Former Pastor Files Suit for Firing

By Kathryn Kennedy
Daily Reflector
July 30, 2008

A former pastor once charged with secretly videotaping women and children is suing the church that fired him, according to documents filed at the Pitt County Courthouse.

Leon Harris, 56, filed a civil suit in superior court last week, claiming Rose Hill Free Will Baptist Church and the Central Convention of Free Will Baptists violated his contract when they fired him in 2005.

Harris entered an Alford Plea last July to four counts of sexual exploitation of a minor in connection with the videotaping charges. As part of that plea, 48 counts of felony secret peeping were dropped. The Alford Plea means that while Harris did not admit guilt, he conceded prosecutors had enough evidence to likely convince a judge or jury to find him guilty.

Now he is contesting his church's decision to fire him. A pastor at the Winterville church could be fired "solely by act of the RHFWBC congregation," at a hearing advertised at least two worship services beforehand, attorneys for Harris claim in the recent brief. These contractual rights were denied, it states.

His termination on July 20, 2005 — and suspension of credentials by the CCFWB — caused the loss of two years of salary, the complaint continues, for the time remaining on his contract.

He had occupied the position since 1982.

The church has not responded to the allegations, so no date has been set for a hearing.

The firing occurred after Harris was charged by the Pitt County Sheriff's Office.

An 8mm tape containing video of a women's bathroom at the church was seized, showing adults and children as young as 4 changing and using the restroom.

The wireless camera was taped inside a plastic plant and placed on the toilet tank. The plant and camera were later found in Harris' vehicle when police searched it, former prosecutor Lee Teague told the court last year. Three of Harris' fingerprints were on the tape used to hold the camera in the plant, and his face was seen briefly at the beginning of the video, Teague said.

Judge Thomas D. Haigwood sentenced him to serve three years supervised probation and at least 100 hours community service.

If Harris violates his probation, a prison sentence of up to two years would be enacted. The terms included participating in mental health treatment, not having contact with the victims and registering as a sex offender.

He remains on probation at this time, according to the Department of Correction Web site.

Kathryn Kennedy can be reached at or 329-9566.


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