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Latest News in Riverdale, CA
5 lawsuits allege child sex abuse at Riverdale Assembly of God church, school
FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- The lawsuits are piling up against a Riverdale church and school where pastors and educators are accused of abusing children over the course of decades.Five lawsuits now target Riverdale Assembly of God and its leadership for alleged abuse dating back to the 1990s.For more than 50 years, the Riverdale Assembly of God has served people in rural Fresno County through its church and the attached school.For about 30 of those years, the church and school have exposed boys and girls as young as ...
FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- The lawsuits are piling up against a Riverdale church and school where pastors and educators are accused of abusing children over the course of decades.
Five lawsuits now target Riverdale Assembly of God and its leadership for alleged abuse dating back to the 1990s.
For more than 50 years, the Riverdale Assembly of God has served people in rural Fresno County through its church and the attached school.
For about 30 of those years, the church and school have exposed boys and girls as young as 8 to sexual abuse, according to a series of lawsuits.
"We believe there was a pervasive and persistent pattern of grooming and sexual abuse that took place in the church and the school," said plaintiff's attorney Steven Dias of Dias Hall.
Steven Dias has filed four lawsuits on behalf of five former church members.
They blame a few employees, most notably Charles Spencer, Jr., a son of the church's founders.
The lawsuits claim Spencer groomed children and worked his way up to inappropriate messages, then sexual contact.
One woman says when she was a teen, she felt she had to allow Spencer's actions because of his position with the church and school.
"When they are abusing the children, the children feel almost powerless and basically perform the acts they want performed on them," Dias said.
We repeatedly tried to contact Spencer and the leadership at Riverdale Assembly of God, but they never responded.
When Action News went to the church in person, they referred us to their attorneys, who also didn't return multiple messages.
The National Assemblies of God organization told us they're evaluating the lawsuits, but can't comment about pending litigation.
But lawyers for the church and the national organization have filed some responses in court.
They denied causing any damages to the plaintiffs.
They also questioned the constitutionality of California's temporary extension to the statute of limitations in cases of childhood sexual abuse, a change Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law in 2019.
"For a three-year period from January 2020 to December 31, 2022, there is no statute of limitations," said legal analyst Tony Capozzi. "This allows anyone to file a lawsuit -- no matter how old you are -- alleging some kind of child abuse."
Lawyers for the National Assemblies of God said the organization exercised reasonable care to prevent any inappropriate behavior.
And they said the plaintiffs waived any claims as a result of their own behavior.
Dias and his lawsuits claim the church has commonly resorted to victim blaming, even forcing some of them to apologize to their attackers.
"In most cases, the victims were shamed by the elder members of the church and made to admit to those church members and elders that the victims triggered the sexual contact with the adult church leader and teachers," Dias said.
A spokesman for the Fresno County sheriff's office tells us deputies are investigating recent reports of sexual misconduct at Riverdale Assembly of God and its school.
A similar report to the sheriff's office in 2015 hit a wall because of the statute of limitations.
Dairy odds and ends: California's oldest dairy, WDE attendance over the years
This is one of those catch-up weeks for me and this column. No big events or earthshaking developments in the world of agriculture to write about except maybe for trade discussions that seem to go on forever and of course Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue’s words uttered at Dairy Expo that still wander through the internet. Words that seemingly weren’t particularly offensive to farming but caused an uproar because they were said.Oldest dairyMy daughter Lynne who lives in Fresno, California recently sent me an ...
This is one of those catch-up weeks for me and this column. No big events or earthshaking developments in the world of agriculture to write about except maybe for trade discussions that seem to go on forever and of course Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue’s words uttered at Dairy Expo that still wander through the internet. Words that seemingly weren’t particularly offensive to farming but caused an uproar because they were said.
My daughter Lynne who lives in Fresno, California recently sent me an e-mail story entitled Giacomazzi Dairy at Hanford,“California's Oldest Dairy Calling it Quits,” and wondering if I knew the family. I didn’t.
A couple days later the color advertisement announcing the October 25 dairy dispersal that appeared in Hoards Dairyman was an eye catcher to me. California dairy dispersals of 1,000 cows and 1,000 heifers don’t often appear in mid-west based media, although Hoards does have a western edition, but this one did and it aroused my curiosity in light of the many publicized farms leaving dairying.
