Editor’s note: In 2016, the Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s dismissals of Davis v. Covenant Presbyterian Church of Nashville and Davis v. Lewelling.
NASHVILLE (CN) - A Presbyterian church covered up for a "confessed child molester," and "in cult-like fashion" put children in the molester's so-called "safe house," a family claims in court.
Austin Davis and his daughter Daisy sued the Covenant Presbyterian Church of Nashville and its parishioner Dale Lewelling, in Davidson County Court.
Lewelling is not the alleged molester. The Davises claim Lewelling "assaulted the plaintiffs in an open hallway filled with people" during a period of turmoil at the church.
Austin Davis said in an interview that the alleged assault in the hallway came after he attended a class as a former member of the church.
"I got separated from my daughter and they were telling me I was breaking the law," Davis said. His daughter was a minor at the time.
In the lawsuit, Davis claims that on July 14, 2008, "the defendants quietly accept[ed] the resignation of the confessed child molester, John Perry, from the Covenant Diaconate, with Lewelling recorded in the board minutes as being present in the room."
Perry is not a party to the lawsuit, which continues: "The defendants intentionally conceal[ed] knowledge of the confessed child molester from appropriate authorities, the majority of the members of the congregation, and the plaintiffs. ...
"In furtherance of the concealment of the sexual abuse of a child or children, the defendants permit[ted] the confessed child molester to remain a member of Covenant (having access to the church, its members, and the private school elementary property associated with the church) until 2010." (Parentheses in complaint.)
The Davises claim they were harassed, and ultimately assaulted, because they "were privy to information concerning defendants' concealment and concealment efforts of the unlawful sexual abuse of a child or children."
Austin Davis claims that in 2008 he objected to "the defendants' cult-like abuse of authority over vulnerable children ... who were (in cult-like fashion) intentionally, knowingly, and willfully placed in an alleged 'safe house' owned and possessed by the confessed child molester." (Parentheses in complaint.)
Davis claims in the lawsuit that Perry was excommunicated on June 6, 2010, "for heinous and repetitive sin against his family."
In October 2012, Davis claims, the defendants threatened "to have plaintiffs arrested and thrown in jail," threatened to sue them "for no reason," threatened "to bring criminal actions" against them, defamed and intimidated them. The unnerving incidents allegedly culminated in the Oct. 21, 2012 assault, during which, Davis claims, Lewelling was acting as an employee or agent of the church.
Austin said in the interview that he had a right to be on church property.
"I think they're public places that people are allowed to go to," he said.
Davis claims he and his daughter "live under a continuing threat of arrest for communicating with Covenant members and threat of arrest for returning to Covenant property," while Perry "walks around a free man" because the defendants filed "to report the child molester to the appropriate authorities."
Covenant Presbyterian Church of Nashville did not respond to a request for comment.
The Davises seek punitive damages for malicious harassment, assault, and negligent hiring, training, supervision and retention.
They are represented by Duncan Cates Cave.
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