AP, Jan. 11, 2003
By Ken Ritter
LAS VEGAS — Administrators for Jehovah’s Witnesses denied yesterday that their church shields sex abusers after four former members filed a civil lawsuit claiming they were molested by a church official in Nevada 25 years ago.
“Outcries were made and they were not reported, and because they were not reported to law enforcement other children were molested afterward,” said Kim Norris, a Fort Worth, Texas, lawyer representing the women.
Church spokesman J.R. Brown in Brooklyn, N.Y., said he could not respond to the lawsuit filed Thursday in Las Vegas.
But he pointed to a policy circulated last May to congregations nationwide and insisted that the church deals appropriately with reports of abuse. He said members are not discouraged from contacting law enforcers.
The lawsuit filed in Clark County District Court claims the four women were sexually abused from 1974 until the 1990s by Daniel Steven Fitzwater, the former leader of a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the northern Nevada town of Yerington.
It names the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, the Jehovah’s Witnesses Nevada Circuit and various church corporations as defendants, seeking at least $30,000 in compensatory and punitive damages and alleging that church officials knew of the abuse.
Fitzwater was arrested in 1997 and charged with lewdness with children in an unrelated case. He was convicted of two counts of sexual lewdness in 1998 in Lyon County and is an inmate at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City. He is eligible for parole in 2005.
Norris compared Fitzwater’s former position with the church to a minister in Christian denominations and said the church has a policy of discouraging victims from coming forward.
The plaintiffs — Dawn Bradley, Amanda Cirone, Annette Reed and Donna Wilkes — are now in their 20s and 30s and live in Yerington, Reno, Carson City and Grants Pass, Ore., Norris said.