Not that this was a really big herd in California terms but that the Giacomazzi Dairy, now leaving the dairy business, was noted as the “oldest operating dairy west of the Rockies” and was celebrating 126 years of milking cows, 75 years of A.I. breeding, 89 years of DHIA and was awarded “Top ten herd of Kings county six of the past seven years.” And, it was all going to end October 25th with a live at the farm and online auction.
Wasn’t the milk price
Several internet stories emanating in California referred to the low milk price and bad dairy economy as “forcing the dairy out of business." It seemed like an interesting story, so I made some phone calls.
Wrong, wrong, wrong — it was not a forced dispersal as I found out after making a number of phone calls. Richard Martella, owner of A&M Livestock Auction at Hanford, says, “Oh no, they are not in financial trouble, this is a long established family with lots of resources, why don’t you call Dino Giacomazzi and get the full story, I know he’ll be glad to talk with you.”
So I did, and we had a long conversation.
A decision made long ago
“No, our family owned dairy is not in financial distress. Getting out of dairying was based on decisions made in 2013 when we did a lengthy and deep review of the farm,” Dino began. “One of the important factors in our dairy operation was that our facilities (including a 26-unit flat barn milking system) were old and worn out and would need replacing. And, the dairy economics would almost require us to get bigger, maybe double our size.
We also looked at our long-term farm economics and found we never really made much money from dairying, meanwhile other farmers were planting almond trees and doing very well financially. After some deep thinking we decided that our land was not being used to its full potential and it didn’t make sense for us to continue milking long term. Our first move was to plant 400 acres of almond trees in 2014 that are now in production and we now plan to plant trees wall to wall."
“Yes we are selling our cows, not because we have to but because we want to and with the rising milk price, this seemed to be a good time to sell our cows,” Dino concludes.
Note — I first learned about almonds in the mid - 70s when Doug Maddox, Riverdale CA, dairying's first mega dairyman (RuAnn and Maddox Dairies) showed me his almond trees. He said he raised almonds because when milk prices went down almonds provided a continuing income.
A caller recently asked about the smaller attendance at this year’s World Dairy Expo. “What does this mean,? he asked.
Dairy Expo has issued a show summary since 1999 which I looked at and found: This year’s 62,240 was 3,000 people less than the 65,236 of a year ago which was 3,500 below 2017 which was 6,500 fewer than 2016’s 74,572 which was about 2,000 lower than the 76,572 hit in 2016 that was slightly under the modern record of 77,204 hit in 2014.
Thus over the years 2014 - 2019 years, total attendance declined by some 15,000. But, crowds had varied up and down over the previous years with some over 100,000 in the glory days of dairying in the 70’s to 90’s.
Bad news? Maybe not when one looks at the previous years 2003 with 65,125 to 2017 with 74,572, an increase of over 9,000.
Going even farther back: the 70,950 of 1998 was the high mark for the next six when 2012 brought in 71,788 followed by a stable attendance the next four years.
On the other hand, I’ve often figured that the worse the weather, the higher the attendance. Balmy, sunny days may keep farmers in the field filling silo, making hay or doing some tillage and leaving the farm may be sort of a guilt trip. Rain and even snow might help convince farmers in surrounding states to forget about the field work and take a day off at Expo. I do know I’ve seen that connection at some of those rainy, windy, miserable days in the past that ended with big crowds.
I’ll admit I can’t arrive at a particular trend for Dairy Expo attendance over this 21 year period, except for a current downtrend, but that has happened before. However the loss of dairy farms and potential dairy exhibitor customers is certainly worrisome as the loss of dairy farms throughout the Midwest that continues and may continue even with a better milk price is worrisome.
It’s the weather
Then there is the weather making for uncertain harvesting and yields. At best crops are at least two to three weeks behind a normal year — if there is one — and feed quality and supplies are still an unknown. My guess — there will be some outstanding corn and soybean crops in some areas, shortages in others. Again the weather, rain, frost and temperatures will be the determining factors.
