Sunday, October 27, 2013

LDS Church Targeted With Child Sex Abuse Lawsuit In Berkeley County, West Virginia In Relation To The Christopher Michael Jensen Case

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been targeted with a lawsuit in relation to child sex abuse in Berkeley County, West Virginia. The primary plaintiffs are 12 children who were reportedly sexually abused by a now-former LDS member, twenty-two-year old Christopher Michael Jensen, who was convicted of related crimes in criminal court. Additional plaintiffs include five Jane Does and five John Does, identified as being parents, guardians, and "next friends" of the children. Representing the plaintiffs are attorneys from the Fitzsimmons Law Firm in Wheeling, WV, Zuckerman Spaeder LLP in Washington DC, and Kosnoff Fasy PLLC in Seattle (Tim Kosnoff was also involved in the Curtis case). The primary media story is the Martinsburg Journal-News, but there is also interesting discussion on the Mormon Discussions forum.

-- Read the 66-page suit document HERE

Named as defendants are the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the church; Don Fishel, who was the bishop of the Hedgesville Ward for the Martinsburg stake of the church between 2007 and 2013 and who also served as a member of the Stake High Council for Martinsburg; Steven Grow, stake president in Martinsburg; Jensen, who was a member and elder of the Hedgesville Ward of the church; Jensen's father, a high priest and member of the Stake High Council for Martinsburg between 2007 and 2010; and Jensen's mother, a member of the Hedgesville Ward and Relief Society president for the church in Martinsburg between 2006 and 2009. The lawsuit seeks unspecified punitive and compensatory damages; attorneys for the plaintiffs maintain that the Church initially tried to cover up the abuse, then reacted too slowly to mitigate it.

Summary of Events: The abuse of the 12 children suing the Church began in 2008. However, there were allegations that Christopher Michael Jensen may have abused additional children as early as 2006. These early allegations were allegedly communicated to Jensen's parents and to local Church leaders; in 2007, the Martinsburg Stake High Council, whose members included Steven Grow, Don Fishel and Jensen's father, held a meeting also attended by Jensen's mother, during which the alleged sexual abuse of two children by Christopher Michael Jensen was allegedly discussed. However, Fishel denied the allegations as hearsay, and so the High Council failed to report the allegations of abuse to authorities as required by law. Local church leaders allegedly continued to portray Jensen as a church member who could provide leadership and counsel to young church members, and even recommended Jensen as a babysitter for church families.

The first of the plaintiffs came forward in early 2008, when a then four-year-old boy told Jensen's mother that Jensen had sexually abused him. Fishel, who was also allegedly already put on notice that Jensen had been accused of sexually abusing children, was told by the mother of another alleged victim that Jensen had abused her younger son. The suit alleges that instead of reporting the abuse to authorities or taking action to warn or protect other children, the Church, through its agents, actively covered up the abuse and assisted Jensen in committing further acts by enabling him to babysit for and live with other church families with young children. The pattern allegedly continued for more than five years until Jensen was indicted in October 2012 in Berkeley County. On February 6th, 2013, Jensen was found guilty of one count of first-degree sexual assault and two counts of sexual abuse, and subsequently sentenced to 35 to 75 years in prison on July 29th. The judge also ordered that Jensen register for life as a convicted sex offender and that he be placed on 50 years of supervised release upon his release from prison. He was found not guilty of one count of first-degree sexual assault involving the youngest boy. On August 18th, the Martinsburg Stake High Council formally excommunicated Jensen.

On a related note, a February 2013 story from the Herald-Mail reveals that sexual abuse and assault charges were also filed against Jensen for allegedly assaulting a 20-year-old woman in a church parking lot in September 2012, and were pending in Berkeley County Magistrate Court at the time. However, in light of the child abuse conviction, prosecutors chose not to pursue the charges, and on March 15th, a Berkeley County magistrate granted the state's motion to discontinue the case.

The suit also alleges that emissaries from Salt Lake City instructed witnesses not to talk with attorneys representing the children suing the church, and that church leaders tried to intimidate the families of the children suing the church by trying to convince them to abandon their claims "lest they run afoul of church teachings regarding forgiveness".

Update October 30th: WHAG Channel 4 picked up the story and published reaction from local LDS leaders:

Church officials released a statement saying that they deny any allegations of a cover up. They felt they were instrumental in reporting the matter to local law enforcement officials, while imposing church discipline on the perpetrator and helping out the victims families.

