The Davis Enterprise (California), Aug. 1, 2003
By Lauren Keene, Enterprise staff writer
WOODLAND — Three former members of the Woodland congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses have filed a civil lawsuit against the church, claiming officials there failed to discipline and even promoted the church leader who allegedly molested them.
The suit was filed July 24 in Yolo Superior Court on behalf of Daniel West, Amber Pence and Shane Pence, all of whom said they were sexually molested while in the care of adolescent book studies leader Timothy Silva.
Sacramento attorney Bill Brelsford alleges in the suit that Jehovah’s Witness church officials “engaged in a systematic pattern and practice” of suppressing information to conceal incidents of child molestation from both law enforcement and the church’s own membership for more than a decade.
The suit also alleges that church officials in Woodland not only failed to discipline Silva when complaints about him arose starting in 1987, but appointed him to a higher position of authority and allowed him continued unsupervised access to children.
“This predator used his appointed position of leadership with authority over children to gain access to and abuse these children,” the suit says.
In published reports about the lawsuits, church officials have denied the allegations in the various lawsuits.
The suit filed in Yolo County gave an address for Silva of Third Street in Woodland, but a resident there said Thursday that Silva had moved just over a year ago. Other attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.
Brelsford said the alleged molests began in 1990, when Amber Pence, now 22, said she was molested by Silva at the age of 13. Daniel West, now 26, says Silva molested him from 1991 to 1993, starting at age 14. Shane Pence, Amber’s 18-year-old brother, reported being abused from 1992 to 1997, starting at age 7.
All three plaintiffs say they reported the alleged molests to church authorities, but they took no action to discipline Silva or prevent future molests from occurring. In West’s case, church officials allegedly accused him of participating in homosexual activity, “thereby exacerbating his trauma,” the suit says.
The plaintiffs also said they were instructed to keep the matters “within the organization” and not disclose them to outside authorities.
But the Pence family apparently eventually took their complaints to police, who according to court records arrested Silva in 2000 on suspicion of molesting Shane Pence. Records show Silva was convicted in September 2001 of lewd and lascivious acts on a child under age 14 and sentenced to probation.
Charges were not filed in the other children’s cases because the statute of limitations had expired, Brelsford said.
The three plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages for emotional distress, embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, lost earning capacity and expenses they have incurred for medical and psychological treatment, the suit says.
A status conference for the case has been scheduled for Dec. 28 before Judge Thomas Warriner. Brelsford said it could be a year and a half or more before the case goes to trial.