Settlement reached for teen victim in Bellevue Baptist sex abuse lawsuit; attorney wants parents claims reconsidered

Published: Jun. 9, 2022 at 10:18 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 10, 2022 at 5:46 AM CDT

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A settlement has been reached by a local mega-church and a victim of sexual abuse.

You may remember the victim’s family filed a lawsuit in 2020 against Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, claiming church leaders did not remove a paid volunteer after they were warned about suspicious behavior on church property.

Action News 5 has learned not only has a settlement been reached but the family’s attorney is filing a motion to have the victim’s parents’ claims of emotional distress reconsidered.

A monetary settlement was reached between Bellevue Baptist and the then 15-year-old victim, listed as Janet Doe in the 2020 lawsuit. However, she’s not the only one named in the original suit.

“The settlement with the victim in this case is going to afford her the opportunity, among others to afford the counseling and training that she’s going to need to deal with the post traumatic stress disorder,” said the family’s attorney Gary Smith. “It was a big deal to get that settled,” said Smith.

Smith did not say how large of a settlement was reached. However he does say there’s still more to be done for her parents, John and Jane Doe, who according to the suit suffered from “severe emotional distress.”

“That has not been resolved and is still pending,” said Smith.

Smith says trial court initially dismissed the parents’ claims. However, Smith says depositions not available to the court at the time, has him looking to have the parent’s claims reconsidered.

“There were multiple church representatives that became concerned of Hook’s conduct at the church, within their view with this child and were concerned about it enough that he was confronted about the efforts that they had observed, which were the grooming efforts,” said Smith.

Smith claims church leaders confronted 46-year-old James Hook and fired him without telling the victim’s parents, ultimately allowing him to continue his abuse.

Bellevue Baptist denies these claims saying as mandated reporters, they would’ve told authorities about inappropriate conduct and now tell Action News 5 in part:

“At no time during his employment did we hear, learn, or have suspicion that he was engaging in any inappropriate conduct with a minor. It was not until May 5, 2019, two months after his employment ended, that we first learned of his sexual abuse of the minor.”

“That should’ve been prevented by the church who was on notice,” said Smith. “The problem with this man and his interaction with the child and the parents were never told so that they could’ve prevented it.”

Bellevue Baptist says they remain committed to supporting the victim’s healing telling Action News 5 in part:

“We believe that a settlement is the best route to allow her to continue to heal. This in no way relieves us of our responsibility or our future responsibility to protect our church family.”

Hook is currently serving a five-year sentence and is out on probation, according to the Tennessee Department of Correction.

Read the full statement from Bellevue Baptist below:

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