Former Sarasota bishop arrested, charged with sexually assaulting children over forty years

Former Sarasota bishop arrested, charged with sexually assaulting children over forty years

On Thursday, January 2, 2020, Sarasota Police arrested former bishop, Henry Lee Porter after multiple investigations “demonstrated more than four decades of children and adults suffering sexual abuse by Henry Lee Porter Sr..” Porter, 72, was arrested for one count of alleged sexual battery of a child under 12 years old, a first-degree felony punishable by up to life in prison. 

Sarasota detectives had conducted a string of criminal investigations dating back to 1990 in response to multiple victims telling investigators throughout the years that Porter forced oral and anal sex on them and forced them to reciprocate. The most recent investigation leading to Porter’s arrest was initiated in October 2019, when Sarasota police received notification of a Facebook video titled “Art of Manipulation — My survival of Molestation” from a user who said he was sexually abused as a child by a bishop at Westcoast Center for Human Development. 

According to court documents, the victim told detectives that his first memory of sexual abuse started at 15 and continued until he was 21. The abuse involved “fondling, masturbation, oral and anal sex” with guidance from Porter. It often occurred in Porter’s inner office, in the Westcoast Center for Human Development. 

Police interviewed more than 20 similar “fact victims”, all boys ages 14 to young adults of various ages who provided statements outlining the abuse by Porter in various locations including on cross country mission trips and on church-sponsored trips. Prior investigations revealed an anonymous letter that named 40 of Porter’s child sexual abuse victims. 

Porter founded the Westcoast Gospel Chorus and was pastor of the church he incorporated in 1971 for 45 years. He stepped down in June 2016. Porter is  currently being held without bail, and the investigation is ongoing. If you have any information, please contact Sarasota Police.

The role of pastors in the church is to support the spiritual needs of their parishioners. Education and often counseling and guidance in times of need are responsibilities with which they are entrusted. A trusted clergyman who sexually violates young children has no place working in the Church. Any ministry in which such a crime is committed must take responsibility for failing to properly screen potential clergy and protect its parishioners. 

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by clergy. If you or a loved one was sexually abused, raped or sexually molested by a priest or other clergy, contact our law firm at (888) 283-9922 or send an e-mail to sexual abuse lawyer Adam Horowitz at adam@adamhorowitzlaw.com for a free consultation.