Tuscaloosa Church, Deputy Deny Allegations in Motion to Dismiss Lawsuit
Attorneys for a Tuscaloosa church and a county sheriff's deputy have filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed against them last month that accused them of having two juveniles arrested on false charges and leaving them in a Florida detention center.
As the Thread previously reported, the plaintiffs in the case are Melody Stephens and Aimee McKnight, whose two sons went on a youth trip to Panama City Beach with Taylorville Baptist Church last summer.
The boys were arrested in Bay County, Florida, and charged with sexual battery after some "horseplay" with other juveniles on the trip that at least one chaperone on the trip, off-duty Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Deputy Keith Fair, classified as inappropriate.
The mothers claimed in the lawsuit that Fair elicited abuse claims from some of the other children and had the boys arrested by local police, but prosecutors later dismissed the felony sex battery charges when none of the alleged victims would say they had been touched inappropriately in follow-up interviews.
Deputy Fair and the church said things weren't so black and white in two new court documents filed Monday morning. One was a sworn affidavit from Fair, and the other a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
According to the new documents, Fair and his wife were serving as chaperones on the trip, which their juvenile child also attended.
The some of the group was in the water playing a game they referred to as "Shark and Cobra," which included the teens tossing each other out of the water.
In the affidavit, Fair said juvenile members of the youth group reported to him that they had been touched inappropriately and digitally penetrated by the plaintiffs' sons during the "game."
"I knew I had a mandatory duty to report the incidents to the Bay County Sheriff's Department, so I called and reported the incidents to them and they responded and sent their Child Victim Team to the site where they opened an investigation," he said.
Fair said "based on their investigation alone," local police arrested the plantiffs' sons and that he did not get involved with, impede or encourage the deputies.
"I kept my distance from what they were doing," Fair said.
Fair also swore that he never spoke to the plantiffs' sons after the allegations were made, was never alone with either and never laid hands on them -- McKnight and Stephens said in the original complaint that Fair had punched and pinched one of their sons.
Fair's affidavit also shared more details about the charges filed against the boys and how they proceeded through the Florida judicial system.
Both the plaintiffs' sons were charged with three crimes -- sexual battery on a person less than 12 years of age by a person under 18, sexual battery with no physical force and simple battery.
The charges weren't dismissed for lack of evidence or testimony, Fair said -- the boys pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor battery charge and the felony sex crimes were dropped as part of that plea deal.
Finally, Fair shared a letter from an assistant state attorney in Florida who said their office had investigated Stephens' claim that he assaulted her son and declined to prosecute because "based on the circumstances surrounding the allegations, the State has determined that there is insufficient evidence."
Attorneys for Fair and the church also filed a 17-page motion arguing the lawsuit should be dismissed with prejudice so the plaintiffs cannot file another complaint about the same matter.
The original four-count lawsuit accused the church and Deputy Fair of negligence, wrongful prosecution, slander and assault and battery.
The motion to dismiss addresses each count individually, and is centered on the argument that the Alabama Child Abuse Reporting Act shields both Fair and the church because it immunizes the reporters of child abuse or neglect to civil and criminal liability.
The 17-page motion argues that there is no case for negligence because the church and its chaperones had a duty to all juveniles on the trip, not just the plaintiffs' sons.
The defense attorneys said the Bay County Sheriff's Office filed the charges against the boys, not Fair or church leaders, so there is no case for wrongful prosecution.
They argue that the truth of the circumstances and qualified immunity shield the defendants from the slander charge, and Fair denied the assault and battery allegations wholesale in a sworn affidavit, where falsehoods could lead to perjury charges, fines and even jail time.
"Though it is clear that this case must be dismissed for a myriad of reasons already discussed, even if the Court were to ignore the pleading failures, there is still no controversy over which this Court should assume jurisdiction," the motion concluded. '"For each of these reasons cited herein, Fair and Taylorville respectfully request the Court enter an Order dismissing this matter in its entirety, with prejudice."
Neither the plaintiffs nor presiding judge Jim Roberts have responded to the motion as of Tuesday morning. Stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread for updates on this case as they become available.