Prognosis: The LDS Church has a track record of settling these types of suits out of court. The motivation to settle will be strong here, since it appears that local Church leaders were quite reluctant to take action against Jensen initially. While the presumption of innocence is sacred, if state law requires religious leaders to report such allegations to law enforcement, then they must report it. The plaintiffs have also retained some impressive legal muscle to represent them.

The behavior of local Church leaders in this case insufficiently reflect the LDS Church's commitment to resolving child abuse when it occurs and deterring future occurrences. In this statement published a while back, the Church set forth their policy:

Simply put, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to child abusers. When abuse is suspected, the Church directs its members to first contact the legal authorities and then their local bishop for counseling and support. The Church cooperates fully with law enforcement in investigating incidents of child abuse and bringing perpetrators to justice.

Members of the Church found guilty of child abuse are also subject to the laws of God. President Hinckley has said: "Our hearts reach out to the offender, but we cannot tolerate the sin of which he may be guilty. Where there has been offense, there is a penalty." Convicted child abusers are excommunicated, the highest possible discipline our faith can impose. Excommunicated members cannot take part in Church meetings or hold responsibilities of any kind within the congregation.

Can child abusers who have paid the legal price for their crimes and gone through a rigorous repentance process with local Church leaders become members of the Church again? Yes. As Christians, we believe in forgiveness. But can they ever again, in their lifetime, serve in any capacity that would put them in direct contact with children? Absolutely not. Forgiveness does not remove the consequences of sin. Protection of the family is a first principle of the Church.

Since 1995 the Church has placed a confidential annotation on the membership record of members who previously abused children. These records follow them to any congregation where they move, thereby alerting bishops not to place them in situations with children. As far as we know, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the first religious institution to create such a tracking mechanism. We hold the family sacred and protect its children. This explains why the Church is one of the few denominations that imposes formal ecclesiastical discipline on mere members (as opposed to official clergy) for sexually abusive conduct.


Anonymous said...

I find it very interesting that this site's author "Jack Mormon" claims to believe but not follow all the teachings. That in itself is telling of his intellect. Then I see where he has posted an article about sex abuse in the church which happens to be from my personal stake that I live in. If he believes in the church, why then would he want to hurt the church? Some may say that people have a right to know about such things and I agree, but only if they are reported correctly. The article that "Jack" copied and pasted to his website (For whatever reason) was biased against the church and not totally accurate. I happen to know the accussed in this case and have actually had his family over for dinner at my house of course not knowing the kid's problem until later so I am very familiar with this family is my point. I am more familiar with the leaders of the church that are named in this suit and I can tell you that NONE of them would go to bat for a child abuser and try to protect one! They are great men of God that have been wrongfully painted to be something they are not in this case. It is beyond me ( a person who LIVES the religion in it's fullness, not just picking out parts he likes and discarding parts he doesn't like as JACK here does) why a member of this TRUE church would take it upon himself to share information that would potentially harm the church and those prospective souls that are investigating to become members. Either you are using your site to intentionally hurt the church and it's members or you are just plain stupid period! I personally hope it's the latter for your sake. I think it's time you take a look at your own life and evaluate what your doing with your website and then go hit your knees in repentance yourself. Geez!

Jack Mormon said...

You conveniently ignore the fact that I linked to and excerpted the Church's official position on child sex abuse to show that the LDS Church has zero tolerance for child sex abuse.

Would you prefer that only anti-Mormons own this story? Do you believe that only active Mormons have the right to defend the Church?

Anonymous said...

I didn't conveniently ignore anything. Big deal, you threw in one favorable comment in your story of crap! You don't get credit for that dude! Seriously?That's like a person who stands up and tells lies about somebody in public and before their done they throw in one comment that is good just to say they did it! Sorry doesn't cut it buddy. I was merely showing how you say you're a member yet you don't follow the teachings and you help bring to the forefront something that undoubtedly hurts the church. I don't think it is going to far to say that you have an agenda in what you are doing and it isn't to uplift the church that you say your are a member of. This is NOT a religion that you can pick and choose what to believe in and live by. I noticed you conveniently ignored that fact as well! This church is either true or it's not and the fact that you don't live the teachings says volumnes about your testimony and your standing in the church. I will say again, shame on you for helping to hurt the Lord's church! You WILL reap the benefit of your labors one day my friend that you can count on! Now go and talk about something that you actually know something about cause this case you are clearly out of touch with! Try discussing hipocracy why don't you since you seem to be living it you must be an expert on that!

