By MELISSA WILLIAMS / Associated Press Writer
DALLAS (AP) -- An 18-year-old man and his parents sued the Assemblies of God and the church's ranch for troubled youths Tuesday, claiming the youth was molested by a counselor at the center two years ago.
The alleged victim was 16 when he went to Dallas Teen Challenge Boys Ranch in Winnsboro in January 1996. According to his lawsuit, a counselor and convicted drug trafficker sexually molested him and two other boys, one of whom also was 16 or younger.
"(The counselor) sexually molested (the plaintiff) on at least six different occasions at the ranch," the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit further alleges that the church, ranch executive director Paul Ecker and the ranch's board knowingly employed men with criminal histories as counselors despite being informed by state regulators the practice was illegal.
Law enforcement officials could not be reached Tuesday to determine if there is any criminal investigation into the matter.
An attorney for the Springfield, Mo.-based Assemblies of God, Paul Boyd of Tyler, said he had not seen a copy of the lawsuit and could not comment on the specific allegations.
He said the ranch now houses adults. But he noted that at the time of the alleged offenses, residents were "in many cases kids who had criminal or gang or drug histories and they were there for rehabilitation."
Boyd said the ranch is a separate ministry from the church.
Dallas Teen Challenge Boys Ranch is a working ranch 45 miles northeast of Tyler where at the time of the alleged offenses, up to 18 boys were housed for rehabilitation.
According to the lawsuit, most of the residents were there as a condition of probation or deferred adjudication and had psychological or substance abuse problems. During the day, they performed chores, including caring for livestock, and took part in religious education. At night, they were "locked down" and monitored by alarm systems, to prevent unauthorized departures.
Among the employees and volunteers working at the ranch were men in a program called "Life Challenge," designed for adults. Many of them had substance abuse problems and were admitted to the program as part of their probation, the lawsuit states.
"The Assemblies entities would send employees and volunteers to the ranch knowing that they were not allowed to be there because of their criminal records," according to the lawsuit.
"Despite the repeated protests of the ranch administrator and citations from state regulatory authorities, the Assemblies entities funneled numerous Life Challenge men down to the ranch knowing that those men had criminal records involving narcotics and physical violence."
A spokeswoman at the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services in Austin was not available to comment, a secretary said. Regional spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner could not be reached at her Fort Worth office.
The lawsuit was filed in state district court against the church, Ecker, and 40 people who serve on the various boards and committees overseeing the ranch.
The 18-year-old accuses the church and ranch of negligent hiring, negligent supervision, negligent operation of the ranch, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and deceptive trade practices. His parents accuse the church and ranch of fraud, breach of fiduciary duty and deceptive trade practices. The family seeks actual and punitive damages.
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