FORT WORTH — A minister who was asked to be the main speaker at the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration next week declined the invitation Tuesday night a few hours after the Star-Telegram published an article on its website about concerns that he had been accused in civil court of sexually assaulting women in his former church.The Rev. Sherman Clifton Gee Allen, former pastor at Shiloh Institutional Church of God in Christ, sent an email to the article’s author saying he had decided not to participate in the annual event at City Hall. Allen, 52, was sued in 2007 by a church employee who accused him of assaulting her and forcing her to have sex. After that suit, seven additional women stated that Allen had assaulted them. The complaints led to his suspension by the national Church of God in Christ that year.In 1983, Allen was indicted in an aggravated sexual assault case, but the charges were dismissed when the accuser stopped cooperating with prosecutors, Tarrant County court records show. In the emailed statement Tuesday night, Allen said: “Although my family and I have moved on since allegations made in the past, I feel compelled today to decline the City’s gracious invitation to speak at the 29th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration. I fear that some may view my presence negatively in what should be a most inspiring, positive event. I humbly pray and look forward to a future where my life, my work and my faithful service to God are able to be cast in a favorable light.”Andrea Dean, chairwoman of the city employee group in charge of the event, recommended that Allen be the keynote speaker at the city-sponsored event in City Council chambers at noon Jan. 17. Dean, a member of Allen’s new church, the nondenominational Christ Cathedral Church in Fort Worth, said the committee was aware of his past but did not consider it when making the selection. “All I know is he was selected, he is a prominent man in the city, all of that was dismissed, and that is how he was selected,” Dean said. The committee does not need approval from city staff or city officials to select speakers.Earlier this week, community leaders and others criticized the selection of Allen.“A person of his history, whether it is the arrest, the civil lawsuit or having a very well-respected national church disassociating from him … it is truly shocking to me that the city of Fort Worth would choose someone with his history of past behavior to represent on such an important day as Martin Luther King Day,” said Matthew Bobo, the attorney who represented the church employee, Davina Kelly. Allen did not respond to specific questions from the Star-Telegram about his past or the founding of the new church. In an earlier email, Allen said he was honored and pleased to be invited to speak. “This event appropriately focuses solely on the rich heritage and legacy of Dr. King and not allegations from my past, all of which have been resolved and dismissed,” he said. Surprise and concernCouncilwoman Gyna Bivens said that she had received a number of emails from residents concerned about Allen’s selection and that the vetting process for potential speakers should be examined. Bivens learned Monday that Allen was to speak and said she was both surprised by the choice and concerned for people who might be offended, especially those who have been victims of violence. “There are different types of controversy,” Bivens said. “Controversy designed to bring out the good in people and the city is part of what MLK is about. But I’m not sure this controversy lives up to the legacy of MLK, especially if it leaves people disengaged and disappointed.” Former Councilwoman Kathleen Hicks, who has spoken at the MLK Day event, said Tuesday afternoon that she might not attend this year’s celebration because of Allen.“I do worry that the controversy could take away from the bigger picture here and what MLK stood for, which was pushing for equality for all people,” Hicks said, adding that she has received about 25 emails and phone calls from upset residents.“As someone who is very concerned about women’s rights and domestic violence, that is why I have great concerns about this speaker,” she said.A split vote Five members of the committee voted for Allen, three voted against, and four were undecided, according to city spokesman Bill Begley.Dean said the committee “can select anyone we want.” Allen “is no different from anyone. He is human,” she said. The event “is about MLK; it is not about anyone’s personal life.”Regina Blair, an active resident of the Stop Six community, said she first heard about Allen when he came under scrutiny in 2007 and 2008. But people should not judge him, she said. “I think we should be very careful as to not be judgmental towards accusations made against people, and even if they are found guilty, we still should not be judgmental. People need to move on with their lives, and we need to move on with ours,” Blair said. Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray, who will emcee the event, said she had received calls from residents but was referring complaints to the employee group who put the event together. “I think it takes the focus off of [MLK Day] when you make it about the speaker and not about the day,” Gray said.The complaintsKelly named Allen and his church in her 2007 lawsuit. She said Allen forced her to disrobe for a paddling if she was late, failed to read Scriptures or committed other infractions. She said the abuse led to sexual assaults. Allen settled and Kelly was granted a $50,000 judgment in 2009, which was increased to $60,000 in 2010 when he failed to make payments. Another suit was filed against Allen and his new church this October for failure to make payments.One of the women who came forward in 2007 was the one who accused him of criminal assault in 1983. The woman said she stopped cooperating with prosecutors because she was afraid of Allen.
Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984 Twitter: @catyhirst