Jack Mormon said...

Anonymous -- Self-righteous cartoon characters like yourself make us look vindictive and intolerant. To paraphrase President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, don't judge me because I sin differently than you do.

Anonymous said...

I just had my name removed from the records of the Mormon Church for doctrinal reasons after 30 years as an active Mormon elder. I just received the letter from the Salt Lake Confidential Records Department. So, here goes.

The Mormon church has as much spiritual discernment as Goldman-Sachs. Its vast male lay clergy is a vast reservoir of undetected pedophiles. I knew one of them in Mountlake Terrace, Washington, in the Mountlake Terrace Ward of the Lynnwood Washington, stake, now the Shoreline Stake. The bisexual pervert's name was David Henry Herget, a high priest, who had raped his own daughter in 1998 and labeled by the court as a level-1 sex offender. He was excommunicated from the Mormon Church and then given back his
preisthoog authority in 2004. Between 1998 and 2004, the pervert was biding his time and manipulating the stake president, Marcus Nash (who is now a General Authority and member the Mormon First Council of the Seventy), the Lynnwood Stake High Council, and a representative of Mormon Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, who put his seal of approval on Herget's re-ordination.

Five months after his re-ordination, Herget, the incurable pedophile, was arrested by the Mountlake Terrace Police for 13 counts of child rape. The victims were sons of Mountlake Terrace Ward members, who didn't know that Herget was a level-1 sex offender and pedophile. Herget was taken to the Snohomish County Jail, where he committed suicide.

It is true that Mormon bishops and stake presidents are responsible for not telling law enforcement about the pedohphiles in their midst. Well, what can you say about people who seriously believe that they are going to be gods after they die, with a capitol G, who worship a changeable exalted man father god who they believe was once a human being like them?

Norton R. Nowlin said...

I hope those molested children decide one day to sue the Mormon Church for millions and millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages. By the way, I knew Marcus Nash very well and can tell you that he wasn't too bright a person, and he was supposed to be a lawyer.

Anonymous said...

Cartoon character? How long did it take you to come up with that one? LOL I've made my points to you very clear and you simply don't have the intellect to hold this conversation much less be responsible for accurately discussing any real details. You have a good life and I'm sure God will sort you out in his due time. As for me, discussing anything any further with you is just simply not interesting enough to hold my attention. Now go watch a cartoon. cause your right, that's the level that you're working with and probably would be more comfortable in that enviroment.

Jack Mormon said...

Anonymous 5:38 P.M. -- Intellect? ROFLMAO! Perhaps you care to explain how "intellectual" it is to question my motives and accuse me of "hipocracy" (to use your abominable spelling).

Physician, heal thyself.

mother of 4 said...

