A Baptist pastor in Alabama faces misdemeanor charges for allegedly failing to report suspicion of child sex abuse to legal authorities.
Michael Walker, 51, pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., was booked into Madison County Jail Sept. 21 and released shortly thereafter after posting $500 bond. He is charged with violating mandatory laws requiring members of certain professions including clergy to immediately report a child known or suspected to be a victim of abuse or neglect to a duly appointed authority.
The arrest stems from an investigation into two felony counts of first-degree sexual abuse against a former Madison County sheriff’s investigator arrested Aug. 18 for allegedly fondling a 12-year-old girl earlier in the year.
Roland Campos, 63, a 10-year employee of the sheriff’s office who investigated white-collar crimes like fraud and identity theft, faces up to 10 years in prison if he is convicted of the crime. He is out of jail on $10,000 bond.
Police say Campos’ victim reported the abuse to Walker in March, and the pastor refused to notify law enforcement or the Department of Human Resources.
Alabama law requires clergy, medical and mental health professionals, educators, social workers and law enforcement to report suspected abuse. There is a clergy exception for information gained solely in a confidential communication defined by law as privileged.
Walker’s attorney, Jonathan Pippin, told local media the pastor “is not guilty and looks forward to presenting his side in court.”
Walker is charged with a Class C misdemeanor, comparable to open container, public lewdness, harassment and disorderly conduct violations. If convicted he could be sentenced to three months in jail, but people charged with a violation typically receive a monetary fine. The maximum fine for failure to report sex offenses is $500.
A graduate of Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo., and former missionary in Uganda and Botswana, Walker became pastor of Southside Baptist Church in 2014. According to the Southern Baptist Convention’s church-finder online database, the congregation was founded in 1950, has 663 members and an average attendance of 550.