Denver Reverend Admits to "Consensual" Church Sex

By Brian Maass

November 18, 2008

[with video]


A former church secretary at Denver's Central Baptist Church located at 2400 California Street has filed a lawsuit against the church and senior pastor Willie Simmons, accusing the prominent clergyman of multiple incidents of lewd, drunken sexual conduct in the church office.

Simmons, a married, 58-year-old father of two, admits to "a sexual encounter" in the church but claims it was consensual.

"I wanted it to stop," the woman told CBS4. "It wasn't consensual, Reverend Simmons, and I wish I could tell him to his face. I didn't consent to anything," she said with her voice cracking with emotion.

The woman requested her name not be used as she considers herself a victim of sexual assault.

She went to work at the church five years ago as Reverend Simmons secretary, earning $9 an hour. Immediately, the deeply religious, single mother says church deacon James Slay warned her that Simmons "used to drink and he was more like a womanizer." Slay did not return calls for comment. And she said almost immediately, the ordained reverend began harassing her, suggesting she participate in a "threesome" with him. She said he "constantly" propositioned her.

On one occasion she recounts he said, "'I sure would like to taste you.' And I always told him, 'Pastor, I don't mess with married men.' Anytime he would come at me like that, that's what I told him and I guess he didn't believe it and he kept pushing it, thinking he was going to break me and it was not going to happen."

Simmons has been a pastor at Denver's Central Baptist Church since 1990. Several years ago he was president of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance, a collaboration of pastors representing about 65 predominantly African- American churches in Denver and Aurora.

The woman says Simmons' talk escalated into action in February of last year. According to the lawsuit, she said Simmons called her into his office on Feb 15. She said his pants were unzipped and he was fondling his penis. She said he smelled of alcohol and told her, "'If you take care of me, I'll take care of you.' He wanted me to take care of him. He unzipped his pants," she said.

She said she immediately left the office.

"He's not the man a lot of people think he is," she said.

The Denver woman said Simmons then followed her to her desk where he again unzipped his pants and pulled out his penis, fondling himself and trying to force the woman to perform oral sex on him. She said she pleaded with Simmons to stop, which he did when someone knocked on the door.

She said she was "disgusted" by the Pastor's actions but was reluctant to go to police or quit as she was embarrassed and was facing extreme financial difficulties.

Eleven days later, after Simmons returned to Denver from a conference, she said it happened again in the church office. This time she said Simmons locked the door, unzipped his pants and ejaculated on her.

"I didn't think he'd want to go that far in a church," she said.

That would be the last day she worked at the church.

The next day, she went to Denver police to report the sexual violations. Investigators had the woman call Simmons as detectives eavesdropped on the conversation. According to a police report on the incident, Simmons told the woman, "I didn't know you went to the police station all I had to say was, please forgive me, I'm sorry. I'll never say anything to you. I did get out of line. Like I said, you could keep your job."

In their report, police noted "the suspect sounded like he was trying to manipulate the victim, telling her about how long she had worked for him and that he thinks the world of her."

Police say when they interviewed Simmons, he told them he "finally broke her down" and that "she ratted on me."

However the Denver District Attorney's Office declined to file any charges against Reverend Simmons. Lynn Kimbrough, a spokesperson for the district attorney's office, said there was "no reasonable likelihood of conviction" based on "our inability to disprove a consent defense."

The victim's attorney, Paula Greisen, disputes that reasoning.

"This was a sexual assault," said Greisen. "He forced his genitals on her on several occasions -- lewd sexual acts."

She called Simmons behavior "outrageous conduct" and said the fact the Church did not fire Simmons was "unbelievably offensive."

Confronted about his behavior, Simmons said, "I cannot discuss that. I will not discuss my personal life and other things."

His attorney did not return multiple phone calls.

Central Baptist's treasurer Alex Armstrong acknowledged there had "been a disturbance at the church," but declined to answer any other questions.

Chairman of the Church Trustees, James Slay, did not return multiple calls.

However an internal church memo from Central Baptist's Deacons and Trustees obtained by CBS4 indicates Reverend Simmons told church elders "there had been a sexual encounter ... in the church office. After much prayer and many, many meetings with lots of discussion the deacons and trustees do not know exactly what took place, but we do know that something sexual took place in the office of the church."

The memo indicates Simmons asked church elders for a 30- or 60-day sabbatical leave, saying he was "tired and exhausted."

Rick DeWitt, the church's lawyer, wrote a confidential letter to one church trustee following the incidents saying "the church has several options: ask for resignation, suspend with pay, suspend without pay, termination, or do nothing. This is an executive decision that the Trustees Board has to make considering the church's needs. Pastor Simmons has admitted sexual conduct with the secretary; he claims consensual, she claims involuntary," wrote the lawyer. "The trustee board may terminate the (employment) agreement at any time," but it's unclear what if any action the church took.

DeWitt did not return calls from CBS4 seeking comment. Simmons remains the church pastor.

The woman quit immediately after the second sexual altercation saying she could no longer work for Simmons or the church. She filed a civil lawsuit late last month, accusing both Simmons and the church of extreme and outrageous conduct.

"Behind closed doors," said the woman, "he's not acting Godly."


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