Parents file lawsuit against Roman Catholic Bishop of Louisville related to Stephen Pohl case
The parents of children who attended St. Margaret Mary School have filed a lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Bishop of Louisville, demanding punitive damages and fighting to keep roughly 200 pictures of children and other evidence from being destroyed.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The parents of children who attended St. Margaret Mary School have filed a lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Bishop of Louisville, fighting to keep roughly 200 pictures of children and other evidence from being destroyed and alleging that the church was grossly negligent and displayed "outrageous conduct" when it hired and retained a priest who would later plead guilty to a child pornography charge.
The investigation began after a child told his mother Pohl took pictures of him that made him feel "weird." When the child's parents confronted Pohl, they say they saw similar pictures of another child and reported that to police.
Father Stephen Pohl, who pleaded guilty to a child pornography charge, was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison, plus supervised release and a $7,500 fine in criminal court Tuesday afternoon.
The lawsuit was also filed Tuesday.
"We trusted them. We placed our trust in them and that our children would be safe under their care," said plaintiff Christeena Gallahue.
According to the lawsuit, Gallahue went to St. Margaret Mary School in August 2014 to pick up her children, when she saw her 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter sitting on the steps being photographed by Stephen Pohl, who used to be the pastor there. The lawsuit states that Pohl, "acted very nervous and startled, all of which was out of character for Pohl." He allegedly told the mother that he would send her the pictures that he took, but he never did. The following month, the 7-year-old began "acting defiantly," according to the lawsuit.
"He loved going to school. All of a sudden he didn't want to go to school anymore," Richard Gallahue Jr. said about his son.
On another occasion, the suit states that Christeena Gallahue saw Pohl taking pictures of another boy on the same set of steps, and he again appeared nervous when he realized she was watching him.
Pohl also began asking the mother about her 7-year-old's baby teeth.
"He was very interested in learning when her son lost his first baby tooth," the lawsuit states -- something the mother found, "bizarre."
In August 2015, the parents learned about the allegations against Pohl related to child sexual exploitation, including allegations that Pohl had been taking inappropriate pictures of children. The resulting shock caused them severe emotional distress, according to the lawsuit. When they questioned their son about the allegations against Pohl, the lawsuit says he became, "upset and agitated."
Police eventually interviewed the boy, and according to the suit, it was revealed that inappropriate images had been taken of him.
The boy's behavior, "before during and after the interview demonstrated that he suffered serious emotional distress from the events described and from the news of Pohl's arrest, which became the subject of much discussion by his classmates."
The lawsuit alleges that the Roman Catholic Bishop of Louisville was negligent in the hiring, supervision and/or retention of Pohl, that the organization failed to report the sexual exploitation of children, and that they failed to warn the family that he would be engaging in child sexual exploitation. Moreover, the lawsuit claims the Roman Catholic Bishop of Louisville exhibited conduct that was "outrageous and intolerable because it offended generally accepted standards of decency and morality."
"It's disturbing that it could go on without folks knowing about it that are in positions of power," said attorney William McMurry, who is representing the parents.
McMurry says the Archdiocese should have been monitoring if pornography was accessed on the internet. He also says leaders of the church missed or ignored red flags about Pohl's behavior.
While the family is seeking compensation, they say this suit is also about changing the church for the better.
"It's not about stopping after the fact, it's about preventing to begin with," Richard Gallahue explained.
The suit asks the court to grant the plaintiffs punitive damages, as well as an injunction to protect evidence -- including roughly 200 images of children -- from being destroyed.
WDRB News reached out to a spokesperson for the Catholic Archdiocese, but they declined to comment as of Tuesday afternoon.
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