Woman suing church of deceased Texas pastor over alleged rape

A former Reedsport priest is accused of taking advantage of a teenager, now 39

Sunday Gazette-Mail, West Virginia/October 16, 2011

Charleston, West Virginia -- A woman is suing a Texas church, claiming that its leaders should have known that their head pastor had a history of sexual assault before allowing him to travel to West Virginia, where he allegedly raped her in his car before committing suicide in prison days later.

The woman, whom the lawsuit identifies only by her initials, is also suing the Open Door Baptist Church in Mesquite, Texas, for hiring Matthew Jarrell as its head pastor and apparently failing to perform an adequate background check that would have uncovered a history of criminal activity.

On May 19, Jarrell was traveling through West Virginia on his way to a Baptist convention in Pennsylvania and stopped at a Charleston bar and met the woman, according to previous Gazette reports.

Later, Jarrell enticed the woman into his Dodge truck, which the church owned, and drove her to a remote area in Sissonville where he "brutally sexually assaulted and raped" the woman, the lawsuit states.

Four days later, prison guards found Jarrell hanging in his cell at South Central Regional jail. He had tied a knot in his bed sheet, which he looped around the cell's doorframe.

Before traveling to West Virginia, Jarrell had been awaiting trial on rape charges in San Antonio.

In 2007, the pastor was arrested after a woman accused him of forcing her to have sex, according to the Dallas Morning News. In 2003, Jarrell was arrested in Baltimore for attempting to pick up a prostitute, who turned out to be an undercover police officer.

Jarrell served 18 months on probation on a handgun charge in connection to the alleged sexual assault, the newspaper reported.

He previously served as a pastor of a York, Pa., Baptist church in 2001, parts of which allegedly burned down in an arson attempt that year, according to the York Daily Record. He joined the Open Door Baptist Church as its head pastor in 2004.

The lawsuit states that Jarrell inflicted serious emotional and physical damages on the woman as a result of the assault, which could have been prevented had church officials properly screened Jarrell before his employment.

The woman is suing the church for compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorney fees and court costs.

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