On Thursday, Dallas-based Turley Law Firm filed a civil lawsuit against the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc. (WBTS) – one of the legal corporations that presides over the Jehovah’s Witness faith in the U.S. – stemming from allegations of appointed members of the organization sexually exploiting and abusing children in Metroplex congregations in Plano, Dallas and Greenville.
The local congregations are also defendants in the lawsuit, as well as Reginald Jackson and an unknown individual - elders who were directly appointed by the WBTS to oversee congregations in the area’s regional circuit.
“[WBTS is] the top of the chain of command; they oversee and are involved in the decision-making ... daily function – everything has to be approved,” said Steven Schulte, a lawyer with the Turley Law Firm. “They are intimately involved ... have absolute authority over the congregation and had every reason to know [of the abuse].”
Officials at WBTS did not return calls for comment.
According to the lawsuit, six individuals from the Dallas, Plano and Greenville congregations were sexually, physically and emotionally abused in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when they were between the ages of 4 and 14. The plaintiffs in the case are unnamed due to the nature of the allegations.
The six plaintiffs in the case did not report the alleged abuse while it was occurring because they and their families were threatened by Jackson and the other individual with discipline and harm if they spoke to anyone about the acts, the lawsuit states. Within the Jehovah’s Witness faith, members are told to handle issues within the organization. However, the organization’s policy requires leaders to hold internal investigations of claims of abuse and wrongdoing.
“[Jackson] was directly appointed to that position, which is a leadership position in the organization. ... There would have been a circuit overseer who would have oversaw ... and would have reported,” Schulte said. “At some point you reach a point where it’s your time to come forward.”
Schulte said the male plaintiff was likely a member of the Kingdom Hall Jehovah’s Witnesses of Plano. However, it is likely that the alleged abuse occurred at multiple locations since he “regularly took them on trips and other religious outings.”
In addition to sexual exploitation and abuse, the lawsuit claims that the defendants were involved in negligence and various forms of fraud stemming from allegations that congregation leaders misrepresented themselves as people of trust and that the WBTS should have been responsible for oversight since its “authority flows down from it to the local levels.”
Each of the six plaintiffs in the case are seeking about $1 million in damages for the alleged lasting psychological and emotional damages that the abuse has caused in their lives since the instances described in the lawsuit took place. The suit says they are also seeking punitive and exemplary damages in hopes that it will deter future acts from occurring.
“Sex abuse victims oftentimes suffer lifelong pain and drama,” Schulte said.