FORT WORTH — She says the paddlings began when she was in the sixth grade.
Her family’s pastor, the Rev. Sherman Clifton Allen, would order her to grab her ankles, she said, and he paddled her until her bottom turned purple. The woman, now 41, says she was punished if Allen was told that her room was messy, that she had made a bad grade or that she had committed some other infraction.
In the beginning, the woman said, the pastor made her pull her dress tight. Later, he ordered her to drop her panties. Finally, she said he made her lie nude on the bed during the paddlings.
“He would start counting when he was hitting me,” said the woman, who is not being identified because of the sexual nature of the allegations. “Sometimes I felt like I was going to die and, at that point in time, I wanted to. I didn’t have any help, anybody that I could turn to.”
The 41-year-old woman is one of eight who have come forward recently with allegations about Allen after learning from news reports that a former church member, Davina Kelly, has sued him, alleging that he paddled and sexually assaulted her. Kelly’s lawsuit names Allen, 46; his Fort Worth church, Shiloh Institutional Church of God in Christ; and the Memphis-based national Church of God in Christ.
Allen has issued a general denial to Kelly’s suit. Phone and e-mail messages left with Shiloh Institutional, 1270 Woodhaven Blvd., have not been returned. No criminal charges are pending against Allen.
Kelly has said that she is speaking out in hopes of empowering other women to come forward. The response, according to Kelly’s attorneys, has been eye-opening.
“We are in contact with eight other women, other than Kelly, who have come forward and told us that they were also abused” by Allen, said Stanley Broome, one of the civil attorneys handling Kelly’s case. “We are anticipating that all or some of those women will choose to file lawsuits.”
‘Living a life in hell’
In a small office inside a local church Wednesday night, another woman wailed and sobbed as she remembered the day more than two decades ago that she said forever changed her life.
Unlike the other women, she was never a member of Allen’s church. The 45-year-old woman said she met “Bishop Allen” in 1983 at a candle shop, where he kept an office and provided spiritual guidance.
In the following days, the woman said, Allen, wearing a black shirt and a white collar, showed up unexpectedly at her apartment. Believing he was there to help her become “saved,” she invited him in and, a short time later, he asked her if she had a Bible, she said.
When the woman went to the bedroom to get it, she said, she was startled when she felt Allen behind her.
“He said he was going to show me the difference between being a Catholic and a Baptist,” said the woman, who is not being identified because of the sexual nature of the complaint.
The next thing she knew, she said, Allen began striking her on the rear with a paddle — blows so powerful she fell facedown on the bed. The woman said Allen paddled her 16 times, counting each swat out loud.
The woman said she believed she blacked out because, when she came to, she was on the floor, and Allen was sexually assaulting her with the end of a club and then he raped her, she said.
“I remember crying out to God and asking God to help me,” the woman said. “I remember him putting his hand on my mouth. He wouldn’t let me pray. He wouldn’t let me call to Jesus.”
When the assault was over, the woman said, Allen held her in front of the mirror and ordered her to look at herself: “This is what God told me to do to you,” the woman quoted Allen as saying.
The woman said Allen threatened to do the same thing to her young daughter if she told anyone. The woman kept the secret for several days before finally breaking down and telling her grandmother. She said her grandmother made her go to the hospital, where police were called.
More than a month later, Allen was arrested and charged with aggravated sexual abuse. The case was dismissed in 1984, however, after Allen passed a polygraph and the woman failed to respond to prosecutor’s messages and letters, according to court documents.
“I didn’t want to be in the same room as him,” the woman said about her reluctance to prosecute. “The idea of that terrified me. … I didn’t want to do it because I didn’t want it to happen to my daughter.”
The woman said she has been “living a life in hell” for the past two decades, unable to forget the event.
“I’ve been getting raped by this man since 1983,” she said.
Las Colinas attorneys Stanley Broome and Matthew Bobo have teamed up with Atlanta attorney Louis Levenson to handle the civil cases. In addition to Kelly’s suit, they plan to file at least two more on behalf of the 41-year-old woman and the 45-year-old woman.
Right now, however, they are legally prohibited from doing so: After Kelly filed suit, Allen’s church filed for bankruptcy, which automatically stays, or stops, the civil litigation.
Kelly’s attorneys plan to ask a judge to lift the stay in a hearing scheduled for Thursday so they can proceed with the lawsuits.
“It’s not unusual for a corporation, based on a lawsuit, to try to avoid their liability in a bankruptcy filing,” Broome said. “But at the end of the day, we believe we are going to be able to accomplish our goals.”
St. Clair Newbern III, who is representing Shiloh in bankruptcy court, said the church did not file for bankruptcy to avoid the lawsuits.
“The case was filed because the lender was about to foreclose on the main church property and not because of the civil litigation,” Newbern said. “I didn’t know about the [Kelly] lawsuit until after the bankruptcy was filed. I learned about it when I read it in the paper.”
Attorney Frank Hill, who is representing Allen in the lawsuit, did not return calls from the Star-Telegram seeking comment. But G. David Davis, an attorney who is not involved in the litigation but has represented Shiloh in other matters said: “Both pastor Allen and the church take the allegations that have been made very seriously and are anxious to get to the bottom of the allegations, but feel that it is appropriate for that to be done through orderly legal proceedings, rather than through accusations and allegations in the media.
“They are serious allegations, but the media is not the place to talk about them.”
Decades in silence
In an interview this month, the 41-year-old woman said Allen began paddling her after her mother — a devout follower of Allen — gave him permission.
At the time, Allen was a young minister who had founded the Allen Memorial Spiritual Pentecostal Church on Fitzhugh Avenue in Fort Worth, she said.
“He would come over to the house and say, ‘We need to talk. I don’t appreciate what you did or how your character is. We need to fix that because I don’t want you to be rebellious or go astray,'” the woman said. “At that time, it was with my clothes on. He would have me bend over and grab my skirt to make it tight. He would ask me how many licks I deserved.”
After the paddlings, the woman said Allen would tell her to soak her wounds in Epsom salt.
She said the paddlings became more frequent, sometimes occurring once or twice a week. She said Allen eventually began making her take her underwear off and ordered her to spread her legs and hold her ankles, or lay across the bed.
The woman said that when she was in her early 20s she and two others went to church elders and told them what had been going on.
“They said, ‘We don’t see anything he has done wrong and you don’t have any proof,'” she said. “They pretty much left it at that.”
The woman said Allen also threatened her.
“He told me that if I ever tried to ruin him, that he would come back for me. I knew he had people up high, helping him. I kept my mouth shut.”
For more than two decades, the woman said she tried to go on with her life, tried to block out what had happened.
Then, this year, the woman learned from news reports that Kelly was publicly alleging that Allen had paddled her and, eventually, sexually assaulted her. She picked up the phone and contacted Kelly’s attorneys.
In addition to filing a lawsuit, the 41-year-old woman plans to contact law enforcement, although it’s unclear whether Allen would face criminal prosecution, because so much time has passed and criminal charges could be outside the statute of limitations.
“They think that man is God and that he can do no wrong,” the woman said. “I want him to pay for what he did to me, for everything he has taken from me. He needs to be stopped.”
Where to get help if you’re a victim of sexual, physical or domestic abuse:
Women’s Center of Tarrant County, 817 927-2737
Safe Haven of Tarrant County, 877-701-7233
Battered Women’s Foundation, 817-284-6343
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