Finally, in the past two weeks I’ve seen over 30 years of my life go into a landfill as “Got Junk” hauled away much of my business records as I closed my longtime rented Madison office. Why an office with a big house with space and no rent to pay, I asked myself?
No need, and my son John who came down from North Dakota to do the hard work says: “Who’s going to read your old letters and papers?" The answer is no one, so most of the accumulation is now in my memory file.
The challenge now is to find room for the things I brought home from the office to my also crowded house
Isn’t that life?
John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-572-0747, or email him at email@example.com.
Christian school in Fresno County faces civil suit by former students who allege sex abuse
Two former students of the Riverdale Christian Academy are suing the school and the church that operates it in west Fresno County for allegedly allowing one of its teachers to sexually abuse them over a period of several years.The former students allege in their lawsuit, filed April 20, that they were groomed for a sexual relationship by Charles Spencer Jr., a teacher and pastor with the Riverdale Assembly of God Church.Attorney Steven Dias of Dias Hall in Fresno said Monday there was a pervasive pattern of grooming and sexual ...
Two former students of the Riverdale Christian Academy are suing the school and the church that operates it in west Fresno County for allegedly allowing one of its teachers to sexually abuse them over a period of several years.
The former students allege in their lawsuit, filed April 20, that they were groomed for a sexual relationship by Charles Spencer Jr., a teacher and pastor with the Riverdale Assembly of God Church.
Attorney Steven Dias of Dias Hall in Fresno said Monday there was a pervasive pattern of grooming and sexual abuse that took place in the church, the school and other locations. He also said the school and its elders failed to protect the children, and even accused them of “seducing” a teacher and pastor.
Along with Spencer Jr., also named in the lawsuit is the operator of the school Riverdale Assembly of God Church and related organizations — the General Council of the Assemblies of God, and the Southern California District Council of the Assemblies of God.
Spencer Jr., whose parents helped launch the church in 1965, could not be reached for comment Monday. Messages were also left for church officials, who did not immediately respond.
Dias said that although law enforcement was made aware of the accusations in 2015, no charges were ever filed against Spencer Jr.
Dias alleges Spencer Jr. began paying extra attention to the girls around the age of 12 to 15 when they attended school in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The plaintiffs are named in the lawsuit as Jane Roe 2 and Jane Roe 33., both are currently under the age of 40.
For Jane Roe 2, her connection to Spencer Jr. began with a hand shake.
According to the lawsuit, Spencer Jr. would greet Jane Roe 2 at church by taking her hand and enveloping it with his. He would wink at her during church and at school. And then he began sending her personal messages using the school’s computer system.
Anytime he had an opportunity to touch her, he would. The touching progressed to scratching her back and then rubbing her shoulders, all while giving her complements, according to the lawsuit.
At the start of the 2000-01 school year, Spencer Jr.’s conduct intensified. He was touching her legs, tickling her and trying to touch her breasts while giving her a massage. Jane Roe was 14.
The touching was happening on the church’s property or in the Academy’s classrooms, according to the lawsuit.
Jane Roe 2 later joined the volleyball team and as part of her training, she would go for a run at about 6 a.m. prior to practice. Spencer Jr. knew her schedule and would drive his car hoping to intercept her as she ran alone along the roadway near her home.
“Spencer would lure Roe 2 into his vehicle and drive to a nearby orchard where Spencer sexual assaulted Roe 2 and forced her to perform wrongful sex acts,” according to the lawsuit.
It would be the first of several alleged sexual assaults against Jane Roe 2 on the campus, in classrooms and even on an out of town choir trip, according to the lawsuit.
On occasion, church elders would walk in on them alone, but no one ever said anything.
“At all times Roe 2 felt that she had to allow Spencer to sexually assault her as Spencer was her teacher, school supervisor, church elder and pastor, and feared repercussions if she failed to allow the sexual acts to be performed,“ according to the lawsuit.
Jane Roe 33 experienced similar alleged assaults starting at the age of 15. Spencer Jr. is accused of inappropriate touching and sending her sexually explicit messages using the schools computer system.
During an out-of-state choir trip, Spencer Jr. allegedly cornered her near the laundry room and took her to a dark hallway in the building where he sexually assaulted her.
