A civil suit filed in San Diego Thursday alleges clients of a Rock Church-affiliated recovery program were subjected to groping, sexual comments and intimidation in an atmosphere described by their attorney as a “cesspool of sex.”
Several former clients of the drug and alcohol recovery and sober living program referred by the Rock Church claim its director, David Powers, repeatedly used sexually explicit language and touched them inappropriately while they were under his care and that his wife, Tina Powers, threatened them about going public with those allegations.
Among the plaintiffs is a former employee who said she left the position because it “became unbearable” for her to work in that environment.
“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 San Diego attorney Irwin Zalkin. “I mean, that’s really what this place is -- it’s a cesspool of sex.”
Powers denied the allegations claiming his company was a "high-profile target" and that after 17 years "this is the first time a rumor of this kind has ever come up."
Taylor Peyton, Andria Donovan and Jaycee Peacock, three of the plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit, alleging inappropriate sexual conduct, harassment and battery, described their experiences with Soledad House.
Peyton, a heroin addict, took part in the program for approximately four months beginning in September 2013. She alleged that Powers would come into her room at Soledad House, lay on top of her, kiss her neck and grab her buttocks.
“I was terrified if I told anyone I wouldn’t be able to complete my treatment,” Peyton said.
Jaycee Peacock says she entered Soledad House in July 2012 with a scholarship from the Rock Church to help with an addiction to alcohol, cocaine and ecstasy.
“As soon as I arrived, David began making inappropriate comments to me. Soon enough, he was slapping my butt and walking into the room when I was naked,” Peacock said.
“David made disgusting sexual comments and found a way to touch me every single day that I was there,” she said.
Former employee Andria Donovan said she saw firsthand some of the inappropriate sexual behavior of David Powers toward women under his care in the five years she worked with the program.
“The environment of the program excused and normalized behavior that would never be tolerated in any other setting,” she said.
There was also no system for handling complaints about David Powers’ behavior because he handled all the grievances for the sober living program, Donovan said.
Two other plaintiffs - Hannah Paul and Mary Catherin Grayson - entered the recovery program in 2011 and 2013 respectively. Paul and Grayson allege similar experiences in the court documents filed.
Among other allegations made in the complaint:
- Powers would grab Peyton's buttocks during group prayer in support group meetings
- Powers would squeeze Donovan's chest so that her breasts were pushed together
- David and Tina Powers would have sex in their bedroom with the door open while women in the program were staying in their home
- Peacock said Powers would often ask her to wear sexier clothes
- Peacock and Paul claim Powers would enter their rooms without knocking
- Powers entered Paul’s room after her shower, hugged her and pressed his groin into her body
- Powers would call Grayson into his office where he would run his hands up and down her body and embrace her, pressing his genitals against her body
- In January 2014, Tina Powers approached Paul at an independent 12-step program and “begged her” not to speak about her husband’s conduct
- Peyton was told to sign a behavior contract stating if she continued to speak about the allegations, she would be kicked out of the sober living program.
- Grayson reported David Powers’ behavior to a counselor but the behavior continued
According to court documents, the sixth and final plaintiff – identified as Jane Roe – could not afford the rate at Soledad House. She claims Powers told her she was “beholden to him” because he discounted the rate.
In September 2011, Roe claims she was napping on a couch when she felt someone rubbing their hands up and down her legs. She claims she awoke to find Powers’ employee Fred Murray rubbing her thighs and calves.
When she complained, Murray apologized according to the court documents. However, Roe claims Tina Powers threatened her with expulsion from the program and false rumors she was using again if she reported the incident further.
In a written statement issued Wednesday, Powers said, "We take things of this nature very seriously and we have always had a zero tolerance for this type of behavior."
The Rock Church, Rock Church Ministries, Recovery Housing and ABC Sober Living are named as defendants in the suit.
The Rock Church issued this statement to NBC 7 Thursday through spokesperson Mei Ling S. Starkey:
"While these accusations are very concerning, none of the alleged misconduct took place on property owned or managed by the Rock Church or was committed by anyone under the authority and control of the Rock Church. They were allegedly committed at a recovery center owned and operated by ABC Sober Living. It should be noted that none of the accusers were referred to ABC Sober Living by the Rock Church."
Zalkin presented screen grabs of the Rock Church website that presented David Powers as the “Rock Church Recovery leader” and that showed Powers held an email account through rockrecovery.org.
“To suggest that David Powers is just some third-party, uninvolved, unassociated to the Rock Church to whom they occasionally refer people is a farce; that’s not the reality,” he said.
“His conduct was so open and notorious you’d have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to know. If you were involved at all with him you’d have to know. It was so obvious it’s astounding to me that he’s been able to get away with it for so long,” he added.
Through the church's website, they applauded the couple for their work with Rock Recovery described as "a 12-step, Christ-centered, co-ed support group that uses small group interaction, the Bible, and 12-step principles. The Rock is known nationally for their Recovery Ministry. Many other churches and even other recovery facilities refer clients to Rock Recovery."
David Powers denied the allegations in the pending lawsuit and released the following statement Wednesday:
“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.”