Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

December 13, 2013

Former church youth volunteer arrested on child sex abuse charges

BLUEFIELD —  — A former church youth volunteer and child mentor is out on bond after his arrest Thursday afternoon on 38 counts of child sexual abuse related charges.

Timothy Probert, 55, was taken into custody by Sgt. M.D. Clemons, with the Crimes Against Children Unit of the West Virginia State Police, shortly after noon at his house in Bluefield. The alleged crimes stem from incidents that occurred when Probert was a youth volunteer at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Bluefield and a volunteer with the Working to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect (WE CAN) program.

Probert is charged with 22 counts of sexual abuse by a custodian; six counts of first-degree sexual abuse; seven counts of third-degree sexual assault; one count of distribution and display of obscene matter to a minor; one count of use of obscene matter with intent to seduce a minor; and one count of use of a minor to produce obscene matter or to assist in doing sexually explicit conduct.

Clemons said the abuse charges stem from incidents that date back to 1986. The last incidents occurred between July 2008 and 2010. There are eight alleged victims, all male, who ranged in age from 12 to 17 at the time the incidents occurred, she said.

Probert was arraigned Thursday afternoon before Mercer County Magistrate Jim Dent. As Dent reviewed the charges, Probert stared straight ahead and showed no emotion.

During the hearing Dent noted that all of the charges are felony offenses and told the defendant the sentencing guidelines and potential fines.

Sexual abuse by a custodian carries a prison term of 10 to 20 years and a fine of $500 to $5,000; first-degree sexual abuse and third-degree sexual assault carry prison terms of one to five years and fines of not more than $10,000; distribution and display of obscene matter to a minor and use of obscene matter with intent to seduce a minor both carry prison terms of up to five years and fines of up to $25,000; and use of a minor to produce obscene matter or to assist in doing sexually explicit conduct carries a possible sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $50,000.

Dent set bond at $100,000.

During a discussion of Probert’s potential for flight, defense attorney William Flanigan said Probert “voluntarily disclosed” his actions to his pastor and elders at the church, and he was “anticipating the arrest.”

When questioned on this issue, Clemons said, “His house is for sale.”

“His wife is divorcing him over the charges,” Flanigan responded.

Probert was given a short amount of time to produce a $10,000 check, or 10 percent of the bond amount. He did so, and bonded out later Thursday afternoon.

Clemons said no evidence suggests any of the incidents occurred at the church, where Probert was an elder, however some occurred on mission trips and at the defendant’s house.

Jonathan Rockness, pastor of the Westminster Presbyterian, encouraged anyone with information regarding any allegations of abuse by Probert to come forward and disclose the information to law enforcement.

“Furthermore, our thoughts and prayers are with all those who have already come forward to disclose these horrific offenses, many of whom may in fact be members of the Westminster family,” Rockness said in a statement to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. “We are devastated that evil acts have allegedly been committed under the guise of goodness. We grieve that trust has been broken and betrayed. It is our hope and prayer that those who have been victimized may eventually find healing and hope. We are committed to expend ourselves in love and service to these precious individuals during this long and often difficult journey.”

 Rockness added that Westminster “is committed to a careful re-examination of all our child and youth safeguarding measures and policies. We are deeply troubled that some of the allegations that have come to light may have occurred within our church community. Though we acknowledge that we cannot control all things, we are committed to doing everything in our power to minimize the opportunities for the abuse of children and youth to occur within our environment.

He also emphasized that the church made “every effort” to uncover the truth about the allegations. “Earlier this year we went to the state police with suspicions — but without much first-hand knowledge. Therefore the authorities did not have enough information to pursue an investigation. We then conducted our own investigation, which eventually yielded enough information for the police to engage the case. It has been our commitment to pursue justice and truth.”

Clemons said three of the victims were mentored by Probert during the time he served as a WE CAN volunteer during the 1990s.

Pastor Rockness thanked the West Virginia State Police and Child Protect of Mercer County for their work on the case. “Sgt. M.D. Clemons and the staff at Child Protect have been diligent and professional in their pursuit of justice and healing for abuse survivors.”

— Contact Samantha Perry at sperry@bdtonline.com

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