Commonwealth Journal

February 6, 2010

Local Baptist camp being sued

By HEATHER PYLES, Staff Writer

Somerset — An Ohio family is suing a local Baptist camp, claiming negligence on the part of the camp’s staff and owners led to the sexual molestation of one of the family’s children.

The civil suit, brought against Camp Victory, located on Camp Victory Road in Somerset, stems from a criminal investigation that took place several years ago after allegations of sexual abuse on the part of a minister traveling with a church from out of state arose.

The suspect named in that case, Claude Steven Harmon, 52, was the senior pastor of the Maineville Baptist Church, in Maineville, Ohio, at the time the allegations occurred, according to information provided by Det. Brett Whitaker with the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department.

According to information from the case, Harmon traveled to Pulaski County with his church during the week of June 21 through June 26, 2004 for a junior camp, and again during the week of July 19 through the 24 for a teen camp.

The church rented and used the facilities at Camp Victory for those camps, according to information taken from the case.

The initial investigation into those allegations began in Ohio, when two male juveniles younger than 12 years old reportedly told their parents that Harmon had inappropriately touched and fondled the boys.

“In a subsequent interview with Harmon, he confessed to investigators in Ohio that he had committed these acts both in Ohio and in Pulaski County,” Whitaker stated in an e-mail to the Commonwealth Journal.

Harmon was indicted on two counts of first-degree sexual abuse by a Pulaski County grand jury in April 2005 — nearly a year after the alleged sexual molestation took place and after a joint investigation by Pulaski County and Warren County, Ohio authorities into those allegations took place.

Harmon is currently serving a 10-year prison term in the Chillicothe Correctional Institution, or CCI, after he pleaded guilty in April 2005 to no fewer than 10 counts of sexual imposition for fondling 9- and 10-year-old boys at the Maineville Baptist Church or living quarters next to the church, most of them between June and September 2004, according to the Dayton Daily News.

One charge dated back to 2001.

CCI is a state-run medium security prison located in Chillicothe, Ohio.

Now, the family of one of the victims named in the 2005 Pulaski County indictment is suing, claiming that “Camp Victory was negligent in its operation of the camp and as a proximate result of Camp Victory’s negligence, J. Doe (the victim) suffered ... molestation/sexual assault.”

That victim, now 14 years old, was nine years old when the reported assault took place.

The civil suit also stated that the victim “has suffered, is suffering and will suffer in the future, physical and mental pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life, and has and in the future will incur medical expenses for counseling treatment.”

The lawsuit also states that the victim’s parents and three siblings have also suffered and will suffer in the future loss of consortium — which means they have and will continue to suffer from the loss of aid, comfort or support from another.

Evangelist George Griffis, who owns Camp Victory, said on Friday when contacted by the Commonwealth Journal that he could not speak about the case, and referred questions to his attorney, Larry F. Sword, of Sword & Broyles Law Offices in Somerset.

Griffis did note that Harmon had never worked as a staff member for the camp.

A call was placed to Sword’s office and a message left last Friday, Jan. 29. Sword did not return the phone call by press time Saturday.