Police: Former Sarasota bishop sexually abused boys for decades, may have dozens of victims

Sarasota County

(Photo: Sarasota Police Department)

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – A retired bishop was jailed Friday over accusations he may have abused dozens of children during his long tenure at a Sarasota church.

Police said a number of victims have come forward to claim they had been abused by Henry Lee Porter Sr., who was the bishop at Westcoast Center for Human Development for 45 years until his retirement in 2016.

The investigation, which began in October 2019, hinged on a video posted on social media entitled “Art of Manipulation—My Survival of Molestation.”

According to police, the author of the video claimed Porter had sexually abused him for six years, starting when he was 15.

Other accusers responded to the video, claiming they too were abused by Porter and had similar stories, authorities said. One of them said the abuse started when he was 11.

Another accuser said his father had abandoned him at the church when he was 12 years old and that Porter raised him. After a few months, Porter started grooming him, and eventually molested him, then raped him, police said. The alleged victim said he did not report the abuse at the time, because he depended on Porter for food and shelter.

Police said they interviewed a number of other accusers who claimed they were assaulted by Porter as teens.

Multiple people recalled being taken into Porter’s “inner office,” a room at the center of the church, where he would abuse them, police said. One of the accusers said Porter would make him enter the office from another door so that he was not observed bringing a child back into his office.

Some of the abuse would occur at Porter’s home or on mission trips around the U.S. and abroad, the victims told detectives.

Police said Porter was previously investigated by police in 1990 and again around 2001 when similar allegations were made.

In one case, police got a letter naming 40 alleged victims of Porter’s abuse.

Police said those investigations provided more than 20 additional victims who provided statements to law enforcement detailing the abuse they had suffered at the hands of Porter.

“All of these incidents of sexual abuse were outside of the statute of limitations when the victims provided statements to law enforcement, which prevented criminal charges,” the affidavit states.

“In summary, this [sic] current investigations, along with the two prior investigations, demonstrated more than four decades of children and adults suffering sexual abuse by Henry Lee Porter Sr.,” the report continued.

Porter was arrested on one count of sexual battery adult with child under 12 years of age and booked into the Sarasota County Jail, where he is being held without bond.

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