Former church member cleared of charges

Digital Courier/September 21, 2005
By Jerry Stensland

Forest City -- Former Word of Faith Fellowship member Shana Muse was acquitted of any criminal wrongdoing in an alleged incident involving her children and current WOFF members.

She was cleared of two misdemeanor charges during a district court trial in Mecklenburg County last week.

Muse's four children are in the custody of a couple, who are ministers in the controversial Spindale-based church, where two of her sisters are also members.

Muse was accused by the couple, Kent and Brooke Covington, and one of her sisters of simple assault and battery and misdemeanor child abuse during a visitation in Charlotte, but a judge found Muse innocent on both charges.

Next week, Muse and the WOFF group will be in court again as the same incident is considered as an alleged contempt of court charge violating a standing custody agreement.

The rollercoaster ride of Muse and her children has been ongoing since late 2002 when Muse left the WOFF. Muse did not take her children with her when they expressed the fear that leaving the church meant they were going to hell, Muse has said previously about the church's impact on the children's thinking.

Muse agreed to leave the children with the Covingtons. Brooke is the adopted daughter of WOFF co-founder and spiritual leader Jane Whaley.

Muse sought counseling at a center in Ohio specializing in treating ex-cult members. Some consider the WOFF to be a cult.

She returned to Rutherford County in late 2002 to try to get her children back, but agreed at that time to sign papers giving the Covingtons temporary custody.

In 2003, the Rutherford County Department of Social Services took action in court to take custody of the children. The unique legal argument was that Muse, by leaving her children in the WOFF environment, had abused the children.

Judge Randy Pool agreed and in Oct. 2003, ordered the children removed from the Covington's home and placed them in DSS custody stating the WOFF environment was abusive to children.

That verdict was overturned by the North Carolina Court of Appeals and the children were returned to the Covingtons. Prior to that verdict, the two oldest children, Sarah and Rachael Almanie, successfully filed for legal emancipation and were declared adults thus removing DSS as their custodian.

The girls returned to the Covington home.

The boys remained in foster care until the appeals court verdict.

The boys, now ages 10 and 12, were having a supervised visit with their mother in Charlotte when the alleged incident occurred.

With the DSS effort to get her children back now failed, Muse has revived a civil custody suit against the Covingtons to have her children returned.

On Sept. 27, the contempt charge will be heard before Judge Athena Brooks.

DSS and various former WOFF members have over the years accused the WOFF leadership of allowing child abuse in the name of religion.

Those allegations include the use of strong prayer or blasting where a person is usually seated in the center of a group of people who use loud screams or sounds to force demons out of the seated subject.

Most church members, including children, have been blasted various court testimony has revealed.

The WOFF most recently settled with DSS after filing a more than $2 million federal discrimination lawsuit against the agency.

The settlement paid the WOFF $305,000 and included stipulations related to any future investigations involving the WOFF.

Attorneys who have represented the Covingtons and Sarah and Rachael Almanie have filed for reimbursement of legal expenses incurred during previous custody and emancipation proceedings.

They are asking for reimbursement from DSS of $273,000 in fees.

DSS claims asking for the reimbursement violates the spirit of the settlement reached on the federal lawsuit.

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