MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Bellevue Baptist Church faces a lawsuit from the parents of a girl that was abused by one of their volunteer coordinators.
In the lawsuit, the parents outline a shocking series of events that start with an alleged affair in 2011, and end with a man behind bars.
Now the family claims Bellevue was negligent and let the abuse happen.
In their response, Bellevue denies any knowledge of the abuse, denies any other claims and says the parents don’t have a case.
Bellevue Baptist is defending itself in court after the family of a 15-year-old sex abuse victim claims the church allowed 44-year-old James Hook, a paid church volunteer, to groom and abuse their daughter.
In January, James Hook, a preschool wing coordinator at Bellevue Baptist Church, plead guilty to sexual battery by an authority figure, admitting he sexually abused a 15-year-old girl.
Hook is currently serving a five-year sentence.
Now, a lawsuit filed on behalf of the victim’s parents claims some of the sexual acts committed by Hook happened on church property, that church leaders ignored warnings about Hook and that the church failed to have policies in place to prevent this abuse.
“There was complete failure on the church’s part to prevent something that was entirely preventable,” said Gary Smith, lawyer for the Doe family.
Memphis lawyer Gary Smith represents the victim’s parents, identified as John and Jane Doe in the lawsuit.
The suit alleges Hook groomed the victim, identified as Janet Doe, and was provided unsupervised access to the teen at Bellevue.
“And he would leave with her in the presence of people who are there to monitor and would see him leave with her and nobody ever stopped him,” Smith said.
In a response filed in court, Bellevue Baptist Church denies all of the accusations.
The lawsuit admits that Hook had an extramarital affair with the victim’s Doe’s mother years ago and that Doe’s father once warned church leaders to keep his daughter away from Hook.
In their filed response, lawyers for Bellevue Baptist Church say the church had no knowledge of the abuse and “denies that Bellevue Baptist Church is liable for any actions of James Hook which were outside the course and scope of his employment.”
Lawyers for Bellevue Baptist also say the church has policies to prevent abuse like mandating two adults in any room with a minor at all times.
Bellevue Baptist also claims to perform background checks and provide thorough training regarding abuse.
Bellevue Baptist Church sent WMC Action News 5 this written response Friday afternoon:
“At Bellevue, we are committed to supporting victims of abuse and take any allegations of abuse very seriously. As you may be aware, a lawsuit has been filed against Bellevue Baptist Church.
In May of 2019, a former part-time employee of Bellevue was arrested when police discovered him in a car with a minor off-campus at the 8000 block of Dexter Road. The former employee resigned from his position at Bellevue in March of 2019, two months before his arrest and the discovery of this illegal relationship. He pled guilty to criminal conduct in February 2020.
The lawsuit makes various allegations pertaining to Bellevue’s knowledge of the former part-time employee’s actions. Again, we take all allegations seriously. We have filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit and are waiting for the court to rule.
Bellevue will be forthcoming with additional information and we will keep you up to date as this matter advances through the legal process. The wellbeing of our church family is of the utmost importance to us. We pray for and will continue to support anyone who has been a victim of abuse.
Bellevue remains committed to our vision: to be a catalyst for spiritual awakening in Memphis and beyond. By God’s grace we will continue to glorify God by proclaiming Christ, helping believers mature in their faith, and giving of our lives in ministering to families and their children.”