DSS case dismissed by judge

The Daily Courier, Jan. 22, 2003
By JAMES LEWIS, Daily Courier Staff Writer

RUTHERFORDTON — A judge dismissed a Department of Social Services attempt to obtain information about young children in The Word of Faith Fellowship on Tuesday.

But the issue may not be dead.

Just hours after the court proceedings ended, the DSS obtained subpoenas naming several high-ranking church officials, The Daily Courier confirmed Tuesday evening.

Sam and Jane Whaley, co-founders of the church, had been summoned to court on Tuesday after the DSS filed papers alleging the WOFF was interfering with an in-vestigation of an allegation of child abuse or neglect.

The court documents focused on children at the WOFF day care facility and specifically indicated that church leaders have been unwilling to hand over a list of the children ages 0 to 5 who are cared for at the facility along with their ages and addresses.

Tuesday morning, two other leaders within the church — Jayne Caulder and church school principal Karel Reynolds — attended the court hearing.

Attorney Tom Hix, who represented the church, said Jane Whaley, 63, was not in court because she had recently undergone knee surgery and was un-able to walk. No mention was made in open court ab-out why Sam Whaley was not present.

Chief District Court Judge Robert S. Cilley dismissed the action because the court documents filed by DSS failed to state the name, age and address of a particular child who was the subject of the abuse allegation.

State law required the DSS to include such information on a juvenile petition, said attorney Hix in his motion to dismiss the action.

Judge Cilley agreed to dismiss the case, noting, “Mr. Hix has surely put his finger on the tender spot.”

DSS attorney Brad Greenway said the the agency filed the petition for the very reason that its validity was being questioned: in order to obtain the names and addresses of the children.

Judge Cilley told Greenway a more proper venue to air his concern was with the General Assem-bly in the wording of the law which required the names and addresses of children.

Authorities have declined to discuss the specific allegations behind the investigation which led to the charges of interference against WOFF officials. However, DSS authorities indicated on the now-dismissed petition that they have reason to believe the children are in need of “immediate protection and/or assistance” based on “allegations of abusive behaviors toward all children by caretakers in the Word of Faith Fellowship Child Care Facility.”

As the attorneys were packing up their materials to leave the courtroom, Hix indicated to Greenway that if the DSS offered a name then his clients would be “happy” to comply with a request for information.

The attorneys also apparently have a difference of opinion about whether the WOFF is operating a child day care facility.

At one point, Hix said, “We’re not running a day care.”

Greenway replied, “That’s not exactly true in my opinion. I would contend they are running a day care in my opinion.”

According to state law and a local child care referral official, the state requires that homes or facilities which care for three or more children who are unrelated to the caregiver for more than four hours a day must be licensed by the state Division of Child Development. However, North Carolina’s complicated child care regulations provide for some exemptions for nonlicensed, religious-based child care.

The WOFF does not hold a license to operate a child care facility, according to an online state database of child care facilities and Barry Gold, director of the Rutherford County Partner-ship for Children.

The church does operate a K-12 school called the Word of Faith Christian School. According to the North Carolina Division of Non-Public Education, 112 students were enrolled in the school in the 2001-02 school year.

Meanwhile, a second round court case may be in the offing.

Rutherford County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy C. Philip Byers, contacted late Tuesday, confirmed that deputies were asked to serve subpoenas on three WOFF officials. The subpoenas named Sam Whaley, Jane Whaley and Karel Reynolds.

He said one of the subpoenas had been served on Tuesday night. The officer said that the subpoenas had been sought by the DSS.

Greenway said he could not comment on what, if any, actions the DSS would take next.

Greenway also said he could not comment when asked by a re-porter whether additional court papers were being served on church leaders.

Eight years ago, the WOFF was the subject of an investigation following allegations of physical and mental abuse of children, the use of mind control to keep adults in the church and religious practices which include blasting — a type of loud prayer — and severe corporal punishment.

District Attorney Jeff Hunt also last month asked the DSS to in-vestigate the welfare of four specific children.

That inquiry is being handled by authorities from the Lincoln County DSS.

A meeting, which had been scheduled for today between DSS officials, the DA and law enforcement, has been postponed until Thursday because of scheduling problems.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday January 22, 2003.
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