WEST ASHLEY, SC (WCSC) - The Salvation Army is facing a lawsuit after two girls claim they were sexually abused for years while attending Sunday School at the Salvation Army's West Ashley location on Highway 61.
According to the McLeod Law Group, the Salvation Army hired a known sexual predator.
The lawsuit names Armando Gonzalez, who according to jail records, was arrested in December 2015 for criminal sexual conduct with a minor under 11 in connection to the assaults.
Lawyers say the Salvation Army did not take any steps to protect the victims entrusted in its care and supervision.
The lawsuit claims the girls were sexually assaulted over five years starting at the age of 4.
According to lawyers, when one of the victims reported the abuse in October of 2015, Gonzalez confessed to years of sexual abuse at The Salvation Army and was subsequently charged and arrested.
"Jane Doe and Jane Doe 2 were subjected to repeated and continuous sexual abuse over the course of several years starting at the age of four by Armando Gonzalez," lawyers said."Prior to The Salvation Army placing Mr. Gonzalez and his wife, Mabel Shuler, in charge of the care, custody, and control of these innocent children there were publicly available arrest records which demonstrated Armando Gonzalez was a sexual predator."
Lawyers say Gonzalez admitted to the repeated abuse of Jane Doe in addition to other young girls.
According to court records, Gonzalez told law enforcement that he did not stop the abuse because the child "never said no."
In the lawsuit, lawyers say if Jane Doe had not come forward Gonzalez would have continued the abuse.
In addition, lawyers claim that when Jane Doe's mother reported the incident to employees at the Salvation Army, her pleas went unanswered.
Lawyers with the McLeod Law Group say Gonzalez, who was hired as a childcare supervisor and entrusted with the care of young girls at The Salvation Army, had a documented criminal history of sexually assaulting and abusing minor children.
"He was prohibited by law from directly supervising children," lawyers said. "As alleged, The Salvation Army, and its local leadership officers Louden, Richmond, and Thornhill, among others, knowingly hired and entrusted a sexual predator to care for children who were in their care, custody and control."
The lawsuit names the following organizations and employees as defendants in the lawsuit: The Salvation Army, The Salvation Army Southern Territory, Thomas Louden, Mabel Shuler, Thomas Richmond, and Christopher Thornhill.
Lead attorney W. Mullins McLeod, Jr. filed the lawsuit and stated, "My firm has spent over a year researching this billion-dollar organization in preparation to file this lawsuit. We believe we will prove the organization and its officers' conduct is very different than what they portray to the public."
Charleston attorney Mark Peper is also helping pursue the legal action.
Gonzalez is currently locked up at the Charleston County Detention Center.
The Salvation Army released the following statement:
In October, 2015 a Salvation Army church member contacted The Salvation Army of Charleston corps officer and reported that a family member had been inappropriately touched in Sunday School class by another church member. Upon hearing the report, the Salvation Army corps officer immediately contacted law enforcement and encouraged the family to seek medical attention at the local hospital. In addition, The Salvation Army immediately banned the accused church member and family from Salvation Army properties and programs pending the outcome of the police investigation. The Salvation Army fully cooperated with law enforcement as they investigated the matter.
From the moment The Salvation Army heard the allegation, our first priority has been the care and well-being of those affected and their families. The Salvation Army guidelines do not tolerate sexual misconduct of any kind. We are committed to the safety of those we serve and will continue to refine our practices to ensure the safety of all who come through our doors.
Since 1906, The Salvation Army has been proud to serve Charleston with programs that change lives and meet the needs of our community. The mission of The Salvation Army is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, and meet human need in His name without discrimination. We are honored to be a part of this community and will continue this mission of service for years to come.