As some of you might recall, I’ve been following the case of Pastor Everett Mitchell since he was indicted for seven sex offenses with a minor back in August. Everett Mitchell was the pastor of Tower of Power Ministries, a non-denominational Protestant church just a stone’s throw from my house. I walk past that church every time I go to pick up milk at the local market. There are posters advertising their “explosive services” all over the LaBelle neighborhood, and Pastor Mitchell has been something of a celebrity in Steubenville Protestant circles. At least twice, I have almost put Rosie into that church’s daycare program so she won’t get lonesome in the summer. I’ve taken her to the block party held annually in the vacant lot next door. Her friends have gone to that daycare. Another church was hosting a summer Bible school of some sort in the Tower of Power building last July, weeks before his indictment.
When Pastor Mitchell was arraigned, I expressed my shock that he was released on personal recognizance immediately as if this was a harmless minor offense. I wondered aloud if this seeming special treatment was because he worked at the infamous Steubenville High School, locally known as Big Red and internationally known for their attempt to cover up a horrific rape committed by two of their star football players about nine years ago. Trent Mays and Ma’Lik Richmond received a slap on the wrist for gang raping an unconscious minor, and they were treated as the real victims because Steubenville is obsessed with Big Red’s sports programs; the school has never shown any remorse and the culture hasn’t changed a bit. Pastor Mitchell was approved as a volunteer track coach for the school as recently as 2018.
Today, Pastor Mitchell plead guilty to all seven counts in regard to sexual contact and battery against a minor. Due to his plea deal he’s going to serve a measly two years in prison and thirty days in jail, but he will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
“The court finds nothing in your behavior here so far has exhibited any drop one single iota of a sense of remorse,” said Judge Michelle Miller, according to the local news.
I hope that this encourages any other victims there might be to come forward. This case has received so little press coverage in town and Pastor Mitchell was so glorified all over the neighborhood that it’s been even more frightening than usual to live in LaBelle. The whole truth needs to be known.
It also needs to be mentioned that, although the news is reporting that Pastor Mitchell is no longer the pastor of Tower of Power Ministries, the church’s facebook page still has a gigantic photograph of him smiling with his wife as their banner image. Today, the day he plead guilty to this hideous crime and all the news outlets are saying he’s no longer pastor, their facebook page says “Dr. Everett, Pastor and First Lady Tiffany Mitchell.” And every poster that has been hung up on electric poles all over town has the same smiling photo and the same notice that he’s the pastor. They have events scheduled for as far in the future as Easter still listing him as the pastor. I’ll post screenshots in case they take those photos down later today. All of the following photos were posted publicly on social media.
Just googling around for more information, I found a public facebook post from someone referring to him as “my pastor at Tower of Power Church” dated February 20th, so unless this person is wrong he was still the pastor two weeks ago.
He was tagged by his own wife in photos of him at a “tea” on February 22nd at the church, and it sure looks like he’s in charge:
On March 8th, a churchgoer posted a fiery defense of the church publicly on Facebook with a photo which, as far as I can tell, is of Pastor Mitchell at the pulpit. For all I know that’s an old photo, but it sure looks like Pastor Mitchell was still in charge on Sunday.
If Everett Mitchell really is the “former pastor” of Tower of Power Ministries, when, exactly, did they get a new pastor? And how is the new pastor going to distance the church from the apparent hero worship that Pastor Mitchell has enjoyed in this neighborhood for a decade? Does he or she have plans to do that at all? I don’t see any evidence of it, myself, and I strongly suggest that Christians in Steubenville worship somewhere safer until they do. Pastor Mitchell himself is not going to be at church for the next two years, but the people who idolized him will be. And they don’t seem to think they made a mistake.In closing, I want to draw your attention to the victim’s statement. This is taken directly from the news reporting of the case, but I want to post it here as well to show you the full impact of Mitchell’s actions and how his congregation is said to have made the victim’s suffering worse. Listen to her:
Justice for me has been a long process. I truly want to thank everyone affiliated and associated with my case. I am grateful justice was served today.
