Parkersburg church, Methodist group respond to molestation complaints

By Lawrence Smith | Mar 15, 2013

PARKERSBURG – Two Wood County teens are alleging one of their chaperones at a church social function took advantage of them.

St. Andrews United Methodist Church and Dave Roberts are named as co-defendants in a lawsuit filed by Andrew Bland and D. Lindsay Aldridge. In their complaint filed Oct. 30 in Wood Circuit Court, Bland and Aldridge allege Roberts two years earlier inappropriately touched them when they fell asleep during a “lock-in” at the church.

According to their suit, Bland and Aldridge were among “several other juveniles and young adults” who participated in a “lock-in” at SAUMC on Oct. 30, 2010. A “lock-in,” the suit says, is “an overnight social event…where the participants…watch movies, socialize, and have food.”

Roberts was one of three chaperones for the event.

In the suit, Bland and Aldridge allege at an unspecified time early on Oct. 31, 2010, Roberts “unlawfully…assaulted [them]…by touching their genital areas and body in an offensive, improper, unwelcome and unlawful way.” Also, they maintain they were not Roberts’ only victims as he “made contact with multiple participants of the ‘lock-in.”

Additionally, Bland and Aldridge say this is not the first time Roberts has taken advantage of young people in his care. They allege he “engaged in this or similar behavior on prior occasions with other juveniles and other church members.”

No details are provided in the suit as to how Bland and Aldridge became aware of that, and if they or other alleged victims reported Roberts to church leaders, including Rev. Tom McDowell, SAUMC’s pastor, and law enforcement officials.

Nevertheless, Bland and Aldridge allege SAUMC “approved and allowed” Roberts to be a chaperone for the “lock-in” without exercising reasonable care in either selecting or supervising him.

Also, they maintain the West Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church, SAUMC’s governing body, is also culpable for Roberts’ actions as it “provide[s] oversight and assistance to churches and districts” within the conference “to educate and train churches regarding selection, supervision, and retention of volunteers or chaperones for church functions involving church members and guests, including children.”

As a result of Roberts’ actions, Bland and Aldridge have suffered, among other things, “emotional distress, lost wages and benefits, past and future, mental distress in the form of embarrassment, depression, degradation, humiliation, anxiety, loss of enjoyment of life [and] loss of sleep.” They seek unspecified damages, attorneys fees and court costs.

They are represented by former Wood County Prosecutor Ginny A. Conley and Angela Brunicardi-Doss.

Since the suit was filed, Roberts, SAUMC and WVCUMC have denied the allegations in their respective answers.

Though his attorney, William O. Merriman, Roberts was first to file his on Dec. 3. Along with denying the allegations, he asserted defenses of, among other things, the statute of limitations expired in filing the suit, and that Bland and Aldridge “are not the proper parties.”

Along with an amended complaint in which he is dismissed from it, Roberts asked he be awarded court costs and attorneys fees.

Three days later, SAUMC filed its answer, asking the suit to be dismissed on the grounds it was not only improperly served with the summons and complaint, but also it is an unconstitutional “judicial interference” with its “internal practices and procedures.”

However, without admitting the allegations, SAUMC incorporated them into a cross claim against Roberts. It is represented by Lora Snodgrass and Steven Bratke with McNeer, Highland, McMunn and Varner.

In its answer filed Dec. 19, WVCUMC said it owed Bland and Aldridge no duty to protect them from Roberts’ “acts, omissions or conduct” as there is neither an agency nor a fiduciary relationship between it and SAUMC. It is represented by Jennifer Keadle Mason with the Pittsburgh firm of Mintzer, Sarowitz, Zeris, Ledva and Myers.

Along with a hearing on Roberts’ and SAUMC’s motions to dismiss, a scheduling conference in the case is set for May 22.

The case is assigned to Judge Jeffrey B. Reed.

Wood Circuit Court, case number 12-C-490

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