Lawsuit says Adventist church should've prevented teacher's sex abuse

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Alleged molestation by a Fresno teacher has led to a lawsuit targeting the Seventh-day Adventist Church. (KFSN)

Alleged molestation by a Fresno teacher has led to a lawsuit targeting the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

What happened behind closed doors at the Fresno Adventist Academy is already the subject of 18 felony charges.

"These are very serious," said legal analyst Tony Capozzi. "There's no question about it. This is child molesting that allegedly took place over at least a four-year period."

Police say former teacher Chris Bispham molested students starting in 2012, just months after he started working at the school, and he often did it inside a classroom closet.

They arrested the 29-year-old last year when a fourth grader reported sex crimes.

A new lawsuit says the school never should've hired Bispham and the Central California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists could've prevented the abuse.
It says Bispham came to the Fresno school after another Adventist school in Tennessee fired him for drunk driving -- a conviction Action News found online pretty easily.

The lawsuit also hints at possible sexual misconduct by Bispham when he was in Tennessee.

Capozzi says that could spell big trouble for the church.

"If they don't do a substantial investigation - especially when they have some information that something was wrong in Tennessee - they could be on the hook for substantial damages," he said.

Capozzi says church leaders will probably argue they had no inkling of any issues with Bispham.

But the lawsuit also claims a pastor with the Adventist church in Clovis, who was also Bispham's pastor in Tennessee, secretly tipped him off as police investigated the case.

Bispham left the state and Fresno police had to go to Florida to find him.

"If the pastor made comments to him that this was the complaint against you,' there are allegations, and you better leave town to avoid these', that would really put the church on the hook," Capozzi said.

We reached out to the church and got an email saying they're aware of the lawsuit.

"While we cannot comment on the substance of currently-pending litigation, we wish to take this opportunity to reaffirm that our children and youth are our most precious resource and their safety is of paramount importance to us," wrote Cindy Chamberlin, the vice president for communication for the Central California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
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