The Jackson County Sheriff's Office conducted a very public raid on a church in January 2010. Now the church wants its stuff back.
The New Covenant Faith Center is located in an unincorporated area east of Sugar Creek. Sheriff's Office investigators spent four days removing records, guns, cash and other items from the church and a nearby residence. At the time, individuals with knowledge about "questionable actions" by church officials were encouraged to step forward.
The church's pastor, Lloyd Sartain, was taken into custody at the time of the raid. He was released without being charged, though, and was never formally accused of anything. Last month, he filed a lawsuit in an attempt to compel Sheriff Mike Sharp to show his hand.
John Carnes, Sartain's attorney, suggests that Sharp and his deputies have acted in the manner of an authoritarian regime. "Everybody's under investigation, for the moment and forever," he says.
Carnes filed the suit on behalf of the church; of Sartain and his wife, Penny; and of a church secretary, Shirley Sloniker. In court papers, he says the government "has made no showing in any court of any connection between property seized and any unlawful activity."
The seized property included financial records, computers, Sloniker's nursing license, building plans, DVDs, a bayonet, two rifles, a pistol and more than $131,000 in cash. At a court hearing last year, Penny Sartain said the money was for her and her husband's retirement. The Sartains keep their wealth in their home and in cash, out of fear that "banks go down," she said.
The church was also known as the House of Prayer. It operated a school at one time.
At its peak, 150 to 200 people attended the church each week. Now it barely functions. Carnes says the search and seizure stymied Sartain's ability to lead a flock. "The church ain't rocking like it was," he says.
Sharp's office did not comment on the case.