A new lawsuit says a Sunday School teacher molested one of his students in the 1980s and 1990s, and the church's pastor did nothing to stop it despite knowing the teacher was attracted to children.
The suit says the teacher, James H. Michener, used his Sunday school class at the now-shuttered Evangel Baptist Church in Northeast Portland to befriend children. It alleges he then molested one boy who may have been as young as six at the time of the first incident.
The suit was filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court by attorney Erin Olson on behalf of the unnamed boy, who is now 30 years old. The suit also alleges Michener abused the boy at least twice. Once, it alleges, Michener touched the boy under “the pretext of assisting [him] in urinating.” Michener also allegedly persuaded the boy to spend the night at his house, then entering his bed at night to touch him. The suit says the incidents occurred as early as 1989 and as late as 1996.
The suit seeks $3.25 million in damages.
Evangel Baptist closed in 2008, but it is named as a defendant in the suit along with the Northwest Conservative Baptist Association, which the lawsuit said then owned, managed or administered more than 200 congregations across the Northwest, including 19 in Portland and more than 30 in the metro area.
The allegation is not the only sexual abuse case brought against a church in the Portland area this year. The Jesuits agreed to thein a May bankruptcy settlement in a Portland court. Victims have sued the Catholic Archdiocese of Portland for abuse in the and , and the for abuse in the 1980s and 90s. A priest in Woodburn was in April for the abuse of a 12-year-old boy.
The suit says the Northwest Conservative Baptist Association oversaw Evangel Baptist’s minister, Jackson Hatfield, and says he was “aware of … Michener's inappropriate sexual or sexualized interactions with children at the church,” but neither keeping him apart from children, nor warning their parents.
Hatfield is not named as a defendant in the suit. Northwest
Conservative Baptist directors did not return multiple calls for comment. Michener also did not return calls from WW.
The victim filed the suit anonymously, as is common in molestation cases. Olson said her client tried to initiate criminal proceedings against Michener but couldn't because of the statute of limitations. She said she hopes the lawsuit will turn up more victims.
“We hope there's someone who comes forward within the statute of limitations,” she said.