Six Oregon men file suit against Albany First Assembly church for sex abuse
By Lillian Schrock
February 24, 2018
|The Albany First Assembly church in a 2016 file photo. The church rebranded last year as Hope Church of the Assemblies of God. |
Photo by David Patton
Six Oregon men filed a lawsuit Friday against the Albany First Assembly church, and the state and national organizations that operate the church, for sexual abuse they say they suffered as children in the 1980s, according to the Portland law firm representing the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit alleges that the church and its governing organizations failed to investigate and forward to police reports that a youth leader in the church had sexually abused a boy. Two leaders of a church youth program were later criminally convicted for sexually abusing several boys.
According to the complaint, Ralph Wade Gantt and Todd Clark were leaders in the church-sponsored Royal Rangers, an educational and recreational program for boys similar to Boy Scouts. The lawsuit alleges Gantt and Clark abused their position of leadership, trust and respect to repeatedly sexually abuse the six plaintiffs when they were as young as 10 years old.
Five of the plaintiffs are represented by their initials in the lawsuit. The sixth plaintiff is listed Anthony Burwell.
The complaint asserts Gantt and Clark frequently had the plaintiffs and other Royal Rangers members stay overnight at their houses for sleepovers, took members on overnight camping trips and hosted members at their houses for Bible studies.
The plaintiffs assert the abuse happened during the sleepovers and after Bible study sessions, according to the lawsuit. One plaintiff states the abuse happened during a districtwide Royal Rangers event sponsored by the Oregon District of the Assemblies of God. The plaintiffs allege the abuse happened between 1980 and 1986.
The lawsuit states one of the plaintiffs, identified as R.T., reported the abuse to his father in 1984 and his father reported the abuse to the Albany First Assembly church. According to the complaint, the church did not report Clark to the police or remove him from his position as a Royal Ranger leader at that time. The church terminated Gantt and Clark from the Royal Rangers program sometime after 1986, the lawsuit states.
Three of the six plaintiffs allege claims for abuse committed by Clark after the church learned of Clark’s alleged abuse of R.T., said Gilion Dumas, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs.
Clark and Gantt were convicted in 1988 for child sexual abuse. Gantt was convicted of abusing R.T. and other victims associated with the Albany First Assembly church, Dumas said. Clark was convicted for abusing other members of the Royal Rangers, she said.
Dumas' firm, the Dumas Law Group, filed a lawsuit against the Albany First Assembly church in 2016 on behalf of a separate plaintiff who alleged abuse by Clark and Gantt. That lawsuit was recently resolved with a confidential settlement, Dumas said.
The six men in the current lawsuit were identified as victims of Gantt and Clark when the Dumas Law Group was investigating claims in the 2016 suit, Dumas said. She said the delay in pursuing a civil lawsuit is common with abuse victims.
Both lawsuits were filed in Multnomah County. Dumas said this is because the state and national church organizations do business there and that many of the witnesses who would testify at trial are in Multnomah County.
The lawsuit asks for $42 million in damages.
The Albany First Assembly church rebranded last year as Hope Church of the Assemblies of God. Church Pastor Stan Baker said Friday church officials had not received any information notifying them of the lawsuit.