Man accused of touching teen has had other complaints, church says
A statement from Faith Baptist Church has shed new light on the Bartlett senior citizen charged with one county of sexual battery of a teen on church grounds.
Robert Stephen Austin, 67, reportedly touched the female victim’s left breast and let his fingers linger while she was relaxing, elbows propped up on a table, in the Faith Baptist Church gym on April 26.
The police report about the incident said that Austin says he does not remember touching anyone inappropriately and doesn’t know the 17-year-old girl who filed the complaint. He also said he sometimes pokes girls in the rib cage as a joke but would never jeopardize his family’s standing in the church.
However, a prepared statement from the church’s leadership notes that Austin has been counseled previously about multiple reports of inappropriate behavior.
“Our leadership felt it imperative to issue a statement in response to the arrest of one of our members, Steve Austin, on a charge of sexual battery with a minor that occurred on church grounds. News outlets have been reporting the story with some inaccuracy, and this statement is designed to bring clarity to these misrepresentations. Steve Austin is not a member of the staff, nor has he ever served as a Deacon, or been in a position of leadership at Faith Baptist Church. The church has received complaints concerning Mr. Austin regarding his behavior in the past, and the church documented those complaints thoroughly. However, until the latest episode that led to the arrest, none of these prior complaints involved any inappropriate touching of any minor or adult. Furthermore, none of the prior complaints on Mr. Austin contained any behavior that would suggest or require that the church contact or report the behavior to law enforcement. Each complaint was dealt with in a timely and appropriate manner, and the church sought the counsel of one of its Trustees, who is an attorney throughout the process. Leaders of the church met with Mr. Austin to address these concerns, but again, at no time did any of the prior complaints reach a level that would suggest the church contact law enforcement, or did Mr. Austin’s behavior involve any conduct that could be considered criminal in nature. The most recent event that led to the arrest of Mr. Austin was different in nature, and when church leadership learned of the complaint, immediate and appropriate action was taken, which included the contacting of law enforcement.
“The paramount concern of our church leadership has been, and will always be, to ensure the protection of all of our members and guests whom we are blessed to serve, especially as it relates to our children. The leadership of Faith Baptist has been and will continue to cooperate with authorities during this investigation. The attorney for the church has advised that no further statement will be given in light of the ongoing criminal investigation. The leadership of the church believes in our judicial system, and trusts that system to handle this situation. Faith Baptist Church calls on its members to pray for all the parties concerned, and as a church, we will completely trust in our Lord and seek His guidance as we move forward.”
The teen in the April 26 incident described what happened with Austin, and a witness backed up her version of events. She said she was sitting at a round table, her elbows propped on the table, with her youth group. Then someone placed a hand under her arm and put his fingers on her left breast.
“He kept his fingers there for a couple of seconds,” she said.
She said she turned, saw that the person who touched her was Austin and watched him walk out of the gym.
The head of the church’s security team advised police of previous complaints regarding Austin’s behavior with women and children, some of them dating back to August 2015. Emails about possible prior offenses were turned over to the Bartlett Police Department for investigation.