A Bakersfield preacher faced a judge Thursday, accused of paddling his parishioners.
"He'd spank me like a couple times, like six, and then I would get back up," said 12-year-old Jo Jo Sepulveda, describing what he said happened to him in October at the hands of Bishop Donald Anthony Towns.
"He came over to me, he read scripture to me, spanked me, read scripture and then would go," Jo Jo said in a quiet voice.
The boy's father, Joey Sepulveda, said that when the bishop learned his son had been playfully fighting with a cousin, Jo Jo was disciplined with a paddle hard enough to leave marks and bruises for a week.
Bishop Towns preaches at God Worthy Ministries on Allen Road in northwest Bakersfield. Joey Sepulveda accuses Towns of paddling children and adults alike at church on Sundays or in private homes.
"He told me that he had that right," Sepulveda said. "He was their shepherd. He's their pastor. He's their leader. They're the sheep, and he's accountable for them."
A young woman and former church member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also accused Towns of paddling parishioners.
"If kids were playing around, he would take them up in the front of church and beat them - no, paddle them - really hard," the woman said.
Former church members, such as Lorena Alderete, say the paddling has been going on for years. She recalled one incident where an adult woman got "disciplined" in front of the entire congregation.
"And she turned around, and he just started spanking her, and I thought, 'Wow!" Alderete said.
Towns didn't return phone calls seeking comment and declined comment Thursday at Bakersfield Municipal Court during his arraignment.
The bishop pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor charge of willful cruelty to a child. A pretrial date is set for March 20.