MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Memphis family says Bellevue Baptist Church did nothing to stop a 43-year-old paid volunteer coordinator at the church from sexually grooming a 15-year-old girl who volunteered at the church.
James Hook is serving a prison sentence after he pleaded guilty to sexual battery by an authority figure.
Hook admitted he had an inappropriate relationship while he worked at Bellevue Baptist Church with a 15-year-old girl.
WREG first reported on the case last year after a police officer found Hook and the girl in the back of a car under a blanket.
The girl admitted he had taken off her shirt, kissed her and touched her inappropriately.
The two described themselves to be in a father/daughter relationship, and the girl would go to Hook for advice. He also gave her a ring.
Hook was sentenced to five years, with six months at the penal farm and four-and-a-half years on probation.
This past April, the girl’s family filed a lawsuit against Bellevue Baptist Church, saying they trusted the church to provide a safe place for their children to learn about God, but the church failed their family.
The lawsuit alleges Hook was a paid volunteer coordinator at Bellevue when he initiated contact with the girl and began grooming her, telling her how to wear her hair and what clothes to wear.
Some of the sexual abuse allegedly took place on the church’s property.
The family also alleges staff members saw Hook and the girl together leaving areas alone, but no one ever said anything or intervened.
WREG spoke with Gary Smith, the attorney for the victim and her family.
Smith says prior to filing the suit, they reached out to Bellevue hoping to perhaps resolve things but says they never heard back.
“It’s disturbing anytime that you have a church entity involved in this type of issue, but unfortunately, as we know, it’s very prevalent. It’s one of the reasons that all churches should be on alert,” Smith said.
The lawsuit is for an undetermined amount, to be decided by a jury.
The victim’s family sent us a written answer to the lawsuit from Bellevue’s attorney.
Bellevue denies any suggestion or insinuation the church permitted, condoned or was aware of the allegations made about James Hook and feels the lawsuit should be dismissed.
Both the lawsuit and Bellevue’s answer are available below.
Bellevue’s full statement on the lawsuit:
|At Bellevue, we are committed to supporting victims of abuse and take any allegations of abuse very seriously. As you may be aware, a lawsuit has been filed against Bellevue Baptist Church.|
In May of 2019, a former part-time employee of Bellevue was arrested when police discovered him in a car with a minor off-campus at the 8000 block of Dexter Road. The former employee resigned from his position at Bellevue in March of 2019, two months before his arrest and the discovery of this illegal relationship. He pled guilty to criminal conduct in February 2020. The lawsuit makes various allegations pertaining to Bellevue’s knowledge of the former part-time employee’s actions. Again, we take all allegations seriously. We have filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit and are waiting for the court to rule. Bellevue will be forthcoming with additional information and we will keep you up to date as this matter advances through the legal process. The wellbeing of our church family is of the utmost importance to us. We pray for and will continue to support anyone who has been a victim of abuse. Bellevue remains committed to our vision: to be a catalyst for spiritual awakening in Memphis and beyond. By God’s grace we will continue to glorify God by proclaiming Christ, helping believers mature in their faith, and giving of our lives in ministering to families and their children.