Man sues church, alleges abuse - Harvest Baptist's Camp Tracey cited
By Paul Pinkham
The Florida Times-Union, May 10, 2003

A former resident of a camp for troubled youths has sued the Jacksonville church that runs the camp, saying he was sexually abused by two counselors.

Kirk Griffin also sued the two counselors at Camp Tracey, a Baker County facility run by Harvest Baptist Church in Arlington. Camp Tracey has been the subject of past physical abuse allegations, including a critical grand jury report in 1987.

The church's longtime pastor, the Rev. Wilford McCormick, referred questions to the Christian Law Association in Tampa, which didn't return calls seeking comment yesterday.

Griffin is represented by the same law firm suing the Catholic Archdiocese of Miami in four cases alleging sexual abuse by priests.

He was a resident at Camp Tracey from 1988 to 1992, placed there because of "personal and behavioral problems," according to his lawsuit. Now an adult living in Memphis, Tenn., Griffin says he was forced to perform sex acts with two camp counselors and "spiritual advisors."

Like many of the victims of Catholic priests, Griffin repressed the memory until about six months ago, said his Miami attorney, Joel Magolnick. Griffin's lawsuit says he suffers from "severe psychological distress" and substance abuse as a result of the incidents.

The lawsuit equates what Griffin says happened at Camp Tracey with the clergy scandal that has rocked the Catholic church.

But unlike the Catholic priest scandal, Griffin is the only person to go public with allegations of sexual abuse at Camp Tracey. Magolnick said Griffin has told him there were other victims.

A Baker County grand jury investigated Camp Tracey in 1987 after years of physical abuse allegations by children and parents. The grand jury issued a presentment criticizing the camp for excessive corporal punishment and the use of ropes and handcuffs to restrain children at the camp, near Glen St. Mary. Grand jurors also criticized education and health care at the camp and said it would consider criminal charges if changes weren't made. No charges were filed.

McCormick at the time described the grand jury as "totally out of order" and called its report "bureaucratic harassment." Things appeared to quiet down after the grand jury report.

"We have very little contact with them other than when we have some escapes," said Baker County Sheriff Joey Dobson.

The camp's Internet site says its goals are to teach children to live according to God's word and to build character through work, education and discipline. Because Camp Tracey is a religious organization, its records of inspections and complaints are not open to the public.

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