Abuse claims not new, files say

Atlanta Journal-Constitution/March 24, 2001
By Michael Pearson

House of Prayer member was questioned last fall after a conviction for child battery in 1993.

State investigators were looking into claims of child abuse involving a House of Prayer member in late October, four months before allegations of frequent whippings at the church generated a major investigation.

Department of Family and Children Services investigators went to the home of David Duncan Sr. in October after a teacher told investigators about a mark on one of Duncan's children's neck or head, said spokesman Andy Boisseau.

The department opened a case file a few days later when the teacher reported a second mark. But the family was uncooperative and efforts to remove the children began only days before the House of Prayer case broke this month, Boisseau said.

"We didn't know anything about the House of Prayer at the time," Boisseau said. "We were dealing with an individual family."

He said investigators also were unaware of Duncan's 1993 battery conviction for participating in the beating of a 16-year-old church member.

The Duncans told investigators that the child was being whipped with a belt when he turned his head. The child attributed the second wound to football. As part of the investigation, Duncan and his wife, Sharon, agreed to use only "non-harmful punishment."

Sharon Duncan declined to comment. David Duncan has said he chastises his children "in a reasonable manner."

The child, along with six siblings and 12 children from two other families, was taken into state custody March 8. Another 22 children were taken last week.

The Rev. Arthur Allen Jr. and six members of his church, including Duncan and his wife, are free on bond pending trial on child cruelty and related charges. They are accused of inflicting or allowing a pair of excessive beatings involving 7- and 10-year-old boys last month.

Police say the boys were held by their arms and legs and beaten with sticks or belts. On Friday, Allen called the investigation "religious persecution."

Hearings are scheduled Tuesday and Wednesday to determine whether any children have been harmed because of their parents' use of corporal punishment.

On Friday, a Fulton County Juvenile Court judge authorized state investigators to continue with cases involving six children that had been dropped because of a technicality.

Nineteen of the children are living with foster families and 22 are being held together at an undisclosed location.

Boisseau said those children are spending their days going to classes at an on-site school, romping in a gymnasium and should soon be treated to outings at skating rinks and the movies. At night, he said, they watch movies, play video games and get help with their homework.

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