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DHS: Church hasn't sought review of abuse policy
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DHS: Church hasn't sought review of abuse policy

DHS: Church hasn't sought review of abuse policy
Photo Credit: Russell Mills

DHS: Church hasn't sought review of abuse policy

More than a week after a Tulsa megachurch pledged to ask Oklahoma's Department of Human Services to review how it handles child abuse allegations, the state agency said Thursday it has yet to hear from the 17,000-member ministry.

Victory Christian Center made the promise after five of its employees were charged for not quickly reporting the alleged rape of a 13-year-old girl on the church's campus. Prosecutors said the employees, who are facing a misdemeanor, waited more than two weeks.

Church officials said last week that they would ask DHS to review church policies about handling such allegations, acknowledging "our internal response was unacceptable." In a statement, the church said it would work with DHS to help it "provide a comprehensive training program for all employees and volunteers" in dealing with reporting abuse in a timely manner. About 600 people work for the organization.

But DHS spokeswoman Sheree Powell said the agency was still waiting to be contacted. Powell said a thorough check with all possible DHS staff members who could have spoken to church officials turned up nothing.

"No one is aware of that request," Powell said. "I'm not sure who they talked to. I don't want to call the church a liar, but yes, we're still waiting to be contacted."

Church spokesman Jarrod Kopp said Thursday evening that the ministry has attempted to contact a DHS employee for a meeting next week but had only been able to leave voicemail messages Wednesday and Thursday.

Reached after the church's statement Thursday evening, Powell said her agency would look further into the matter, but added that she continued to receive emails from regional DHS offices reporting no contact from Victory.

State law requires anyone who has reason to believe that a child under age 18 is a victim of abuse or neglect to promptly report the incident to DHS. The five Victory Christian Center employees are each facing one misdemeanor count of failing to report child abuse.

The son and daughter-in-law of ministry co-founder and pastor Sharon Daugherty, John and Charica Daugherty, are among those charged. The others are Paul Willemstein, Anna George and Harold "Frank" Sullivan. All five pleaded not guilty this week and were ordered back in court Oct. 31. The church has suspended the workers pending an investigation.

Sharon Daugherty told police that she also knew about the allegation but trusted ministry employees to follow in-house policies on quickly reporting such incidents to the proper authorities, investigators said. Prosecutors aren't ruling out additional charges.

Prosecutors allege the 13-year-old girl told employees around Aug. 15 that she had been raped in a stairwell on the church's campus in south Tulsa — but police weren't told until Aug. 30, after church officials said they did their own investigation.

Police and church authorities then determined that the girl was among at least four victims of alleged sex crimes by two former employees.

One of the ex-workers, 20-year-old Chris Denman, was arrested Sept. 5 on a complaint alleging that he raped the 13-year-old girl and molested a 15-year-old girl. Prosecutors added new charges this week alleging he made a lewd proposal to a child and used a computer to commit a sex crime involving a 12-year-old girl.

Denman has pleaded not guilty to the charges involving the two older girls but has yet to enter a plea to the new charges. He remained jailed Thursday on $200,000 bond.

The other former church employee, 23-year-old Israel Castillo, is charged with making a lewd proposal to a 15-year-old girl and using a computer to commit a sex crime. He posted bond last week, and his phone number was out of service Thursday.

Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris refused Thursday to rule out possible charges against Sharon Daugherty for not making her own report in the 13-year-old girl's case.

"If we look at Webster's definition of 'promptly,' it means without delay," Harris said. "Why does this statute exist? Because you don't want any potential harm to come to a child."

Harris said if just one person would have immediately called from the Victory organization after hearing about the alleged abuse, that action would have most likely satisfied the state law.

Copyright The Associated Press

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