I personally experienced a similar situation in the Antietam Ward in hagerstown md. This experience has not been spoken of or reported other than to family or very close friends only because I feel like a total fool for blindly following such absurd advice as was received from my Bishop. Long story short, I was RAPED by my now ex-husband (we were separated at the time). I was going through the repentance process myself at the time, &(for the record) was practicing every aspect of the religion. I contacted Bishop (who at the time was trying to convince me not to go thru with the divorce) & told him exactly what had just happened & that I would definitely b going thru w the divorce & now had new grounds of rape & that I would b pressing charges. I told him this as a heads up, so that he would b prepared to send church material to him in jail, and whatever else he thought he could do. Since I introduced this man to the church and went to the temple with him and was sealed to him I still felt somewhat responsible for his salvation. I was actually praying for the bastard!!! The response I got from Bishop was shocking to say the least. I was told first that he's sorry that happened to me, but that I should NOT file charges or report to law authorities about it. I was told that the church likes to handle these things in their own way, and that if I wanted to ever get my temple recommended back I should b very careful to follow his council. I thought about it a lot and at the time the church meant more to me than anything so I did as told & kept quiet. Several months later, the ex was still in high standing with church & I was still in repentance. I was also still being harassed by him& it had gotten to b unbearable. I decided then to go file charges. I told the court clerk what happened so I would know exactly what forms I needed & the best way to go about it. The clerk looked shocked & confused & asked y I waited so long. He said this very serious crime should have been reported right away & the ex should b in prison for a very long time (he's very right). I told him about the advice from the Bishop & explained that was my reason for the delay. I was then told that I would need an insane amount of details, dates, evidence, etc to even get my charges to go to court, and then id have to convince a jury of his guilt. I decided at that time (feeling like even more of an idiot) that I didn't have the evidence at that time to make a stand in court & digging up the details of that memory was too painful for it to just b dismissed. Long story short, I hope my story inspires others in these situations to seek legal help while they still have the opportunity to do so. Don't miss your chance at justice like I did!! & if u do seek religious council and they give u the same cover up routine please do everyone a favor and report them too! I know it is a moral struggle to go against the word of your religious leaders especially when you are as invested in your religion as I was, but you must understand that no matter how true your religion may or may not b, God does not want his children to suffer and these religious leaders whether or not they are "ordained by God" are not perfect and some of the counsel they give may not b from God. By letting these people slide we are endangering others & leaving an opportunity for this to happen again. The berkeley county story has inspired me to share mine, & I hope my story will inspire others as well. Please everyone who has been in this situation share your story. Maybe if enough incidents are exposed people will be inspired to speak up & do the right thing. Also maybe if these corrupt religious leaders (regardless of which religion) see that word is getting around about this they will think twice before trying to protect their sicko's by hiding such terrible acts.

Ben L. Kemer said...

I would give Jack a break personally, he's not perfect, but at the same time, he's courteous in saying that his position is not the official position of the Church, and he does let you see the links for the Church position in full context. Does he have bias, yes, but so do I, Greg West, Jeff Lindsay, David B, and other LDS bloggers out there.

Anyways, he has his opinions, and I have mine, but we all have it in common that we can say what is exactly our opinion. Jack has as much a right to disagree with an person who opposes the church as a person who opposes the church disagrees with him. He's not throwing death threats at them, he's analyzing what he can concretely know as fact.
To mother of 4, I understand what you are saying, it is hard to bear the fact that someone like my Stake President couldn't be caught for having an affair with a teenager the hour or the night after he did it. He eventually was, after his evidence and case from a court of law was finally brought down.
I do not in the slightest wish to trivialize claims of abuse, but at the same time the church has disciplinary counsels to try and prevent the wrong person from being excommunicated, and a similar process in the U.S. legal system does not allow for perfect justice either, but at the same time, it's important that there is a system to eventually forgive and resolve justice through a form of due process. As much as I dislike pedophile, and you shouldn't put me in the same room as one, for his/her personal safety, it's important that the church runs on a disciplinary court system, and not a mob rule.

Combine that with the fact that the pedophile problem is an issue everywhere. Programs that illustrate how to recognize that you or others are being sexually abused, such as the young women's program and the BSA, are important to the church specifically in that regard.

mother of 4 said...

My problem in my particular case is the fact that because I obeyed my bishops counsel I lost my opportunity to pursue criminal charges against my abuser, which not only means he continues to walk a free man with no remorse & no repercussions he is also still attending the temple which is an invasion & a mockery on the holy house of the Lord! Not only that but now because there is no legal history of it I am forced to come face to face with my rapist every single week to pass our daughter back & forth with him. I will forever be haunted by these terrible memories as I look him in his pathetic twisted smirking face each and every week for the next 16 years of my life as his visitation with her continues! I hope the Bishop I had at the time eventually stumbles upon & reads this blog! He will know exactly who he is and hopefully will think about the punishment he has coming from God in the life to come. As will anyone with similar crimes & God will catch up with my abuser as well as others& I can't wait for that day!!!! He thinks he got away with it & even after being told by several lawyers as he explained his side of the story that yes he is guilty of rape he still doesn't accept responsibility he has absolutely no remorse he truly believes that if he wasn't sent to prison for it, it never happened. He will see! God wont forgive those who wont even admit what they did wrong! That's the first step of the repentance process! I find unspeakable amounts of joy and comfort in imagining what that day will b like for him when he has to face God & feel His wrath upon him!!!! If that makes me a sadistic vengeful sinner I'm perfectly ok w that & will gladly accept what God has in store for me on that!

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