[Original publication date: March 1, 2004]
Suit accuses church official of abuse. Four say Jehovah’s Witness church hid crime; man a convicted child molester
Four former members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses have filed a lawsuit in Superior Court, contending they were sexually abused by a church official in Sonoma County (California) during the 1980s and the church covered up the crime.
February 19, 2004 – By STEVE HART, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT (Santa Rosa, CA)
The lawsuit names two Sonoma County congregations of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Donald L. Glew, a former church member who was convicted in 1989 of four counts of child molestation. Glew, now 52, was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
According to the lawsuit, Glew was a church leader in Santa Rosa and Petaluma who used his position to gain access to young children of church members. He started molesting two of the plaintiffs when they were infants, the suit alleges.
The other alleged victims were 1 and 5 years old when Glew started molesting them, according to the complaint filed Feb. 9.
“He was someone vested with authority,” said Bill Brelsford, a Sacramento attorney who represents the four plaintiffs, identified only by their first names in the 22-page complaint.
But a top Jehovah’s Witnesses attorney Wednesday said Glew was never a church official.
“Based on our preliminary investigation, Donald L. Glew has never served in any position of responsibility with any congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and he has not been one of Jehovah’s Witnesses since 1989,” said Philip Brumley, general counsel for the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, the Jehovah’s Witnesses parent organization.
He said the church isn’t responsible for Glew’s actions. The lawsuit also names the Watchtower Society as a defendant.
The Sonoma County lawsuit echoes allegations filed against the church in other communities. Some former Jehovah’s Witnesses say the organization has covered up numerous incidents of child molestation by church officials over the years.
Similar lawsuits have been filed in six other Northern California counties, including Napa, Santa Clara, Monterey and Yolo.
But Jehovah’s Witnesses officials deny reports of widespread abuse, saying the incidents are isolated and mostly involved church members who weren’t in positions of authority.
According to the Sonoma County lawsuit, Glew became a “ministerial servant” in the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the late 1970s. He counseled church members and supervised the care of Jehovah’s Witnesses children while their parents did “field service,” including door-to-door proselytizing.
He molested the four plaintiffs, two boys and two girls, between 1982 and 1988, according to the lawsuit.
Other church leaders learned Glew was molesting children as early as 1980, the suit says, but they took no action to stop him and they prohibited the victims’ families from reporting the crimes to police.
According to the suit, church officials told the victims’ families that they should leave the matter to the church to handle. The church “engaged in a systematic pattern and practice of suppression of information to cover up and hide incidents of child molestation from law enforcement and their membership,” the complaint alleges.
The suit seeks undisclosed damages for sexual battery, fraud, conspiracy, emotional distress and negligence.
Brelsford said the victims still live in Sonoma County and range in age from 16 to 25.
Glew, who now lives in San Mateo County, couldn’t be located for comment.
Brumley said the church hasn’t received a copy of the lawsuit, which lists the 16-year-old girl as the lead plaintiff.
“While our hearts go out to the plaintiff for any suffering she has endured, we are confident that neither Watchtower nor any of the local congregation elders are responsible for what the plaintiff alleges Donald L. Glew did,” Brumley said.
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