Sarasota County Man Sues Priest, Alleging Sexual Abuse

By Frank Fernandez
Sarasota Herald-Tribune
July 8, 2020

The 33-year-old man said sexual abuse took place when he was a teenager about 20 years ago.

A 33-year-old man has filed a lawsuit against a retired Catholic priest who lives in Ormond Beach, accusing the priest of sexually molesting him two decades ago when the man was a teenager being held in a juvenile detention facility.

Louis Reed, the accuser who has filed the lawsuit, agreed to have his name published for this story.

Reed’s suit is filed in Polk County Circuit Court against the Rev. Fred Ruse. An attorney for the former priest said his client did not want to discuss the lawsuit and denied the allegations in a phone interview, citing Reed’s criminal history to question his credibility.

“I already had mental health issues and someone gained my trust as a vulnerable teenager and took advantage of me,” Reed said in a phone interview.

Reed, who lives in Nokomis in Sarasota County, said he did not know to report the incident when it happened. He was age “14 or 15” when the abuse occurred, the suit states.

“You know that now, but it’s different when you are a kid,” Reed said. “You don’t have nobody, and the only person that is showing support is the person that is the perpetrator.”

Ruse, 70, is a Daytona Beach native who retired after about 40 years in the priesthood. He served several parishes, including as pastor at St. Paul Catholic Church in Daytona Beach from 1984 to 1994. The church is now the Basilica of St. Paul.

In 2013, Ruse was featured in a News-Journal story about students from the Dominican Republic attending his alma mater Father Lopez Catholic High School in Daytona Beach.

More recenlty, Ruse has written to the News-Journal to argue for the end of Florida’s death penalty.

But in 2001 and 2002, Ruse was a pastor at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Winter Haven and would visit as part of a church ministry the Demilly Correctional Institution in Polk City.

Ruse met with Reed for communion but then began giving gifts to Reed, such as Harry Potter books, according to the lawsuit. Ruse would meet privately with Reed in a classroom and then in the chaplain’s office, the lawsuit stated.

Ruse allegedly fondled Reed and masturbated in front of the teenager, according to the lawsuit. Ruse is also accused in the lawsuit of having oral sex with the teenager, according to the lawsuit.

Ruse was not the chaplain of the facility, but as a member of the clergy he was allowed private meetings with Reed, the lawsuit states.

Attorney’s denial

The lawsuit is another case of a priest being accused of sexual abuse. The Catholic Church has seen numerous such cases across the nation.

Attorney Ken Weaver, who represents Ruse, said in a phone interview that no one was allowed to meet privately with minors or anyone else at the facility. Weaver said the priest has no recollection of Reed and that the allegations are baseless.

“We don’t know if this guy’s been sexually molested or not but certainly not by Father Ruse,” Weaver said.

Weaver said that Ruse would visit the correctional facility as part of a ministry.

Weaver pointed to Reed’s criminal record as a sign he lacks credibility.

Reed was sentenced on March 20, 2003, in Leon County to two years related for making a false report of a bomb, according to the Florida Department of Corrections. But records indicate he served only several months before he was released. He said he served that time in a facility for youthful offenders.

“If you do the math, I was a kid,” he said.

About a decade later, Reed was sentenced on Feb. 21, 2012, in Sarasota County to 10 years in prison in a fraud case involving five counts of fraudulent use of personal identification and one count of swindling.

Reed also was charged in other cases dealing with identity theft, insurance fraud or credit card fraud, but charges were dropped or in some cases he was acquitted at trial.

“Mr. Reed is nothing but a fraudster and still is,” Weaver said.

The church investigated the allegations against Ruse and cleared him, Weaver said. Ruse retired in good standing and is still a fully vested Catholic priest, Weaver said.

While the lawsuit accuses Ruse of suddenly retiring, Weaver denies that, saying the priest retired after 40 years of service.

“Father Ruse has led an exemplary career,” Weaver said.

A woman at the Archdiocese of Orlando said Ruse had been cleared and hung up the phone before giving her name. The diocese did not return an email.

Prison release, report filed

Reed was released from state prison on the fraud case on Feb. 8, 2019.

“I went to prison for credit card fraud,” Reed said. “That’s no secret. That’s public record. That has never been denied or covered up or hidden. That does not change the fact of what he did to me as a kid does not justify any of that.”

As the year came to an end, Reed on Dec. 13, 2019, called the Polk County Sheriff’s Office to file a report against Ruse. According to the report, Ruse gave Reed, whose name is redacted, books and other prizes to watch him masturbate and have oral sex. Reed said he did not report the incident because he was a juvenile and was afraid to speak about it, the report said.

The Sheriff’s Office tried to contact Ruse through the Ormond Beach Police Department. Ruse got an attorney named Andrew Moses, who contacted the Sheriff’s Office and told the investigator that Ruse had taken a polygraph test, which showed no deception. Moses also wrote that Ruse declined to be interviewed by police.

The Sheriff’s Office investigator noted that the statute of limitations had expired for a charge of sexual battery by a custodian. He also noted that there “is no evidence to the alleged crime” and no further leads.

Reed said in a phone interview that the sexual abuse he said he suffered was yet another setback in a difficult life.

He said he was born in Washington state in a prison to a mother who was addicted to crack cocaine. He was placed in foster care for the first 18 months of his life, and then his aunt flew him down to Florida to be with her. He said he was also physically abused as a child.

He got in trouble with anger management issues as a juvenile and was placed in the facility in Polk County for 30 months. That’s where he met Ruse, who gave him attention.

“He met with me privately and established a relationship with me and gained my trust, because I didn’t have any family support or anything like that,” Reed said.

Reed said the abuse made him distrustful of people and made it difficult to relate to women.

He questions why Ruse has refused to talk to police. Reed said his criminal record is not the issue.

“We are talking about what he did to a child over the course of a few years, and they want to talk about my criminal past,” Reed said. “I paid my debt to society.”

Reed has worked in landscaping and takes care of his elderly mother, who is on dialysis and tested positive for the coronavirus. Reed is currently living with his sister.

Reed’s lawyer, Adam Horowitz, said the statute of limitations prevented them from suing the Catholic Church. A lawsuit against an employer would have had to be filed no later than when Reed was 22 years old. But a lawsuit against the alleged perpetrator must be filed within four years of when Reed realizes he has suffered injuries, so he still had time.

As for his client’s past criminal record, he said that is irrelevant, and is why he may have become a target for abuse.

“Regardless of someone’s criminal history, you have the right to be free of sexual abuse,” Horowitz said.

Reed said the abuse has made him distrustful of people and made his relationships with women difficult.

“At one point I questioned my sexuality,” Reed said. “I thought something was wrong with me. I didn’t want to be around people.”








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