MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A member of a Bartlett church accused of inappropriately touching a young girl is out of jail on a $25,000 bond.
Robert Stephen Austin was arrested and charged with sexual battery.
Bartlett police said the incident happened on the 26 of April in the church’s gymnasium.
Police told FOX13 the 17-year-old girl was sitting at a round table with a youth group in the Faith Baptist Church gymnasium when she felt someone place their hand under her arm and place their fingers on her left breast.
Robert Stephen Austin is accused of touching the teen.
Katie Blake said the accusations are jaw-dropping.
"It's disappointing to hear that they have touched a child inappropriately but especially from somebody that claims to be a Christian,” Blake said.
Police said at least two other 17-year-olds witnessed the incident.
We have learned from police the church’s security has received several emails concerning Austin’s behavior toward young girls that date back as far as August 2015.
Police said Austin did admit to poking girls in their rib cage as a joke but would never jeopardize his family’s standing in the church.
Police told FOX13 he also stated he did not know the victim.
"He doesn't need to be putting his hands on a girl at all,” Blake said.
Austin will be back in a Bartlett courtroom June 26.
The church released a statement Friday morning saying:
Dear Church Family,
Our leadership felt it imperative to issue a statement in response to the arrest of one of our members, Steve Austin, on a charge of sexual battery with a minor that occurred on church grounds. News outlets have been reporting the story with some inaccuracy, and this statement is designed to bring clarity to these misrepresentations. Steve Austin is not a member of the staff, nor has he ever served as a Deacon, or been in a position of leadership at Faith Baptist Church. The church has received complaints concerning Mr. Austin regarding his behavior in the past, and the church documented those complaints thoroughly. However, until the latest episode that led to the arrest, none of these prior complaints involved any inappropriate touching of any minor or adult. Furthermore, none of the prior complaints on Mr. Austin contained any behavior that would suggest or require that the church contact or report the behavior to law enforcement. Each complaint was dealt with in a timely and appropriate manner, and the church sought the counsel of one of its Trustees, who is an attorney throughout the process. Leaders of the church met with Mr. Austin to address these concerns, but again, at no time did any of the prior complaints reach a level that would suggest the church contact law enforcement, or did Mr. Austin’s behavior involve any conduct that could be considered criminal in nature. The most recent event that led to the arrest of Mr. Austin was different in nature, and when church leadership learned of the complaint, immediate and appropriate action was taken, which included the contacting of law enforcement.
The paramount concern of our church leadership has been, and will always be, to ensure the protection of all of our members and guests whom we are blessed to serve, especially as it relates to our children. The leadership of Faith Baptist has been and will continue to cooperate with authorities during this investigation. The attorney for the church has advised that no further statement will be given in light of the ongoing criminal investigation. The leadership of the church believes in our judicial system, and trusts that system to handle this situation. Faith Baptist Church calls on its members to pray for all the parties concerned, and as a church, we will completely trust in our Lord and seek His guidance as we move forward.
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