Civil Suit Claims Walnut Hill Church Liable for Sexual Abus
By Aaron Boyd
October 23, 2013
|Walnut Hill Community Church in Bethel.
Walnut Hill Community Church in Bethel and several of its youth program coordinators have been named as defendants in a civil suit asserting their culpability in the 2009 sexual abuse of a minor by a member of the church’s youth leadership.
Former church member Matthew Anastasia was arrested in April 2010 and pled "guilty" to felony risk of injury to a child and misdemeanor sexual assault in the fourth degree. He was sentenced in 2011 to 10 years imprisonment, suspended after one year, and five years probation.
The civil suit filed in Danbury Superior Court claims that the church should have been aware of Anastasia’s “propensity to sexually abuse… minor females within the youth program yet failed to take steps to prevent his sexual abuse of the minor plaintiff.”
Along with the church, the complaint names Senior Pastor Clive Calver, Pastor of Community Life Scott Shockley and Youth Pastor Craig Mowrey as defendants, stating that their role as leaders in the church’s youth program at the time made them “responsible for the actions and conduct of all persons affiliated with the youth ministry programs and youth leadership of the church.”
Anastasia’s mother and father, Janice and former Church Elder James Anastasia, are also cited as defendants in the case, as all three lived together and were employed with the church in 2009.
The suit is requesting compensation for ongoing therapy and other associated costs, as well as punitive damages of more than $15,000.
Citing a previous history of sexual abuse toward underage females and that the assaults occurred on church grounds, “The general risk of harm… was foreseeable by the defendants,” namely the church, its elders and the youth program coordinators, the claim states.
According to court records, Anastasia was arrested in 2008 for unlawful restraint in the second degree (misdemeanor) and served one year in prison after being sentenced in 2011.
The complaint contends that the church “knew or should have known” of Anastasia’s past abuses and was negligent in letting him supervise youth events where he was in charge of groups of children without their parents present.
“We don’t believe the information in the complaint is factually accurate,” attorney Tim Scannel, of the firm Boyle, Shaughnessy and Campo, P.C., which is representing the church, said Wednesday, though he declined to comment further on which specific statements were inaccurate.
“We completely disagree with the claims being made,” Executive Pastor Neil Tan said Wednesday during an interview that included Elder Board Chairman Hal Wibling.
Speaking in general terms, Tan and Wibling said the church conducts routine background checks before any appointments.
“Anytime you deal with hiring people — shopkeepers, whatever — you have checks and processes and we have checks and processes in place,” Tan said. “We are not cowboys.”
“Now, does this mean that all people are infallible? No,” he said, stating that the church is cooperating and “the process will run its due course — we have nothing to hide.”