“Spencer refused to stop sexually assaulting ROE 33 despite her pleas for him to stop immediately. Out of fear and shame Roe 33 was able to break free of Spencer, running back to the laundry room in panic before breaking down and crying. Spencer followed Roe 33 back to the laundry room. Standing behind visibly distraught Roe 33, Spencer began rubbing her shoulders as if to comfort her, his hands then moved to her throat, where his grip tightened. Spencer told her not to tell anybody what had happened,” according to the lawsuit.
Church officials, including Spencer Jr.’s, wife, confronted the alleged victims on separate occasions to accuse them of wrongdoing. Jane Roe 2 was told that several women in the church had a dream that she was seducing Spencer Jr. to try and ruin his family.
Spencer Jr.’s wife is alleged to have talked to Jane Roe 33 during a family church camp about her husband.
“I know what happened between you and my husband and I forgive you,” the lawsuit states.
The former students are suing for several alleged violations, including negligence, childhood sexual assault, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. They are asking a jury for financial damages.
Dias has previously filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of one student and expects to file another case involving two more students.
This story was originally published May 17, 2022, 10:26 AM.
Fresno Sheriff’s detectives investigating sex abuse allegations at local Christian school
The Fresno County Sheriff’s office is investigating allegations of sexual assaults against children involving members of the Riverdale Assembly of God Church in west Fresno County.Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti said that while he couldn’t release specific information about the investigation, this isn’t the first time the church and it’s school, the Riverdale Christian Academy, have been investigated.Detectives in the office’s Sex Crimes Unit received a report in 2015 of misconduct taking plac...
The Fresno County Sheriff’s office is investigating allegations of sexual assaults against children involving members of the Riverdale Assembly of God Church in west Fresno County.
Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti said that while he couldn’t release specific information about the investigation, this isn’t the first time the church and it’s school, the Riverdale Christian Academy, have been investigated.
Detectives in the office’s Sex Crimes Unit received a report in 2015 of misconduct taking place at the church.
“The allegations were investigated, however, due to issues with statute of limitations, the investigation could not move forward,” Botti said. “Earlier in 2022, our detectives received new information about sexual misconduct tied to the church, so they are currently pursuing these allegations to see if they reach the threshold to make any arrests.”
The church, founded in 1965 by Charles and Wilma Spencer, has recently become the target of several civil lawsuits by former students who attended the church and school in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Two of those students, who are now adults, allege they were groomed and repeatedly sexually assaulted by Charles Spencer Jr., teacher and pastor.
Meanwhile another lawsuit was filed earlier this month against the Riverdale Assembly of God, the Riverdale Christian Academy, James Davis and others.
This suit accuses Davis, a music director, photography director and choir director of sexual assaulting a male student for several years.
The civil lawsuits seek monetary damages for the trauma and emotional distress they have endured.
Attempts by the Fresno Bee to contact Spencer Jr., Davis or church officials was unsuccessful Friday.
Attorney Steven Dias of law firm Dias Hall in Fresno represents several of the former students who have filed civil cases.
Dias said changes by the California Legislature extended the statute of limitations for sexual assault survivors to file a civil lawsuit.
On Jan. 1, 2020, the state opened a three-year window for any victim of sexual assault, regardless of their age, to seek justice in civil court.
One of Dias’s recent cases involves a former academy student and church member, who alleges he was groomed and later sexually assaulted from the age of 15 to age 18, during the early to mid-90s.
John Roe 9, as he is identified in the lawsuit, alleges Davis, one of the school’s staff members used his position as music director, photography director and choir director to gain his trust and take advantage of him at school and during class trips.
One such trip was a church camp retreat in the Los Padres National Forest when Roe 9 was 16 years old. Davis was a chaperone on the trip and was sleeping in the same cabin with the other male students. Also in the cabin was his young son.
According to the suit, Davis asked the alleged victim if he could push their bunks together so his son wouldn’t fall out of his bed. Roe 9 agreed, but a short time later he woke up to find Davis with his hands down the front of Roe 9’s pajama pants, according to the lawsuit.
