Abuse lawsuit brings forth new allegations

Mid-Valley Sunday/February 8, 2003
By Jennifer Rouse

On the heels of a lawsuit filed against mid-valley Jehovah's Witnesses congregations in September, another man has come forward claiming his child was sexually abused by the same person.

In a lawsuit filed in September, Tyler C. Davidow, 24, asked for $3 million in damages in the suit, filed in Benton County Circuit Court. The suit is one of a series of mass filings against the Jehovah's Witnesses that a Texas law firm is planning.

Davidow claims a man named Troy Christian McKenzie, now 34, abused him in 1984. According to the suit, Davidow, McKenzie, and both boys' mothers were all Jehovah's Witnesses.

The Davidow suit claims that when Cathy Davidow learned of her son's abuse in 1985, she went to the elders of her church and they told her not to make a report to the police so they could deal with it internally. Elders never addressed the matter, the suit claims. Tyler and Cathy Davidow both declined to be interviewed.

A lawyer for the Watchtower Society said elders at the Albany and Corvallis Jehovah's Witnesses congregations had no idea children in their flock were being abused.

"The elders did not know about this and were not responsible for this," said Philip Brumley, general counsel for the Watchtower Society, which is the Jehovah's Witnesses headquarters in New York.

After Davidow's lawsuit was filed, John Muir, a former member of the Corvallis congregation, came forward, claiming that McKenzie also abused his son, Eli.

When Cathy Davidow reported her son's abuse to the elders, other parents were not informed of the allegations against McKenzie, Muir said. But Muir heard about the allegations from another church member. He also heard that Davidow was not the only boy who had been abused -- and that Muir's son was one of the victims.

Shocked, Muir went to the elders and asked them to tell him what they knew.

"When I asked for information I was told I didn't need to know. It would serve no purpose," he said.

Muir and his wife then began years of wondering how to deal with the situation.

"You tell me, how do you ask a 4-year-old what was done to him?" Muir said. "Does he even remember? Maybe he has buried it so far in his mind that he doesn't remember anything."

After living with the uncertainty for years, Muir finally talked about it with his son. Eli told his father that he had been abused but did not remember the incident very clearly.

Muir has contacted the Texas law firm handling the case against the Jehovah's Witnesses church, but at this point has not filed a suit of his own.

Eli is now 25, and Oregon law says that civil lawsuits for childhood abuse must be filed before the victim's 25th birthday. But John and Eli Muir decided to speak out anyway, to encourage others who may have been abused. Even if there is no legal action taken in their case, Muir thinks that what was done was wrong.

"That boy was allowed to continue to roam about the congregation," he said. "Other families had no knowledge that they had a child molester in their midst."

Muir is no longer a Jehovah's Witness. He said he was "disfellowshipped" from the church several years after the abuse incident, for an unrelated matter.

He knows the elders did not intend for children to be abused. But he thinks church policy failed miserably when it came to dealing with abuse.

"I would say in most cases they do a good job," he said. "But in this case not only did they do a bad job, but they themselves caused harm to the children. They left the children exposed to future harm."

Brumley, the Watchtower Society lawyer, said that the elders aren't to blame for acts committed by another person. He says McKenzie wasn't even an official congregation member, though he may have attended some meetings.

"To our knowledge, he was never a baptized Witness," Brumley said.

Kimberlee Norris, one of the Texas lawyers filing cases against Jehovah's Witnesses, contends that church policies create an opportunity for abuse to occur. One policy, she says, tells church members to report problems involving other believers to church leaders instead of police. Another requires two eyewitnesses to an incident before the accused person can be punished.

She claims that McKenzie abused Davidow while he was a teenager living in Oregon, didn't face any consequences for it, and went on to abuse again.

Norris provided court records showing McKenzie served time in Alaska for sexual abuse.

McKenzie was convicted of sexually abusing a young boy in Alaska in 1994. He was sentenced to three years in prison, but two and a half years of that was suspended. He was considered a good candidate for sex offender treatment, and was allowed to move to Oregon with the condition that he remain on probation and attend a sex offender treatment program.

In 1995 and in 1996, the Oregon Department of Corrections recommended that his probation be revoked. His sex offender treatment provider wrote a letter saying McKenzie "is a fixed predatory pedophile who is extremely dangerous in the community."

McKenzie admitted that he had attended Jehovah's Witnesses meetings, where he was in contact with many young males, without receiving permission from his probation officer or obtaining an approved chaperon for the meetings.

"This is especially significant in that McKenzie's admitted history is that he met victims in the past through Jehovah's Witnesses gatherings," a probation officer wrote.

McKenzie is currently serving probation in Anchorage and could not be located for comment.

No court dates have been set in the case.

In October, documents were seized from a storage unit in Philomath and placed in a sealed envelope at the Benton County Circuit Court. According to court records, the envelope contains journals and documents belonging to McKenzie that may contain evidence of sexual abuse.

Brumley said his clients will continue to dispute the allegations.

"While our hearts go out to Tyler for the suffering he may have endured, we are confident that neither Watchtower nor any of the local congregation elders are responsible for what he alleges happened," Brumley said.

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