Church on the Hill Sexual Abuse Lawsuit & Jury Verdict

Updated: December of 2013

A jury awarded the three girls who filed the lawsuit a total of $1,061,500. It found the church financially liable for recommending a camp counselor it had let go three times for inappropriate behavior with children for a job at a day care center where he wound up sexually abusing young girls.

Read more on the sexual abuse verdict.

The Lawsuit

Sexual abuse victim advocate and attorney Robert Allard of Cerri, Boskovich & Allard has filed a sexual abuse lawsuit (Santa Clara County Superior Court, Case #113CV251524) against Church on the Hill (also known as The First Baptist Church) of San Jose, alleging that the church enabled an alleged sexual predator named Keith Woodhouse to molest a then seven-year-old girl. The minor is now 14 years old and is named as Jane Doe due to her age and the serious medical and psychological problems resulting from the sexual molestation.

The lawsuit alleges that, during a summer camp called “Camp on the Hill” in July of 2007, Woodhouse was observed by church lifeguards holding the seven-year-old in his lap in the Church’s swimming pool. At that point in time, Woodhouse was observed kissing the minor’s shoulder and/or neck. Soon afterwards, another female lifeguard heard the young girl scream out that something was “poking” her in the butt. The lifeguard claims she saw Woodhouse exit the pool with a full erection. A third lifeguard then followed Woodhouse into a nearby bathroom where, the complaint alleges, he overheard Woodhouse masturbating. Woodhouse returned to the pool where he immediately resumed holding Jane Doe, at which point the lifeguards intervened and ordered him to release the girl.

Despite all three lifeguards reporting the incident to Church on the Hill's management, including two comprehensive typewritten statements from two of them, Pastor Elliot Sands failed to notify law enforcement or the parents of the child. Instead, he simply fired Woodhouse and ordered him not to return to church property for the time being.

Woodhouse was arrested approximately three and a half years later for multiple counts of child molestation. The molestation allegedly occurred at multiple day care centers in San Jose where Woodhouse worked as an assistant teacher. Investigating officers believed Woodhouse may have sexually molested as many as fifteen minors at these centers. The lawsuit states that San Jose Police detective Erik Martin asked Pastor Elliott Sands why, as a mandatory reporter, he did not report Woodhouse in 2007. In response, Sands defended his actions by stating that Jane Doe did not appear to be traumatized and refused to take blame for his failure to act. When the detective told Pastor Sands he was likely to face lawsuits over his conduct, Pastor Sands, according to the detective, allegedly shrugged and stated without emotion or remorse, “Oh well, that’s what insurance is for.”

The lawsuit alleges that Sands and the Church on the Hill, prior to the Jane Doe incident, were already well aware of Woodhouse’s inappropriate behavior involving little girls. The lawsuit further alleges that in 2004, three years prior to the Jane Doe incident, Woodhouse's supervisor terminated him from his position as a counselor at the church’s on-campus Achiever Christian School for misconduct with children and inappropriate interactions with little girls. Two years later, when Woodhouse was in Lake Tahoe with other church members, that same supervisor reported Woodhouse to Child Protective Services for his behavior toward a little girl.

Despite his prior termination for misconduct with children, the Church on the Hill decided to re-employ Woodhouse as a camp counselor in 2006, allowing him to work directly with and supervise children, including Jane Doe.

Even after the 2007 pool incident, Sands allowed Woodhouse to return to the church in 2009 to once again supervise children, this time with the “Children’s Ministry” department. As reported to the police, Woodhouse was soon thereafter observed engaging in “continuing behavior” with children and was once again let go by his supervisor.

The next year in 2010, when Woodhouse applied for the position of an assistant teacher at the day care center where he went on to molest up to fifteen children, the same supervisor within the “Children’s Ministry” department provided him with a glowing recommendation and otherwise mentioned nothing about the previous instances of misbehavior with children, including the 2007 pool incident. When asked to comment on Woodhouse’s ability to interact with children, this supervisor stated that Woodhouse “loves kids” and has a “heart for children.” Based thereon, the day care center hired Woodhouse.

The lawsuit claims that Jane Doe's parents were not made aware of the abuse until almost 6 years later, in April of 2013. That delay, according to plaintiff’s retained pediatric psychiatrist, resulted in a deterioration of the victim’s condition to the point where numerous hospitalizations were required to treat, among other ailments, a severe eating disorder.

Church on the Hill does business and conducts its ministries under the names “Achiever Christian School” and “Camp on the Hill.” The entrance to Church on the Hill is named after Pastor Sands's grandfather who conducted services at the church for 35 years. Woodhouse and his family were longstanding members of the church: Woodhouse’s father was an instructor in Bible study classes.

The San Jose Mercury News has more on the sexual abuse lawsuit.

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