Crime

Woman in sexual assault case against DFW megachurch seeks $1 million in lawsuit

Her preacher took her under her wing like a father figure. Then, she says, he sexually abused her

Former independent fundamental Baptist church member Brianna Kenyon says a church member who started out being a father figure began to sexually abuse her. "He basically controlled everything I did," she says.
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Former independent fundamental Baptist church member Brianna Kenyon says a church member who started out being a father figure began to sexually abuse her. "He basically controlled everything I did," she says.

A woman who said she was sexually abused by her youth pastor at a DFW megachurch filed a lawsuit seeking more than $1 million in damages on Friday.

The woman, referred to as Jane Doe One in the lawsuit, said she was assaulted by former associate pastor Matthew Tonne at The Village Church while at a church camp when she was 11 years old.

The church, based in Flower Mound, did not warn its members about the allegations against the pastor when Doe came forward about the assault six years later, according to the suit.

Matthew Tonne referred questions to his lawyer, Sheridan Lewis, who said they had no comment due to the ongoing investigation.

Church officials and the church’s attorney, Dustin Gaines, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

Doe told her parents about the assault in February 2018 after years of depression and suicidal thoughts. Her parents contacted church staff and police when their daughter told them what happened, the suit states.

The church removed Tonne from leadership in June 2018, but Pastor Matt Chandler told the congregation he was leaving for alcohol-related reasons, according to the suit. In September, Chandler made the first public announcement about Doe’s abuse allegations but did not identify Tonne by name.

At last month’s Southern Baptist Convention in Alabama, Chandler said he was following the advice of law enforcement by not naming Tonne, according to the Baptist Standard.

According to the suit, Chandler never reached out to Doe’s family personally, and the church has made no effort to determine if Tonne abused other children. The church also contributed to Doe’s assault by having a co-ed staff meeting in the lodge that Doe, and other girls, were sleeping in. This gave Tonne, who was at the meeting, the opportunity to later sneak into Doe’s room and assault her, the suit states.

Tonne was indicted on sexual assault charges in November and arrested in January.

Texas law limits maximum liability for charitable organizations such as churches to $500,000 in damages. However, the limit does not apply to acts that are intentional, willfully negligent or done with conscious reckless disregard. Doe’s family argues the actions of the Village Church fall within that scope.

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A photo provided by Dallas County Jail shows Matthew Tonne, who was Village Church's associate children's minister, and was arrested on charges that he sexually molested a girl. DALLAS COUNTY JAIL NYT

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