Lawsuit filed by shooting victim’s husband against Emanuel AME dismissed

The Rev. Dr. Norvel Goff addresses the media about the state of the church and its financial status during a press conference at Emanuel AME Church shortly after the June 17 massacre.

Both parties have agreed to dismiss a lawsuit filed in the fall against Emanuel AME Church seeking an accounting of millions of dollars in donations it received after a June 17 shooting left nine people dead.

Attorney Mullins McLeod Jr. filed the lawsuit on behalf of Arthur Hurd and the estate of his wife, Cynthia, a local librarian who was among those killed. After the shooting, many victims’ families and survivors complained that the church’s leadership wasn’t providing them information about the donations despite repeated requests. McLeod said he filed the suit seeking transparency.

Emanuel AME leaders have insisted they handled the donations properly.

Last fall, church leaders agreed to provide McLeod an accounting of money put into its “Moving Forward Campaign” fund, which the church created in June to store the donations. The church did not provide documents showing any other aspects of its finances.

“This was a limited action filed for my client to gain access to the Moving Forward fund documents. Whether or not the money was handled properly or improperly was not litigated in this action and, to my knowledge, hasn’t been litigated,” McLeod said.

Once McLeod received documents through the end of 2015, the parties agreed to dismiss the lawsuit, court records show.

The church’s attorney, Wilbur Johnson, said Emanuel AME “continues to maintain that it acted at all times in good faith and in a reasonable manner. To date, there has been no determination that the church did not do so.”

Hurd filed the complaint after contending that in July he watched three women sitting outside interim pastor Rev. Dr. Norvel Goff’s office opening large bags of envelopes including those addressed to shooting victims’ families. The women removed thousands of dollars in cash and checks contained in the envelopes, he said, adding that he saw no ledger or accounting of the money. Hurd estimated they removed $8,000 in 15 minutes.

He and other victims’ relatives have said they received opened mail from the church that was addressed to them personally. Some letter and cards referenced donations but contained none.

Althea Latham, former secretary to Emanuel’s slain pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, said in an affidavit for the lawsuit that she also saw church staff and volunteers open envelopes addressed to family members. She said her employment ended after she raised questions about the handling of the donations.

Goff has denied any wrongdoing and now is running for bishop. He also is treasurer of the statewide AME Church district and remains presiding elder of the regional district that includes Emanuel AME. The church itself has a new permanent pastor, the Rev. Dr. Betty Deas Clark, who was appointed in January.

A court order in the case had forbidden Emanuel AME from disbursing donations in the Moving Forward fund until the documents were provided. Now the church can hand out those donations.

In November, church officials announced how they will divide up nearly $3.4 million in the Moving Forward fund. Families of the nine victims and the five shooting survivors will split $1.5 million. The church will keep $1.9 million for physical improvements, scholarships, outreach and a memorial to the shooting victims and their families.

Church leaders said the vast majority of donations were sent to the church — not specifically to family members or survivors — but that they were intent on sharing it more equitably.

Johnson said church leaders will meet soon to discuss the disbursement and likely will discuss a time line then.

Reach Jennifer Hawes at 843-937-5563 or follow her on Twitter at @JenBerryHawes.