Wednesday, November 30, 2011

WJTV lead story: Philip Gunn tried to quiet those with sex abuse information

The plot thickens in the child sex abuse matter involving Republican Speaker nominee Philip Gunn (R-Clinton). Jackson, Mississippi CBS affiliate WJTV led their evening reports last night with the story below that includes interviews with Amy Smith and Sherry LeFils, referenced in yesterday's post. (Smith commented as well.) In those interviews, Smith and LeFils state that they felt Gunn was attempting to get them to be quiet about the sex abuse.

Despite their attempts to reach him, Gunn has not returned WJTV's calls. Here's the story:


bill said...

Matt, you're going to give yourself a hernia trying to make Philip Gunn look bad on this. Here's my take on it from just what I've been able to gather in the media. Please understand that I have no ties whatsoever to the church in Clinton, and my assumptions may be wrong.

The church got a call from someone accusing Langworthy abusing a male child some twenty years earlier. The pastor called Langworthy in and he admitted the offenses. The ensuing investigation, which involved Philip Gunn in his capacity as a member of the board of elders and the church's attorney, resulted in the church deciding that Langworthy hadn't repeated his offenses there and that his employment would continue. Whether you agree or not, that was an internal church decision. Gunn may have advised that course of action and may well have voted with the majority to allow Langworthy to continue, but it wasn't his decision alone. It was also a personnel matter, and as an attorney you know that most of the time personnel matters stay confidential. I'm not sure about the reporting requirement in Mississippi, but I suspect that if the abuse they discovered didn't occur here then the church was under no legal obligation to report anything. Maybe not - you're the lawyer, and if I'm wrong then they obviously should have reported it. However, if there was no reporting requirement then it would have been natural for the church to want to put this behind them without it coming out in public. No money was offered to either of the ladies in Texas - the e-mail simply refers to settlement discussions. Again, it's plain that Gunn was acting as the church's attorney and at the direction of the pastor or the board of elders, of which he was one member, and they were trying to avoid the church getting tangled up in a 20 year old Texas case. The pastor's discussions with earlier victims fall into the same category.

I'll never condone allowing a sexual predator to continue, as seems to have been the case at Penn State, but it seems like you're trying to make people believe that's exactly what Philip Gunn was trying to do. Despite the suggestion that there could have been abuse that will take seven years to come out, there's just no evidence that Langworthy did anything in Clinton. Gunn's advice to the church elders to not answer questions without a subpoena isn't out of the ordinary. Maybe you wouldn't have done it that way but plenty of other attorneys would. The pastor's attempts to limit the discussion are also normal, but they didn't involve Gunn. Like I've said before, it's your blog and you can say what you want, but it's a little early to conclude that Gunn did anything wrong in this case. If it turns out that he did then I'll be as vocal a critic of him as anyone, but until then I think it's wrong to plant all these suppositions just because he's a Republican politician. Bill Billingsley

Amy Smith said...

Church leader questioned about handling of sexual abuse allegation

Tom said...

Criticizing Morrison Heights and Philip Gunn for circling the wagons after learning one of their ministers had engaged in years of child abuse is a pretty obvious play, Bill. Consider the piece written by the editor of the Associated Baptist Press. He thinks its news worthy and he hasn't exactly made his living carrying water for Democratic causes. I'm guessing that if Dan Modisett, general manager of WLBT, wasn't a current elder of Morrison Heights, more of us in the Hinds County area would be raising the same questions Matt has here.

Asking questions about the conduct of priests isn't an indication of Anti-Catholicism, looking askance at Penn State isn't latent Big Ten hatred, and openly wondering why Philip Gunn thinks the Rules of Evidence mean churches shouldn't cooperate with law enforcement in child abuse cases isn't a Left-wing
conspiracy. Disdain for child abuse and the institutions that cover it up is a shared value.

Sorry, Bill. This one isn't going away for awhile.

bill said...

I'm afraid you're right, Tom. I'm not a lawyer and don't understand the fine points of rules of evidence, but I'm very much pro-Philip Gunn and would like to see him get clear of this. He's a good man who would have never stood idly by had there been a shred of evidence that Langworthy had done anything at Morrison Heights, and I believe he'd have been first in line to report abuse to the authorities if he thought any had occurred. I guess we'll see how this plays out. BB

Amy Smith said...

more in the Associated Baptist Press: comparing Penn State and Prestonwood Baptist Church and calling for investigation of Jack Graham...same should be said of Greg Belser and Morrison Heights as well as the Clinton school district. Burchfield received my call on August 17, 2010, confirmed with Presonwood staff sometime prior to Nov. 2010 the reasons for John's firing in 1989, heard directly from a past victim in Feb. 2011 and still kept Langworthy on staff the entire school year, allowing him to even take the choir kids to New Orleans in April. Burchfield's excuse to a victim was that Langworthy was "only on campus one hour a day."

Words alone won't stop Baptist predators

Amy Smith said...

Also, a few days after Langworthy read his resignation letter from the pulpit citing "mental and emotional reasons" on May 29, 2011, Philip Gunn called Sherry LeFils in Dallas to inform her of the resignation. A few hours later that same day, he called her back on Langworthy's behalf to request that she deliver a message to me that we "not take this any further."

bill said...

Amy, for you to compare Penn State and Prestonwood - both places where child abuse admittedly occurred - to Morrison Heights or Clinton High School is completely inaccurate and - I suspect - intentionally misleading. Langworthy admitted his crime at Prestonwood. In fact, it appears from your post that Prestonwood is appropriately being investigated for not reporting a crime that occurred at their church. It's fine for you to state your opinion about the folks in Clinton, but that's all it is - your opinion. The church did their internal investigation and made their decision. You don't agree with it, and frankly neither do I and I'll bet that the leaders at MH wish they could have a mulligan, but they're allowed to make their own decisions, and if they want to keep it private that's their business as well. No one has answered my question yet as to the legal reporting requirements in Mississippi, but if the church broke the law by not reporting Langworthy then let the system take care of it. If not, you're simply trying to force your solution down everyone's throat while you attempt to impugn the reputation of a fine man just because he's about to be elected Speaker of the House. This has been handled in the way they saw fit to handle it, and I'm sure after subpoenas are properly delivered that the folks at the church will be glad to tell the law enforcement people everything they know.

Amy Smith said...

Did you even read that article? It was written by Christa Brown, not me. I stated the contents. I am a Republican. I live in TX and I am not concerned with MS state politics. This for me has nothing to do with politics. Protecting kids transcends politics. Philip Gunn impugned himself by covering for a confessed child molester.