Monday, February 21, 2011

Cleared for trial
Point Loma Nazarene sued over molestations
By Pat Flynn

Sunday, February 20, 2011 at 7:48 p.m.

POINT LOMA — Point Loma Nazarene University officials placed a ministry student in the home of a Berkeley family almost 30 years ago without telling the family that the student had been convicted of child molestation, according to a lawsuit.

The student proceeded to molest the family’s 6-year-old daughter and 2-1/2- year-old son, the suit contends, while he lived with them as a summer pastoral intern.

An appellate court decision this month has cleared the way for the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified monetary compensation from Point Loma Nazarene and changes in its procedures, to go to trial in San Diego County Superior Court.

“This is the most reckless placement of a student in a family’s house that I can conceive of,” said Vince Finaldi, the Newport Beach attorney for the brother and sister. The plaintiffs’ real names are not disclosed in the suit.

A Point Loma Nazarene spokeswoman said no one with the university would comment on the allegations and referred questions to the university’s Solana Beach lawyers. Calls to the lawyers for comment were not returned.

The lawsuit contends that the student, Steven Conrad Thomas, told Point Loma Nazarene officials several times that he had a 1978 felony conviction for child molestation.

“He enrolled in Point Loma Nazarene University. He wanted to be a youth minister,” Finaldi said. “His probation required him to tell them.

“They sent him up to live with a pastor in Berkeley, and work at his church. The pastor had two small kids. But they never told the pastor or his wife. And he ends up sexually abusing both the boy and the girl.”

The pastor’s daughter reported the abuse to her mother and then to law enforcement authorities when it occurred in 1982. Thomas admitted to the crime and served a prison sentence, the suit says.

Now 50-years old, Thomas is in state prison for unrelated sex offenses against children.

The brother and sister, who now live out of state, filed suit against the university in October 2008.

“That’s when they started realizing that the problems they were experiencing were related to the childhood sexual abuse,” Finaldi said.

Lawyers for Point Loma Nazarene asked San Diego Superior Court Judge Luis R. Vargas to dismiss the case because the statute of limitations for the siblings to sue had lapsed. In late December, Vargas declined. The lawyers for the church-affiliated school then asked the 4th District Court of Appeal to dismiss the case on the same grounds. On Feb. 7, a three-judge panel of the appellate court denied that petition, clearing the way for a trial in September unless a settlement is reached.

“The father is still a minister in the Nazarene church,” Finaldi said, though no longer in California. “The mother is very active, too. They are both professors.

It hasn’t really affected their faith, but it has affected their confidence in the people who run the church.”

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