Man files suit against former midstate youth minister for alleged sex abuse

A man who attended Macon’s Mulberry United Methodist Church in the 1980s has filed suit against a former youth minister there, alleging that he was molested as a child.

The lawsuit, which names Perry Sandifer as the sole defendant, alleges that the man was 12 or 13 years old when Sandifer groped him and engaged in other “unwanted and non-consensual sexual contact.”

Darl Champion, the plaintiff’s lawyer, said his now 46-year-old client suppressed many of the memories from the alleged molestation, but they later resurfaced after he become an adult.

“It’s about accountability,” Champion said when asked why his client filed the suit.

Also, the plaintiff has reason to believe there may be other molestation victims, and he wants others to know it’s OK to come forward, Champion said.

Until recently, the man’s claims would have been barred by a statute of limitations. Georgia law pertaining to childhood sex abuse now extends the deadline to file a lawsuit until July 1, he said.

The lawsuit alleges that the abuse happened in multiple locations between 1982 and 1984, including Sandifer’s home, in Atlanta during a youth service project trip and during a youth service trip to Appalachia.

When confronted by an official from The United Methodist Church’s South Georgia Conference in December 2015, Sandifer “immediately admitted his wrongdoing,” according to a letter addressed to the plaintiff and signed by the church official in early 2016.

Sandifer told the church he entered a yearlong treatment program in Atlanta 20 years ago and that he would immediately “remove himself from any continued exposure to children and youth through his mission interests and involvement,” according to the letter.

Contacted by The Telegraph Thursday, Sandifer, who now lives in Illinois, said he wasn’t aware of the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.

Sandifer declined further comment, citing the pending litigation.

The Rev. Rick Lanford, a district superintendent with the church’s South Georgia Conference, issued a statement Thursday saying that Sandifer had surrendered his credentials and is no longer a minister or affiliated with the United Methodist Church.

Mulberry United Methodist Church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Jimmy Towson, also issued a statement and said Sandifer has not been a minister at Mulberry since 1984.

“Mulberry Street UMC is committed to providing a safe, Christian environment for the nurture and care of children and youth,” Towson said. “We have stringent policies in place to ensure the safety of the children and youth that God has entrusted to us. Our prayers go out to everyone involved in this painful and difficult situation.”

After leaving Macon, Sandifer worked as an associate pastor at Wilmington Island United Methodist Church and later Guyton United Methodist Church, according to the South Georgia Conference.

Lanford said Sandifer left the conference and the state in 1993 and has not been involved in area ministries since then.

The ministers said Mulberry and the South Georgia Conference “support the process of seeking the truth” about the allegations and “will continue to cooperate in every way.”

The plaintiff is seeking more than $75,000 in compensation for psychological treatment, therapy and counseling he’s needed for treatment of mental and emotional injuries, according to the suit.

He contends that he has suffered embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, humiliation and psychological injuries.

Amy Leigh Womack: 478-744-4398, @awomackmacon