Death of accused puts new twist in AME sex abuse case

The passing of Sylvester Laudermill Jr. comes as case involving defrocked pastor goes to trial.

Los Angeles Wave/October 16, 2008

Funeral services were held Wednesday for Sylvester Laudermill Jr., the defrocked former pastor of Ward AME Church, who died just as a sexual molestation lawsuit against him was scheduled for trial.

Laudermill, 50, died Oct. 9 in a local hospice of complications from cancer treatments. According to a Ward AME spokesperson, Laudermill had been afflicted with cancer for several years, which had gone into and out of remission at least twice.

Laudermill, who was transferred from St. Louis to Los Angeles' Ward AME Church in 2004, was accused in 2006 of sexually molesting minor boys in both cities and forced out of Ward's pulpit.

Civil authorities here and in St. Louis investigated the accusations and declined to file criminal charges against Laudermill, but two internal church investigations of the molestation allegations found Laudermill had committed "child sexual abuse" in both cities and he was defrocked.

On May 4, 2007, the allegedly molested Ward AME minor and his guardian filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Laudermill; his wife, Pamela Powell Laudermill; the AME Church Inc.; Bishop John Richard Bryant, St. Peter's AME Church in St. Louis and Ward AME contending that they all played a role in the minor's molestation. The case is scheduled for trial next Tuesday.

The complaint alleges that the child, who was involved in the choir, was molested by Laudermill, who sent text messages to the boy and his mother. The mother is alleged to have reported those messages to Mrs. Laudermill, who "turned a blind eye" to her husband's activities, hence her inclusion among the defendants, the complaint states.

The lawsuit also claims Laudermill had a history of abusing children in at least two St. Louis AME churches, about which Bishop Bryant was well informed.

"Instead of firing him, Bryant transferred him," the suit states. The suit contends Bryant knew about sexual abuse accusations against Laudermill when he was sent to St. Peter's in St. Louis and that the bishop colluded with St. Peter's to get rid of him by sending him to Los Angeles.

"Plaintiff is informed, believes and thereon further alleges that defendants District, Bryant, St. Peter's and PA AME engaged in intentional conduct expressly aimed at California and knew its conduct would cause harm in this state," the complaint reads.

A St. Peter's teenager filed sexual molestation charges against Laudermill, and the victim settled with the church in 2005.

A 1976 graduate of Manual Arts High School, Laudermill marshaled the forces of his Ward congregation to fill and send six 18-wheeler trucks loaded with goods for distribution to families affected by Hurricane Katrina in three states.

According to St. Louis published reports, Laudermill, who served as vice president of the St. Louis Clergy Coalition, was an activist pastor during his 10-year tenure at St. Peter's. He led numerous St. Louis clergy-activist groups, including Congregations Allied for Community Improvement, Clergy and Citizens United for Safety and Justice and Metropolitan Congregations United.

He pushed for a vocational education high school in St. Louis, as well as for land-use legislation designed to stop urban sprawl and for more spending on highway improvements in North St. Louis County.

Laudermill is survived by his wife, daughter, Talisha; granddaughter, brother, Kevin Laudermill, and several aunts, uncles and cousins.

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