NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – A Newport News pastor was taken into custody Friday morning after he was accused of touching and groping a minor multiple times over the course of three years.
Michael Lindell Harris, Sr., the pastor of St. James Fellowship Church of God, is charged with three counts of indecent liberties with a child in a supervisory role, according to Newport News police spokesman Lou Thurston.
A sign in front of St. James lists Harris as the head pastor.
Officers took Harris into custody around 7 a.m. Oct. 24 at his home in the first block of East Southampton Avenue. Thurston said three incidents have been reported between 2010 and 2012. The first two in Sept. 2010 and June 2011 happened at the church on the 4300 block of Orcutt Avenue, and the third in Sept. 2012 at a parking lot in the victim’s residence.
The victim is currently 17 years old, according to authorities.
Reaction Friday from Harris’ neighbors in Hampton and church neighbors in Newport News ranged from shocked to unsurprised.
Neighbors near his home on Southampton Avenue in Hampton told WAVY.com’s Deanna LeBlanc they saw police carrying out boxes of evidence and computer harddrives from Harris’ home Friday morning. They described him as a friendly neighbor, who mostly kept to himself..
“It’s like a hurricane going off in my head because I never would have thought that,” said neighbor Donna Green. She said Harris even prayed with her when her mother became ill and eventually passed away.
“He’s always been so helpful you know, this is a real shock,” Green said.
But further up the peninsula, neighbors of St. James Fellowship Church of God where Harris is listed as head pastor aren’t so surprised.
“You don’t do things like that. It comes back on you in the end. He got what he deserved,” said former church member Lavoisier Mills. He was a member there until the summer when he heard rumblings that Harris might not be as honest as he seemed.
“I stopped attending the church as soon as the news broke out… the news that he was touching like a little girl,” Mills told WAVY.com.
He wasn’t the only one that heard the rumor. He says one day in June dozens of congregation members confronted Harris about the allegations. Noelle Robinson who lives near the church told WAVY.com she saw the confrontation unfold.
“When I looked out the window they was like hollering and trying to grab at him and trying to pull at him and whacking him with their Bibles in their bag,” she said.
Newport News police confirm they were called to break up the confrontation and since then other neighbors say they’ve watched church attendance dwindle to almost nothing.
“His congregation is very very small. Maybe one or two members. This transpired after everyone became aware of what was going on,” said neighbor Iris Jones.
Thurston said it is possible there are more victims, and police are asking anyone who may have been one to come forward.