Dad Sues Assemblies of God for Allegedly Allowing Abuse by Chi Alpha Leaders

The Roys Report [Chicago IL]

January 29, 2024

By Josh Shepherd

The father of a teenage boy in central Texas is suing the nation’s largest charismatic-evangelical denomination for negligence, saying one of its ministries gave his son’s alleged abusers “positions which engendered trust.”

The new lawsuit is the latest development in a widening sex scandal involving convicted sex offender Daniel Savala. The scandal has implicated the Assemblies of God (AG) and its sponsored college outreach, Chi Alpha Campus Ministries.

Since last spring, multiple reports have alleged that leaders of Chi Alpha, which operates on over 300 college campuses, allowed Savala access to students at several Texas chapters. 

The suit filed Thursday claims that Chi Alpha and its affiliates in central Texas allowed men, whom Savala had mentored, to have “authority and power over minor children.” This led to the abuse of multiple victims, the suit stated.

Plus, leaders allowed Savala to attend on-campus meetings, prey on young men, and subject college students “to his deviant sexual propensities toward minor males,” the suit alleged.

The suit names four college students, who had been members of the Chi Alpha chapter at Texas A&M University: Ryan Hoffart, William Johnson, Bo Randolph, and Alex Owens. In the suit, Steve Holt of Brazos County, Texas, father of a teenage boy, alleges that his son was “groomed” and “preyed upon” by the four men, who were youth leaders at Mountain Valley Fellowship (MVF) in College Station. 

AG-affiliated minister Eli Stewart, who also founded Chi Alpha’s Texas A&M chapter in 2016, had served as MVF’s lead pastor during this time. Last May, MVF’s church board and elders dismissed Stewart as pastor, stating that he “neglected his duty to protect his flock from a known predator,” referring to Savala.

Stewart’s ouster from MVF followed allegations that his mentor, Savala, had raped or sexually assaulted at least 13 men and minors in recent years, as previously reported by The Roys Report (TRR).

The lawsuit filed by Holt claims that in October 2021, his son, then age 13, was taken by Hoffart on a youth group-related trip to Savala’s residence in Houston, which has an in-home sauna. The teenage boy was allegedly “made (to) strip off his clothing and sit naked with (Hoffart and Savala) in a small sauna” and sexually abused by both men. 

The lawsuit also recounts multiple subsequent incidents instigated by the Texas youth group leaders. For example, in August 2022, the men allegedly “took (Holt’s son) skinny dipping and engaged in other acts of grooming” during a “leadership trip” to Colorado. 

Three months later, at a gathering of the Texas A&M Chi Alpha chapter that Holt’s son attended, the four men allegedly sexually assaulted him. Specifically, the suit claims that the men exposed themselves to the boy; “dry humped” him; and “(rubbed) their hands on (his) thighs and into his crotch.” 

The suit is seeking “in excess of $1 million” in damages from The General Council of the AG (the denomination’s governing body); the North Texas District Council of the AG; Mountain Valley Fellowship; and Chi Alpha Campus Ministries of College Station. 

Anthony Bruster, Holt’s attorney, told TRR that his client brought the suit to bring justice for those involved in the abuse.

“More importantly, my client doesn’t want what happened to them to ever happen to anyone else ever again,” said Bruster, “The defendants have known what’s been going on with Daniel Savala in Chi Alpha for a very long time and failed to do anything about it.”

TRR reached out to the Assemblies of God, including the North Texas District, for comment but did not receive a response. 

The denomination has previously released a six-paragraph statement on its website. “We are heartbroken to hear allegations related to Daniel Savala and the pain his reported actions caused . . .” the statement says. “The General Council of the Assemblies of God takes matters of this nature seriously and will do everything we can to help.” 

The statement also says the AG’s General Council will continue “to take appropriate actions, including dismissal of ministers, in response to the investigative findings.”

In November, E. Scott Martin, who had been on staff with the AG college outreach program since 1990, resigned as national director of Chi Alpha. However, in a Jan. 17 Facebook post since deleted, Martin stated that he remains a “Chi Alpha affiliate.” 

TRR asked AG spokesperson Mark Forrester specifically about Martin’s status but did not hear back by publication time. 

Abuser’s web of influence over decades

The suit underlines how Savala has allegedly influenced the culture of Chi Alpha chapters for decades—as a teacher and mentor of young men, as well as through the men he mentored.

The four men named in the suit—Hoffart, Johnson, Randolph, and Owens—were supervised by MVF lead pastor Stewart, who was also Chi Alpha North Texas Director at the time. 

From 1995 to 1997, as an itinerant minister in Alaska, Savala led a youth group in Ketchikan during the same years that Stewart, then a teenager, was a member. Savala reportedly would invite pre-teen and teenage boys to sleepovers at the church, which progressed from talks about puberty, to wrestling with the minors, to nudity, masturbation, and other sexual activity. 

Despite his firsthand knowledge of these events, Stewart and another Savala mentee, Eli Gautreax, instigated a letter-writing campaign on behalf of Savala during his 2012 trial. 

The letter by the two men called the criminal indictment against Savala an “absolute attack of the devil on his life” based on accusations by “angry and bitter” men. “So, we NEED YOU TO WRITE A LETTER THIS WEEK to appeal for Leniency for Daniel,” wrote Stewart and Gautreax. 

In October 2012, Judge William Carey called the details of the charges against Savala “quite chilling,” according to a report in the Ketchikan Daily News. Carey also asserted “the minister groomed young boys for sex.” 

Savala pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree sexual abuse, served 90 days in jail, and was required to register as a sex offender.

Yet leaders of Chi Alpha leaders—chiefly, Stewart and Gautreax, then district directors of the campus ministry—continued to provide Savala access to young men through the campus ministry and their Assemblies of God affiliated churches. 

s of last June, Savala was arrested on child sex abuse charges along with another former protégé, Chris Hundl, leader of Baylor University’s Chi Alpha chapter. Hundl was removed as an AG-credentialed minister, and Baylor has currently banned Chi Alpha from its campus. 

In July 2022, Will Robinson, former Chi Alpha chapter leader at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, was arrested on child sex abuse charges and will soon answer the charges in court.

Five other Chi Alpha leaders have also recently had their Assemblies of God credentials pulled, allegedly due to their involvement with Savala. They include Gautreax, who was fired as the director of Chi Alpha’s South Texas district and New Mexico, and several chapter leaders.

The Assemblies of God previously confirmed that Jason Bell at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville; Josh Bell at Rice University in Houston; Daniel Young at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley; and Johnny Hauck at the University of Texas at San Antonio; have lost their positions.

Holt’s attorney stated that Savala “has had significant impact in Chi Alpha.”

Bruster added: “I think there are many others that he has impacted (which may) come out in the discovery process of this suit . . . We want to make sure that changes are made in Chi Alpha, to protect other people in the future.”

XA and the Lions Den, an advocacy forum started last year by a group of whistleblowers, posted the lawsuit to its members last week. It stated in part: “Pray for swift justice and complete accountability for all participating parties.” 

Correction: This story has been updated to accurately state details of the lawsuit.