Former Sarasota bishop accused of sexually assaulting children over four decades

Henry Lee Porter, 72, pastored the church he incorporated in 1971 for 45 years before stepping down in June 2016.

A former bishop and founder of the Westcoast Center for Human Development was arrested Thursday by Sarasota Police after multiple investigations “demonstrated more than four decades of children and adults suffering sexual abuse by Henry Lee Porter Sr.,” according to a probable cause affidavit.

Although there are eight victims listed in court documents, Porter, 72, was arrested Thursday by Sarasota Police for one count of alleged sexual battery of a child under 12 years of age — a first-degree felony punishable by up to life in prison. Porter founded the Westcoast Gospel Chorus and was pastor of the church he incorporated in 1971 for 45 years before stepping down in June 2016 and allowing his son, Henry Porter II, to take over.

Porter was arrested by police and booked into Sarasota County jail on Thursday, where he is being held without bond.

No one at the Westcoast Center for Human Development responded to requests from the Herald-Tribune for comment Friday afternoon.

The arrest resulted from the most recent in a string of investigations conducted by Sarasota detectives dating back to 1990, as a number of victims told investigators over the years that Porter forced oral and anal sex on them and made them reciprocate, according to court documents.

But all of the incidents of alleged sexual abuse were outside the statute of limitations when the victims provided statements to law enforcement, which prevented criminal charges, Porter’s arrest report states.

On Oct. 29, 2019, police received notification of a video on Facebook titled “Art of Manipulation — My survival of Molestation” from a user who said he had been sexually abused as a child by a bishop at Westcoast Center for Human Development. This video prompted the most recent investigation that would lead to Porter’s arrest, according to court documents. The victim told detectives that his first memory of sexual abuse started at 15 and continued until he was 21.

The victim said that the sexual abuse involved fondling, masturbation, oral and anal sex with guidance from Porter. He said that the abuse often occurred in Porter’s inner office, in the Westcoast Center for Human Develop...

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