Indiana Bible study leader accused of raping mentally disabled women in his care
A Valparaiso, Indiana man has been charged with two counts of rape and three counts of sexual battery after he allegedly sexually assaulted multiple mentally disabled women after leading them in Bible study.
According to the Chicago Tribune, 23-year-old Thomas Cooperider of Liberty Bible Church in Chesterton reportedly committed the acts between November 2014 and March of 2015 on church grounds.
In a May 8 interview with the Porter County Sheriff’s Department, Cooperider — who told police that he has been accepted to the law program at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University — began his statement by stating, “Everything that did happen was consensual between adults.”
However, the Times of Northwest Indiana reported that all of the women have varying degrees of mental disability, one of whom has a functioning IQ of 57.
The three women’s guardians contacted church officials, who in turn went to the police. All three of the victims say that Cooperider led them to secluded areas of the church and touched them without their permission.
Cooperider was barred from church property as of May 4 after the victims’ guardians met with police.
John Duey, Director of Operations for Liberty Bible Church, told the Tribune via email that Cooperider is merely a church volunteer and holds no position of authority in the church.
Cooperider first began to attend services at Liberty Church with his parents as a high schooler. His parents stopped attending, Duey said, but Cooperider “still participated in events and programs here.”
The Tribune said that footage obtained from the church’s surveillance cameras matched the victims’ testimonies.
If convicted, Cooperider could face up to 16 years in prison on each of the two felony rape charges and up to two years and six months on each of the three felony sexual battery charges against him.