TULSA (AP) — A fourth victim of alleged abuse at a 17,000-member Tulsa megachurch has come forward, and police said Tuesday that there might be a fifth.
At the same time, members of Victory Christian Center are beginning to speak publicly about the allegations that have shaken the worldwide ministry's foundations and tarnished the reputations of its pastor and her family members.
Prosecutors added two additional charges Monday against 20-year-old Chris Denman, a former church employee. He was arrested Sept. 5 on a complaint alleging that he raped a 13-year-old girl in a stairwell on the ministry's campus in August and molested a 15-year-old girl. He faces new charges of making a lewd proposal to a child and using a computer to commit a sex crime involving a 12-year-old girl.
Another ex-church employee, 23-year-old Israel Castillo, was arrested last week and is charged with making a lewd proposal to a 15-year-old girl and using a computer to commit a sex crime.
Tulsa Police Det. Cpl. Greg Smith told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday that a third suspect could face charges related to alleged sexual abuse of a fifth victim. Two things are complicating that case, Smith said, because the victim's parents are uncooperative and the suspect is no longer in Tulsa.
“We're at a stalemate,” Smith said. “The third suspect we haven't talked about because all we have to go on now is secondhand information.”
On Wednesday, five employees of the south Tulsa church — including the son and daughter-in-law of head pastor Sharon Daugherty — are scheduled to be arraigned in district court for allegedly waiting two weeks before reporting the rape of the 13-year-old by Denman to authorities. John Daugherty, Charica Daugherty, Paul Willemstein, Anna George and Harold “Frank” Sullivan each face one misdemeanor count of failing to report child abuse.
Jason Robertson, an attorney representing John and Charica Daugherty, who are both youth pastors at the church, said his clients did nothing wrong.
“We are confident when an impartial jury hears all the evidence, deliberates, and reaches a conclusion, the last words spoken in this case will be `not guilty,' “ he said in a statement. It was unclear from court records Tuesday if the other three had hired attorneys.
A spokesman for the church said Tuesday the five employees remain suspended pending a disciplinary review. The spokesman said the church had no comment on the new charges.
On Friday, the mother of the 13-year-old filed a lawsuit against the church, alleging that officials attempted to cover up the incident to do “damage control.” The suit filed in Tulsa County District Court is seeking more than $75,000, according to the complaint.
Some members of the large, tight-knit church are beginning to open up about the alleged crimes, especially since Sharon Daugherty told congregants during a weekend sermon to speak out about child abuse.
Tim Peterson, a 28-year Victory member, said other churches across the country should learn from what's happened here.
“It's a bad situation for the church to be on the front page of the paper every day, but there isn't a church within a 500-mile radius that doesn't know about this now.
“Every youth pastor knows now `If I suspect abuse, I need to report it,' because if you don't report this, you could end up being charged,” Peterson said.
Pam Tiernan, a member of the church for more than 30 years, praised Victory Christian Center for being as transparent as possible regarding the allegations against the former employees.
“That's how you heal,” she said. “You don't sweep anything under the rug.”
The ministry — founded in 1981 by Sharon and the late Billy Joe Daugherty and shaped in a similar mold to Tulsa televangelist Oral Roberts' charismatic Christian ministries — issued statements last week accepting responsibility for the lapse in reporting.
In a statement to The Associated Press, the church said its employees failed to follow a written policy requiring any allegation of abuse to be reported by employees to the state's Department of Human Services, and internally within one hour to their department head and the director of human resources.