Sex abuse victim sues Alabama Baptist church

A week after the arrest of a trusted financial secretary on charges of theft, an Alabama Baptist church is being slapped with a lawsuit claiming negligent hiring and supervision of a convicted child molester.

By Bob Allen

A victim of a former children’s minister sentenced to 30 years in prison has sued both his perpetrator and the church that hired him.

The victim, identified by initials J.G., filed a lawsuit July 22 in U.S. District Court alleging injury by Jeffery Dale Eddie, longtime associate pastor for children and church administration at Highland Park Baptist Church in Muscle Shoals, Ala.

The civil suit claims Eddie, who pleaded guilty to numerous sex crimes in March, molested the man now living in Louisiana over the course of 12 years beginning when he was 11.

The lawsuit accuses Highland Park Baptist Church, a congregation associated with the Colbert-Lauderdale Baptist Association, the Alabama State Board of Missions and the Southern Baptist Convention, of failure to properly supervise Eddie, an employee from 1998 until he was caught storing child pornography on his church computer in 2014.

The lawsuit claims church leaders waited 10 days before reporting the incident to police, after an internal investigation, violating a state law that requires clergy to report suspected abuse immediately.

jeff eddieThe suit claims the church provided Eddie “with little to no oversight, monitoring or supervision,” allowing him to cover the only window in his office with a bulletin board, close the blinds on the door to his office and lock his office door while individual children were present and giving him sole control over the installation and monitoring of security cameras.

It claims the congregation failed to train staff on the identification and reporting of child abuse, and never monitored Eddie’s computer and phone activity during his 14 years of employment.

The lawsuit says Eddie would never have had an opportunity to molest J.G. and other victims without job-created authority given to him by the church. All the actions “leading up to the sexual abuse fell within his scope of employment with Highlands Park Baptist Church,” it says. “As such, the sexual abuse was an outgrowth and was engendered by his employment with Highlands Park Baptist Church.”

The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages from both Eddie and the congregation. It comes just a week after Highland Park’s longtime financial assistant and trusted church member Debbie Mansell was arrested for allegedly embezzling nearly $130,000 in church funds over the last three years.

Previous stories:

Former church secretary indicted for theft

Alleged abuse by children’s minister headed for grand jury

Children’s minister charged with abuse