Church worker booked in sex crimes
Cops say child porn found on computer
Friday, July 06, 2007
By Daniel Monteverde
St. Tammany bureau, The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, LA
A volunteer associate pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church of Slidell was booked Tuesday on two counts of aggravated sex crimes involving juveniles and 47 counts of possession of child pornography, authorities said.
Deputies obtained warrants to search the home of James Griffin, 67, at 72255 Louisiana 41 in Pearl River, after an investigation that began about three weeks ago, St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain said Thursday. A tip from a family member of a victim sparked the investigation, Strain said.
The nature and details of the alleged crimes were not revealed, but authorities said the alleged victims were not children Griffin met at the church.
Investigators searched Griffin's personal computer and found 50 sexually explicit pictures of children, downloaded from the Internet, the sheriff said.
Detectives also were searching computers Griffin used at Immanuel Baptist and Grace Memorial Baptist Church in Slidell, where he used to work as a volunteer helping elderly congregation members and recording church services.
Those hard drive searches have not been completed, the Sheriff's Office said.
About 18 months ago, Griffin voluntarily left Grace Memorial Baptist Church after questionable material was found on a computer he used at the church, Pastor Bob Heustess said. Detective Barney Turney said the material was described as sexually graphic.
Investigators said a search of the computer's hard drive may show them whether Griffin was viewing sexually explicit images of children on that computer.
Heustess said Griffin was part of the congregation for "about four or five years" and that there were never any problems. "He was like anyone else . . . nothing abnormal."
There are still questions about whether Griffin was responsible for the material winding up on the church computer, he said.
"We realize sometimes others could've gotten on there," Heustess said. "But it kind of left some question marks for us."
Neither church did anything wrong and both are cooperating with the investigation, Strain said.
Griffin, who has no police record, remained in jail Thursday with bond set at $1.2 million, Strain said.
Strain said he believes his office has identified all the victims.
But Detective Fred Oswald said that although there's no evidence to suggest any additional alleged misconduct, the office isn't ruling anything out. Sheriff's Office officials are asking anyone who may have had any questionable contact with Griffin to contact them.
"We certainly know he had an opportunity as an associate pastor" to interact with young people, Strain said.
Pastor Mike Rasberry of Immanuel Baptist Church said he is "shocked" by the accusations against Griffin.
"His public persona would not lead you to believe anything like this," Rasberry said of Griffin, who has served at the church for about three years.
Rasberry said Griffin prefers to keep his distance from the children who attend the church.
"He didn't even want to drive the bus with children" in it, Rasberry said.
Griffin's primary job was to help prepare the church for new construction to replace buildings damaged during Hurricane Katrina, Rasberry said.
He said there will be no immediate action taken against Griffin until all the details of the case come out.
"We try to give people the benefit of the doubt," Rasberry said. In the meantime, he said, he and his congregation will pray for Griffin.
"Should he be guilty, we hope he'll repent and take his punishment like a man," Rasberry said. "We also hope he would use that as an opportunity to have God change the outlook of his life."
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Daniel Monteverde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
SNAP Note: Both Immanuel Baptist Church of Slidell and Grace Memorial Baptist Church in Slidell are shown as SBC-affiliated churches.