Bartlett church responds after member arrested for sexual battery of 17-year-old

Bartlett church responds after member arrested for sexual battery of 17-year-old

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - New questions are surfacing after the arrest of a Bartlett man accused of sexual battery inside a church.

The police report indicates Faith Baptist Church had a record of complaints against the man. Six days after the story went public, the church issued a response (which you can read below).

The complaints against Robert Austin, 67, regarding his behavior with woman and children go back to 2015.

Church officials said Austin was not on staff, was not a deacon, or involved in any type of leadership within the church.

The incident happened at the church, located on Germantown Road, on April 26.

A 17-year-old girl told police she was with her youth group talking with a friend. The girl said she had her elbows on a table and Austin put his hand under her arm and touched her breast for a couple seconds.

The girl told investigators Austin walked out of the gym after she turned around to see who was touching her.

The report goes on to say the church's head of security told investigators the church had received several complaints regarding Austin's behavior with women and children at the church. The head of security said those reports date back to August 2015.

Bartlett Police Department said it was not notified of any possible incidents at the church.

The church released the following statement on May 25:

"Our leadership felt it imperative to issue a statement in response to the arrest of one of our members, Steve Austin, on a charge of sexual battery with a minor that occurred on church grounds. News outlets have been reporting the story with some inaccuracy, and this statement is designed to bring clarity to these misrepresentations. Steve Austin is not a member of the staff, nor has he ever served as a Deacon, or been in a position of leadership at Faith Baptist Church. The church has received complaints concerning Mr. Austin regarding his behavior in the past, and the church documented those complaints thoroughly. However, until the latest episode that led to the arrest, none of these prior complaints involved any inappropriate touching of any minor or adult. Furthermore, none of the prior complaints on Mr. Austin contained any behavior that would suggest or require that the church contact or report the behavior to law enforcement. Each complaint was dealt with in a timely and appropriate manner, and the church sought the counsel of one of its Trustees, who is an attorney throughout the process. Leaders of the church met with Mr. Austin to address these concerns, but again, at no time did any of the prior complaints reach a level that would suggest the church contact law enforcement, or did Mr. Austin's behavior involve any conduct that could be considered criminal in nature. The most recent event that led to the arrest of Mr. Austin was different in nature, and when church leadership learned of the complaint, immediate and appropriate action was taken, which included the contacting of law enforcement.

Investigators said Austin told them he didn't know the victim and doesn't remember touching anyone inappropriately. He did tell police he sometimes pokes girls in the rib cage as a joke.

We were unable to reach Austin for a comment.

He is due back in court June 26 in Bartlett. He posted a $25,000 bond.

Copyright 2017 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.