By Associated Press - Friday, September 4, 2015

CLARKSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - A pastor and another worker at a southern Indiana church were charged with battery and neglect after children in their care told investigators they were beaten with a wooden paddle.

Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Jeremy Mull said the abuse occurred at the Crossroads Baptist Church in Sellersburg, north of Louisville, Kentucky. The church operates a boarding academy for mostly out-of-state students, he said.

Pastor Gerald Harris, 47, and Christopher Williams, 21, were arrested earlier this week and face charges of battery and neglect of a dependent. Both of the men live at the church, court documents show.

On Tuesday, Clarksville police and Child Protective Services performed a welfare check at the church and interviewed children ranging in age from 8 to 19, who told them of “various forms of punishment,” Palmer said.

Five children told investigators that they were “whipped with a wooden paddle,” court documents released Thursday said. An 11-year-old boy with “very serious bruising” on his buttocks and legs reported being hit with the paddle by both Williams and Harris when he wet his bed.

An 8-year-old boy told police that Williams tied a rope around his waist and jerked him around “for not behaving.”

Although parents, teachers and caretakers are allowed to discipline children “in a legal way,” Mull said, the bruising seen on the children qualifies as criminal abuse.

“That’s the point where, in my opinion as a prosecutor, it crosses the line from appropriate discipline to a criminal battery,” he said.

The children have been removed from the church and either returned to their parents or placed in protective custody, Mull said.

Online court records don’t indicate whether either man has an attorney who could comment on their behalf. Neither man has a publicly listed phone number. A phone number for the church rang unanswered Friday morning.

Harris and Williams were released from jail on $15,000 bonds Thursday afternoon. They’re expected to appear in court next week and could face further charges.

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