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Church trustees sue city over child abuse probe

CHESAPEAKE (AP) Trustees of a Chesapeake church claim city workers defamed the organization when talking about allegations of abuse.

Last year, a Chesapeake social worker determined abuse allegations had been substantiated against five Deep Creek United Methodist Church childcare workers. But court records show the city attorney’s office reversed that ruling weeks later, saying the allegation actually were unsubstantiated, according to The Virginian-Pilot.

The lawsuit against the city’s Department of Human Services and two of its workers says the workers published false statements accusing church workers of abuse, tarnishing the church’s reputation and leading more than half its enrolled children to leave. The church once cared for more than 250 children at its two childcare centers.

The allegations also shrunk the church’s congregation, trustee attorney Brandon Bybee said. The lawsuit is the organization’s only option to repair its standing in the community, he said.

Last summer, Chesapeake police said they investigated five separate reports of possible mistreatment at a church childcare center. Spokesman officer Leo Kosinski said the department completed the investigation within weeks and no charges were filed. In October 2018, the Department of Human Services sent letters to the church, its lawyers and the parents of some children who attended the daycare and accused five church workers of “abusing and neglecting the children,” the lawsuit alleges.

The letter, attached to the lawsuit, said a probe found abuse was “likely to have resulted in minimal harm to a child,” according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges those findings were false and didn’t specify what type of abuse was alleged, leading to speculation and panic. In response to the church’ questioning the findings, the city attorney’s office conducted an internal review and reversed the probe’s findings.

The lawsuit filed in late October seeks $1.9 million and names the city, social worker who investigated the claims, D. Marie Jones, and her supervisor, Deirdre Brown, as defendants.

City Attorney Jacob Stroman declined to comment on the lawsuit. Jones could not be found for comment and her supervisor didn’t respond to a request for comment, the newspaper said.

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