“In shock of the wrongful sexual act that was being committed upon him ROE 9 pretended to remain asleep,” the lawsuit states.
Three weeks later Davis sexually assaulted Roe 9 again, this time inside a modular trailer on campus where Davis was giving haircuts to the students.
According to the lawsuit, the assaults, abuse and wrongful sex acts continued from 1992 through 1994. Roe 9 was assaulted during school, church retreats and church sponsored activities.
Even after graduating high school, Davis continued to sexually prey on Roe 9, the lawsuit states. He is accused of visiting him numerous times while Roe 9 was away at college.
Roe 9’s roommate became concerned about the visits and told Roe 9’s guidance counselor, who reported the alleged assaults. Soon after Davis stopped visiting, the suit says.
Church officials called Roe 9 and requested a meeting with him at the senior pastor’s home. He agreed, according to the suit.
At the meeting were church elders, academy elders, employees, directors, senior pastors, associate pastors, teachers and directors, who “berated, criticized, scolded and humiliated ROE 9 for seducing and tempting (Davis) to engage in a wrong sexual relationship with ROE 9 while he was a minor,” according to the lawsuit.
“Humiliated and shamed, ROE 9 was made to apologize for the childhood sexual abuse perpetrated upon him by (Davis). “
Dias said the intent by the church was clear. They wanted to shame and embarrass him from disclosing Davis’s prolonged alleged sexual abuse.
Sheriff’s spokesman Botti urged anyone with information about “wrongful behavior that has taken or is taking place at the church in Riverdale” to email detective Lindsay Kitchens, firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story was originally published May 21, 2022, 5:00 AM.
Nearly 40 homes evacuated in municipality of Riverdale amid fears Rivers Dam will fail
Homes along the Little Saskatchewan River were evacuated Wednesday night because of concerns about the structural integrity of the dam in Rivers, Man., after what Manitoba's infrastructure minister called a "one in 1,000 year flood event."The decades-old structure was deemed up to par during its most recent monthly inspection in June, but it wasn't built to handle the kind of weather event that this week slammed the Westman region in the southwest of the province."I don't think anybody could have conceivably anti...
Homes along the Little Saskatchewan River were evacuated Wednesday night because of concerns about the structural integrity of the dam in Rivers, Man., after what Manitoba's infrastructure minister called a "one in 1,000 year flood event."
The decades-old structure was deemed up to par during its most recent monthly inspection in June, but it wasn't built to handle the kind of weather event that this week slammed the Westman region in the southwest of the province.
"I don't think anybody could have conceivably anticipated this much water coming at us. And it came at us at an incredibly fast rate," Minister Ron Schuler said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.
He said some regions got more than 200 millimetres of rain in the past 72 hours.
Schuler said 80 people in total have been moved from their homes in the flood zone. Some were also able to move livestock from the area that could be flooded if the dam, built in 1959, breaks.
Hours after the evacuations, people downstream of the Rivers Dam are watching anxiously to see if the structure will withstand the water building up over the last few days, said Todd Gill, mayor of the municipality of Riverdale, which includes Rivers.
"People are literally right on site, 24 hours a day, monitoring and studying this structure, because it's got a wall of water behind it that nobody has ever seen before," Gill said.
Schuler said engineers on site have trailers with spotlights to watch the spillway for any signs of trouble.
The province also sent 11 standard emergency response trailers, which included water pumps and water tubes, to the Westman area.
Evacuating 'out of an abundance of caution'
The province recommended the evacuation on Wednesday evening "out of an abundance of caution," Schuler said.
That recommendation was made based on assessments from two consulting firms and the province's own engineers, who identified water seeping around the spillway and lost confidence when they were no longer able to see its bottom.
WATCH | Infrastructure Minister on why province asked people to leave their homes:
3 years ago
The Rivers Dam was up to par on its latest inspection, but it wasn't made to withstand the kind of water it got over the last few days, raising concerns about whether the structure will hold up as intended.
"We still hope that the structure will hold itself in place," he said. "It's not that we feel the structure is going to collapse imminently."
The Rivers Dam is still intact, but Manitoba Infrastructure will be monitoring it at all times until the water levels subside, a provincial spokesperson told CBC News at about 4:45 p.m. local time.
