Minister has prior conviction for beating

The Rev. Arthur Allen Jr., was sent to jail in 1993 after ordering members of his church to beat a 16-year-old girl with belts and then taunting the bleeding girl when she cried.

Now, the pastor of the House of Prayer church in northwest Atlanta is at the center of a massive abuse investigation that has led to the removal of 41 children from their parents' homes.

"He stood over me and said, 'I had you whining like a baby,' " the girl, Ivory Johnson, testified during a 1993 trial in DeKalb County State Court.

Allen admitted in court that he ordered the August 1992 beating - which he said may have lasted from 20 to 30 minutes. The beating continued, he testified, until the girl was "beaten into submission." The teenager had defied his authority, Allen said, and she "had to be beaten, or she would take over the church."

Allen, 68, said he and his church will be vindicated in the new case.

"I hope we are charged and I look forward to a trial by jury," he said Wednesday morning in Atlanta Municipal Court.

Allen was released from jail Wednesday, one day after he and five members of his church were arrested by Atlanta police on charges that they encouraged or participated in the beatings of two children last month. The others, and a seventh church member, Sharon Duncan, who turned herself in to authorities Wednesday, were expected to remain in jail overnight. Two of the six church members charged in the new case were convicted in 1993 along with Allen.

Earlier in the day, an Atlanta Municipal Court judge ordered Allen and five of the others to stand trial on the charges, which were filed after state social workers removed 41 children from the homes of church members.

The 41 children - who range in age from 5 months to 17 years - remain in state custody. State officials would not say where the children are being held, but a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Resources said they are together and "are safe."

In a separate hearing Wednesday afternoon, a Juvenile Court judge delayed hearing testimony on whether the first 19 children taken from church members should remain in state custody. Six cases were dismissed because of a technical error, but those children remain in custody.

A hearing to determine whether those six cases should go forward was scheduled for Friday. The remaining cases were delayed until later this month at the request of the parents, who said they were not prepared to defend themselves.

The whippings were administered at the urging and direction of Allen, police Investigator C. Dean testified during the parents' preliminary hearing on the criminal charges. One parent, James Smith, told Judge Elaine Carlisle that the beatings were so common he had lost count of how many he had seen.

Children being punished were suspended in the air by their hands and arms and beaten with switches, sticks or belts, Dean said. Photographs shown to the parents in court showed welts that Dean said were between 1 and 3 inches long, including one she described as the shape of a belt buckle.

While acknowledging their punishment had left marks on the children, the parents denied that they had caused any injuries or that they had done anything wrong.

"I did nothing more than chastise my child in a reasonable fashion," said parent David Duncan Sr.

Juanita Blount-Clark, director of the state Division of Family and Children Services, said Wednesday no additional children have been targeted for pickup. But the investigation is continuing, she said.

"There's more to it than just that one incident that triggered it and got us involved," she said.

Blount-Clark said Fulton County DFCS officials moved quickly because of the potential for abuse to other children. "If we are erring," she said, "it is on the side of caution based on what we've seen."

Atlanta police said injuries have been found on only two of the 41 children. But D'Annacq Libercq, chief of the DFCS Special Investigative Unit, said the other 39 children were taken because several of the families refused to cooperate with investigators. Another family turned the children over to DFCS without protest, according to Department of Human Resources spokeswoman Renee Huie.

In interviews since news broke about the investigation, Allen has acknowledged that he encourages "whippings" for "unruly" children. But he has denied that the beatings constitute abuse.

He said that his 1993 conviction came after a girl was caught having sex in an upstairs room during Bible study. He said he advised the girl's mother to "give her a whipping." The next day, he said, the girl reported him to police and he faced charges.

He said he was not surprised that he went to jail.

"The Bible says if you live godly," he said, "you're going to suffer persecution."

But court records and the prosecutor from his 1993 trial tell a different story.

On the night of the beating, the church was talking about marriage, said Johnson, who had married a member of the church when she was 14. Allen "makes you get married," she testified. A girl in the church raised her hand and told the preacher that Johnson was trying to "poison their minds against marriage." Johnson said she raised her hand and said the girl was lying.

"Brother Allen got mad," Johnson said.

He "told some people in the church to take me in the back and 'whoop her ass.' " Two church members held her down, she said, while two more beat her with belts. "Then the pastor called my mother and brother to the back of the room to beat me, too."

"I dropped to the floor," Johnson testified. Two women helped her up and took her to a bedroom in the house where the church was holding a service. "They cleaned me up and cleaned up the blood."

Debra M. Sullivan, who prosecuted the case, said Wednesday that evidence showed Johnson received "serious" injuries, including cuts and welts on her legs.

"Their theory was 'she was this wild child and we're making her better,' " Sullivan said. "He [Allen] had a big thing about resisting authority."

Allen did not deny the allegations against him, Sullivan said.

"His attitude was defiance - that people in the community were trying to tell them what to do," she said. "It was, 'I know what I'm doing, you all don't know anything.' "

Allen was convicted of battery and of being a party to the crime of battery. He was sentenced to 30 days in the DeKalb County Jail, but served only 20 days. The jury also convicted six other church members, including Johnson's mother and brother. The others include Duncan and Emanuel Hardeman, who face charges along with Allen in the new case.

At the 1993 trial, Johnson said she was no longer married, and that her ex-husband had married another 14-year-old girl.

Johnson had been a member of the House of Prayer since she was a small child. She didn't leave the church before the whipping because, according to court documents, Allen had told her that "bad things would happen to her in the real world outside the church."

Staff writers Michael Pearson, Ron Martz, Joshua B. Good and S.A. Reid contributed to this article.