A San Diego-based attorney said he plans to file a civil lawsuit Thursday on behalf of six women who claim they were alleged victims of sexual battery and harassment at a drug and alcohol recovery program the lawsuit says is affiliated with the Rock Church Ministries of San Diego.
The lawsuit naming the Rock Church Ministries claims the women suffered sexual misconduct at the hands of a recovery program director. It names husband and wife David and Tina Powers and the sober living facilities and recovery homes they run, which the lawsuit says are affiliated with the Rock Church.
Attorney Irwin Zalkin told NBC 7 his clients were exploited by those in charge of this recovery program because they were vulnerable.
“These are the most vulnerable of the population. They’re people who are really trying to deal with the horrible disease of addiction, and they’ve gone there to seek sanctuary. They’ve gone there to seek healing and what they get is a sex fest,” said Zalkin.
The lawsuit alleges nine causes of action, including negligent supervision, sexual battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, sexual harassment and fraud.
According to Zalkin, Powers allegedly behaved inappropriately toward the women in the lawsuit coming on to the victims. His wife was allegedly aware of this behavior.
Zalkin claims Powers had sexual contact with some of the victims.
“He’s looking for favors. He’s conditioning their continued stay on them giving it up,” he added.
NBC 7 reached out to David Powers on Wednesday. He denied the allegations in the pending lawsuit and released the following statement:
“At the end of January 2014 a female resident with mental health issues alleged that while she lived in a facility other than ours that one of our principals imposed himself on her in a sexual manner. We categorically deny this allegation. We take things of this nature very seriously and we have always had a zero tolerance for this type of behavior. We have been helping people get sober for 17 years and this is the first time a rumor of this kind has ever come up.
Our company is a high profile target in our community and has its share of people who dislike us. Of those people, one person in particular took this girl to a law firm in hopes of taking us down. The law firm hired an investigator who did an extremely thorough investigation and turned their findings back over to the law firm. The investigation ended more than 2 months ago.
We deal with a fragile population and people look to move out for any reason possible. No one left our program except 1 girl who immediately relapsed. Additionally no staff has left as well. Again we categorically deny this allegation. No legal actions have been taken against us to date and we have never been sued. We are in communication with a law firm specializing in libel and defamation issues and we are considering our options.”
Mei Ling S. Starkey, media relations and social media director for the Rock Church and Academy issued the following statement Wednesday on behalf of the Rock:
“In our efforts to help people overcome addiction, the Rock Church will sometimes refer those with substance abuse issues to any one of a variety of facilities. One of these facilities, ABC Sober Living, is owned by David Powers. Rock Recovery Ministry has no operational authority over ABC Sober Living.
When the Rock first learned on Monday of the allegations against Mr. Powers, we immediately decided that we would no longer refer anyone to his facility until these claims are investigated by the proper authorities. It should be noted that none of the women who have made these allegations against Mr. Powers were referred to ABC Sober Living by the Rock Church. The Rock has not seen the lawsuit and therefore cannot comment further.”
NBC 7 also reached out to the San Diego Police Department regarding these allegations.
Officials said they did conduct a criminal investigation involving David Powers and one female. There were no criminal findings and the case was not forwarded to the District Attorney.
On Thursday, four of the six women involved in the lawsuit will hold a news conference to discuss their case alongside Zalkin. There, the alleged victims are expected to answer questions about what they experienced.
Zalkin said he plans to file the complaint with the San Diego Superior Court on Thursday.
The attorney said he expects more women to come forward in this case with their own stories of sexual misconduct linked to the recovery program.
According to the ministries’ website, The Rock Church was founded in 2000 by Pastor Miles McPherson. Currently, more than 16,000 people attend the Rock every Sunday in person or via online church services.