The dam is receiving ongoing "minor repairs" when needed, the spokesperson said, adding that the full damage cannot be assessed until water levels go down.
Gill said he and other officials were up until close to 5 a.m. Thursday helping to evacuate 38 homes after heavy rain washed out roads, flooded streets and homes and significantly increased water levels in the area, which is about 220 kilometres west of Winnipeg.
Twenty-one people are staying at the Blue Crescent Hotel in Rivers, while 59 opted to stay with family or friends on higher ground.
So far, only one home has been lost to the water — and it was Gill's.
He said a crew of about 50 people were helping build a dam early Wednesday morning, but the water overcame the dam, "so we had to call it."
"That's the way it goes," Gill said. "The water has risen well beyond anyone's imagination, and we did what we could."
He said the town is hoping the water recedes without any other incident.
Lake Wahtopanah, also known as the Rivers Reservoir, is the lake held back by the Rivers Dam. From Sunday afternoon to Tuesday evening, Gill said the water level jumped nine feet.
"It's unprecedented," he said.
The province is recommending all use of Lake Wahtopanah be stopped immediately, Schuler said.
WATCH | 'Unprecedented' water level on Lake Wahtopanah:
3 years ago
Video provided by the provincial government on Thursday afternoon shows water rushing from Lake Wahtopanah through the spillway at the Rivers Dam. (Courtesy Manitoba government)
Flood passes 2011 record levels
The flooding this week has surpassed many of the previous record levels set during the 2011 flood in Manitoba.
During that event, the flow over the spillway at the Rivers Dam was 5,000 cubic feet per second, while it's now more than doubled to 12,000 cubic feet per second, Schuler said.
Meanwhile, the water level at Lake Wahtopanah is 4.3 feet higher than it was in 2011.
"In that region, 2011 was sort of a benchmark," he said. "I think we can say with a certain amount of confidence this is far greater of an event than 2011."
Schuler said while the province doesn't expect any more significant rain, the current flow level is forecast to remain the same for the next three to four days.
He said the province is acting cautiously and has been in touch with municipalities across southern Manitoba, including Winnipeg, though the flooding is not expected to reach the city.
"Our advice is this: Out of an abundance of caution, put together your emergency measures teams," Schuler said.
At noon Wednesday, the flow of the Little Saskatchewan River at the Rivers Dam was 12,000 cubic feet per second, a provincial spokesperson said.
They noted the average flow there for this time of year is roughly 300 cubic feet per second.
State of emergency in Neepawa
About 80 kilometres east of Rivers, the town of Neepawa has declared a local state of emergency because of high water levels along the Whitemud River.
As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, that declaration was isolated to the northeast and southeast regions of the community, the town posted on Facebook.
Schuler said the province is monitoring dams in other nearby regions, including Minnedosa, and will announce if anything significant changes.
A flood warning has been issued for the Whitemud River, he said, adding that flood warnings for the Little Saskatchewan River and Whitemud River watersheds remain in place. A high water advisory for the Spruce Woods Provincial Park area is also still in place.
Operation of the Portage Diversion, a 29-kilometre channel that provides flood protection by diverting water from the Assiniboine River northward into Lake Manitoba, started early Thursday morning to limit flows in the lower Assiniboine to 10,000 cubic feet per second, Schuler said.
It's not expected to affect Lake Manitoba, which has a water level in the middle of its desired range at 811.5 feet.
A photo shared on social media Wednesday shows community members in Neepawa standing in knee-deep floodwater as they gather to sandbag.
The province has not heard any concerns that people congregating to sandbag and help with other types of flood relief could lead to the spread of COVID-19, Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen said at a news conference where he discussed COVID-19 recovery plans Thursday morning.
All provincial staff on site are following measures that are in place to slow the spread of the illness caused by the new coronavirus, and social distancing will be in place at any evacuee gathering centres, Schuler said.
3 years ago
Homes along the Little Saskatchewan River were evacuated Wednesday night because of concerns about the structural integrity of the dam in Rivers, Man., after what Manitoba's infrastructure minister called a "one in 1,000 year flood event."