Sex Abuse Charge Dropped in Camp Tracy Case

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By Dana Treen, The Times-Union

A charge of lewd and lascivious behavior has been dropped against an 18-year-old resident of a Baker County home for troubled youths who had been arrested in an investigation of consensual sexual activity with another teenage resident.

Prosecutors and the Baker County Sheriff’s Office said they would continue to investigate unrelated accusations that an employee of Camp Tracey choked and manhandled residents. But the pastor of the Jacksonville church that runs the home said the teenagers involved in that case have recanted their accusations in a taped interview.

The sex charge against Benjamin Valentin Lewis was dropped Tuesday after the father of the 14-year-old who was involved said he did not want to prosecute, said Mel Bessinger, chief of the State Attorney’s Office in Baker County.

Bessinger said the sex acts were consensual. Lewis was released from jail, where he had been held on $3,000 bail.

“We certainly want to consider the wishes of the victim and the victim’s family,” Bessinger said.

He said an investigation is continuing into a charge of child abuse against “dorm father” John Edward Wilson, 46, who was arrested June 30. While unrelated to the sex case, the abuse involves the same 14-year-old, according to an earlier report in the Times-Union.

The investigation of Wilson began after residents being interviewed about the sex activity said they had been choked, slammed and thrown by Wilson at the youth home, located north of Glen St. Mary and operated by Harvest Baptist Church of Jacksonville.

On Wednesday, Harvest pastor Wilford McCormick said the accusers recanted the abuse charges in an unsolicited interview that was taped at the home after a July 4 cookout. He said the taped interview will be handed over to prosecutors today.

“Both the students who brought the physical abuse charges have totally retracted their statements and said they lied, made it up and fabricated the entire deal,” McCormick said.

McCormick said one boy came to a camp administrator and said he had made up the story about the abuse. Eventually, two boys said they simply wanted to get someone in trouble and a third said he made up the story, McCormick said. He said the admissions were taped with a volunteer teacher who is not part of the school administration.

Bessinger said prosecutors have not heard those statements.

“What is important is they didn’t come forward and tell us,” he said. “They haven’t come in here and talked to us.”

Baker County Sheriff Joey Dobson said the boys told child protection personnel they were abused.

“They stuck with their story,” he said.

Sheriff’s investigator Brad Dougherty said in the past week he has been averaging five calls a day from past residents of the camp who said they were similarly pushed around and shoved against walls with a forearm in their necks.

He said the callers said Wilson was ill-tempered and fought with other staffers as well as grabbed residents by the neck.

McCormick said Wilson has been a good employee.

“As far as Camp Tracey is concerned, we’ve had no problem with Mr. Wilson,” he said.


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