Local pastor cleared of liabilities

Published 3:00 am Thursday, May 28, 2015

A local pastor was cleared of legal liability this week in the ongoing dispute over raw sewage on his church’s property.

Bishop Ira J. McCloud, past or of Jesus Christ Church of the God the Bibleway of the Apostolic Faith in Brundidge, was found not guilty Wednesday of a health sewage/insanitary facility charge filed against him in September 2014. The charged stemmed from complaints that the church, located at 7307 U.S. Highway 231, is illegally dumping raw sewage on neighboring property owned by Mike Swindall.

Assistant District Attorney Jeff Moore said McCloud was found not guilty due to a corporate loophole.

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“The church is incorporated, and the corporation itself said he has no authority to do anything to fix any kinds of problems,” Moore said. “It invests all authority in an apostle instead of the bishop.”

Clayton Cowart, CEO of the corporation and apostle, is the sole individual responsible for any issues that arise at the church. However, Cowart resides in Winter Haven, Fla., Moore said.

“Since (Moore) was vested with all the authority to fix any problems, Judge (William) Hightower ruled that he was the only one that could be held criminally liable,” Moore said.

McCloud said he was thankful but added the victory was ultimately bittersweet because the issue had not been resolved.

“Well, one I want to thank the Equal Justice Initiative group who actually came and supported me,” McCloud said. “The real problem is that the whole time I have wanted this resolved, and I still do.”

Moore said the church continues to pump raw sewage onto the neighboring property. The church was using approximately 60,000 gallons of water a month, all of which is being pumped out onto the neighboring property.

“It’s a huge health hazard,” Moore said. “Anything that comes out of a drain, out of a toilet or anything … goes through their sewage system goes right out into the neighbor’s property.”

Moore said the neighbor could pursue civil remedies if he chooses, but the state would be pushing the Alabama Department of Public Health to pursue civil remedies against the church as well.

“The judge did exactly what he was supposed to do,” Moore said. “He ruled properly. I’m not going to disagree with what the judge did, but I am displeased that we have a church that’s been on notice since July of 2014 because they’ve had sewage leaking onto neighboring property and to date they’ve done nothing to fix the problem. It’s a tremendous health problem to the people of Pike County, and they act as if they don’t care.”

Moore said the church’s argument has been that it cannot afford to hook up to the city’s sewage system, but McCloud said the church was not given the option to connect to the sewage system.

“It hurts for the city to have a line right behind the church that I’m not allowed to connect to,” McCloud said. “I’m in the city limits, but I’m not allowed to connect to the city sewage, and that’s not fair. No pastor wants this for their church. I don’t see how any one can think that I didn’t want to resolve the problem. It hurts that there is a line right behind the church and we can’t connect.”

McCloud said the church was still actively searching for ways to resolve the issue and would not rest until the problem.

“It’s not over,” he said. “We have to do the right thing. We have to do what we have to do. That way we can get it resolved. They were threatening to cut off the water here. Now, the threats have come that they want to shut us down and so forth. How can I rejoice when I’m being threatened? We have to take the initiative to get it resolved. We want it resolved.”