According to KATV, the Arkansas Baptist State Convention is being sued on accusations that it ignored warnings that a pastor was allegedly sexually abusing underage boys.
A lawsuit filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court claims that Teddy Hill, former senior pastor at Millcreek Baptist Church in Hot Springs, repeatedly raped a teen boy for years. The victim said that Hill began molesting him in 2014 shortly after he became a member at the church. He was 13 years old at the time. In 2016, Hill became the boy’s legal guardian and continued to abuse him, according to the suit.
Both Hill and Millcreek were members of the statewide organization of Southern Baptist churches.
A spokesperson for Garland County sheriff’s office told KATV on Thursday that there are no reports involving Hill as a suspect and that he has not been criminally charged. Millcreek Baptist Church did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The suit alleges that in 2018, Hill’s ex-wife told Baptist State Convention Executive Director James Tucker that Hill was sexually abusing children. She reportedly told Tucker she had seen Hill holding hands with minors, having minors spend the night with him in the church parsonage and reaching for the genitals of an underage boy. The suit alleges that the Baptist State Convention, Diamond Lakes Baptist Association, the regional Baptist association and Millcreek Baptist Church did not report Hill or do anything else to prevent him from abusing the boy again.
The Baptist State Convention is now being sued for negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, vicarious liability and violating the Arkansas child maltreatment act. Lawyers say that the group had reasonable cause to believe that Hill was a sexual predator who “groomed and manipulated” and then sexually molested minors and did not notify the Child Abuse Hotline, allowing Hill to abuse the victim for months.
In December, the Baptist State Convention said in a statement that its attorneys had found “no indication of impropriety” on its part or Tucker’s.
“Rather, it appears the plaintiff does not understand the relationship between the Arkansas Baptist State Convention and the local church and pastor,” the statement says, in part. “Apparently, the plaintiff mistakenly believes that the Arkansas Baptist State Convention somehow controls the local church and should have been monitoring this local church pastor’s actions.”
Joshua Gillispie, an attorney for the plaintiff, said in a news release that the association’s response is “calculated legal strategy” used to protect “pedophile pastors.”
A recent investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express News uncovered hundreds of allegations of sexual abuse against Southern Baptist leaders. The investigation found that for two decades, the Southern Baptist Convention played a part in concealing, and sometimes perpetuating, the abuse.
Miami lawyer Ron Weil, another attorney for the plaintiff, helped win a $12.5 million lawsuit involving child sex abuse allegations and the the Florida Baptist Convention in 2014. He said that he has reason to believe that Hill is a “serial” offender and more allegations will come out.
“We believe this claim of member church autonomy, routinely used over the years by state conventions to avoid liability for pedophile pastors, is dubious,” Gillispie said. “Each year millions of dollars in donations collected from congregants of member churches like Millcreek make their way into the [Baptist State Convention] coffers, yet when it comes to the sexual abuse of congregants at the hands of the [Baptist State Convention’s] own predatory member pastors, the Convention’s official position is that it is not their problem.”
The victim is seeking $10 million in compensatory damages, as well as punitive damages against each defendant for intentional and grossly reckless misconduct.