Upheaval at a south-side Baptist church has led to the ouster of a pastor and trustee, the filing of two lawsuits against church deacons and a battery accusation against a police officer.
The lawsuits, each filed this month, allege that the deacons of Union Baptist Church, 2200 Smith St., went against the church’s bylaws in March by terminating the services of the Rev. Sylvester Hunter, who had been the senior pastor there since 1998.
Hunter’s wife, Janice Hunter, was also allegedly denied entry into the church Easter Sunday by an Allen County sheriff’s officer, who one lawsuit claims then pushed her against a door frame and injured her.
Charlie Jackson, former chairman of the board of trustees for the church, was also wrongfully removed from his position by the deacons after defending Sylvester Hunter, one suit alleges.
Officials with the church, the Hunters, Jackson and their lawyer could not be reached for comment Tuesday and Wednesday.
The pair of lawsuits name eight deacons as defendants, claiming that at the end of March each, “purported to terminate Reverend Hunter as pastor of the church and instructed him that he was no longer to speak from the pulpit or come onto church property.”
Those deacons are identified in the lawsuits as Herbert Singleton, Waymon Brown, Larry Cox, Toma Davis, Victor Scruggs, Issac Manning, Moses Jones, Gilbert Jones and Walter Henderson.
According to one of the lawsuits, the deacon board of the church presented a resolution before 80 people calling for Hunter to be ousted as pastor.
The vote was 62-14 in favor of the resolution, with four votes not counted because they were illegible, that suit said.
However, the church bylaws require a quorum of 150 voters to terminate a pastor, according to the lawsuit.
The suit also alleges that not all of the 80 people who took part in the voting to remove Hunter should have been eligible to vote.
That means Hunter is still technically pastor at the church, the lawsuit said.
Hunter was the founder of the Urban Brightest Community Academy charter school, which opened in 2003. It opened for one school year before Ball State University revoked its charter for a number of provisions of the charter agreement.
Among the Ball State officials’ concerns was the debt facing the school, which racked up nearly $850,000 in payments due vendors and banks.
Jackson, who has been both chairman and co-chairman of the board of trustees since 1983, reportedly took the stance at the end of April that the deacons did not follow the bylaws in getting rid of Hunter, according to one lawsuit.
Within days, the deacons called a meeting and had Jackson removed as chairman of the board of trustees, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges the deacons had no right under church bylaws to call such a meeting.
They also did not give proper notification to church members of that meeting, the suit alleges.
After he was fired, Hunter and his wife tried several times to come back onto church property, according one of the lawsuits.
Each time, police were there to tell him to stay away, which the suits say the Hunters did.
In the suits, the Hunters also allege they are being wrongfully kept away from the church under its own bylaws.
On Easter Sunday, Hunter’s wife tried to enter the church through a side door for which she had a key, according to one suit.
Sgt. Ray Odom of the Allen County Sheriff’s Department was there to prevent her from doing so, the suit claims.
“At that time, Odom, acting as an agent of the deacons and/or the church, assaulted and battered Janice Hunter in preventing her from her lawful access to the church by pushing her up against a door frame and causing her injury to her hips and back and embarrassment and humiliation,” the suit said.
The Hunters and Jackson are suing for damages, according to the lawsuits.