The sexual abuse through abuse of power I endured at the hands of Everett Mitchell has affected every aspect of my life. This man has been the cause of physical, social, emotional, and mental trauma. This type of injury doesn’t just go away –especially at the hands of someone that I had trusted and considered to be family. Even after years of therapy, I still re-live those moments often. The moments of fear, helplessness, isolation, entrapment, and abandonment. This has weighed heavily on my physical health causing headaches, muscle tension, digestive issues and other ailments. I get panic attacks because of what I went through. Many times, I am brought back to the same place by certain smells, sounds, and phrases, and I am unable to control flashbacks and my emotional responses. I spent years uncomfortable in my own skin and hating myself for what he put me through. My self-esteem was utterly shattered and my own identity stolen from me. I deal with night terrors. My stress level increases when I have to be with a group of people. I am withdrawn and isolated in social settings. What Everett did to me affects my parenting style. I am overprotective and paranoid when it comes to my children. I live with continual fear that something bad will happen to them. I panic after I drop them off at daycare and school until they are safely home with me. This anxiety affects how I relate with my parents, siblings, other relatives and friends. In my mind, everyone is a potential predator. I have relatively no trust in others.
I detest the thought of going to church because the place where I went to seek safety, security, and healing, was the place of my very pain. The fact that he used scripture to justify his very own deviant and perverse conduct is what keeps me from establishing a religious foundation. The times when he was supposed to be praying for me, he was assaulting me. I was forced to walk with my head down because he wanted power over my body, my will, and my spirit. Through his web of lies, he worked hard to control the narrative of public opinion and silence me –labeling me as “fast”, “Jezebel”, vindictive, money hungry, and “crazy”. This controlled how others treated me and eventually controlled my own behavior. Through my silence, he was able to over talk and overshadow me, mistakenly believing, the volume of his voice increased the validity of his argument.
I have heard lots of anger, read words of aggression, and seen faces full of tears and much prayer being given, not for me and what I’ve been through, but for my perpetrator – the man who silenced me, abused me, and had gotten sexual gratification from a child. Videos were posted and comments made not listen to the victim because it threatened to ruin the reputation and image of Pastor Everett Mitchell. Can you even begin to fathom how painful it is for people to blame me for tearing Everett’s family apart instead of holding him accountable for his own terrible actions? It feels pretty awful to be devalued, degraded, re-victimized, victim blamed and shamed to make this man appear upstanding, disciplined, and above reproach. I had to live with the shame, guilt, and humiliation caused by Everett’s actions while he was constantly supported, lauded, and esteemed in and out of the public eye.
Because I have a true heart for children, I want other girls to know sexual abuse is not your fault, no matter what your perpetrator has told you. You are not alone. I strongly encourage women, who were girls when this happened to you, to speak out, go to the police, and seek justice. It is going to be hard, but it will be worth it. To the community, I say listen and think before you speak. Be well informed before commenting. Under the veil of being a pastor, a man of power, and an upstanding man, Everett gained access to sexually abuse me without questions, advocacy, or hesitation from those that witnessed an inappropriate relationship between a child and an adult. Education concerning sexual abuse is a community responsibility. It is the responsibility of the community to become aware of the tactics of sexual predators. Every organization, especially churches, should address abuse of power and sexual abuse as opposed to concealing it. This “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” policy creates an environment that fosters and conceals individuals engaging in this behavior, such as Everett Mitchell. It promotes an unhealthy power dynamic and defense for perpetrators. I encourage mandated reporters in all walks of life to report suspected child abuse and unhealthy child-adult relationships. This can save a lot of children pain and suffering in the present and long-term.
I am grateful for her courage and tenacity, and may God have mercy on everyone who did this to her and helped her abuser.
First image courtesy of Pixabay. The other images are screenshots taken by the author.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross.
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