HAYS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — A former deacon of the Hays Hills Baptist Church has been arrested after accusations came to light that he had been sexually assaulting young girls under the age of 12 from 2002 through 2007.
Charles Sweet, 85, bonded out of jail Friday, the Travis County District Clerk’s office confirmed.
The Austin Police Department and Hays County Sheriff’s Office are asking women to come forward after the new accusations came to light.
Recently, a counselor alerted Hays County detectives that a woman said she’d been sexually abused by Sweet when she was a child. Sweet had also been named as a suspect in a suspended 2012 child abuse investigation by APD. That case was then reopened as a joint investigation between the two agencies.
In 2012, Austin police were alerted by a girl’s parents she’d told them Sweet had sexually assaulted her multiple times at his residence several years before. She said Sweet inappropriately touched her under her clothes. In a police interview, Sweet acknowledged touching the victim. The case was suspended after the victim’s parents raised concerns for their daughter’s mental and emotional well being.
Sweet’s son, a pastor at Hays Hills Baptist Church in Buda Texas, was aware of these allegations during the 2012 investigation, according to police.
“When we became aware of the abuse, we reported the abuse to the police and they began an investigation. We cooperated completely with their investigation and followed their counsel concerning how to notify the congregation,” said the Hays Hills Baptist Church in a statement. “It has always been our desire to be transparent with the congregation while also protecting the privacy of the victim.”
The statement by the church goes on to say that the congregation was notified in September 2012 about the allegations against Sweet. At the time the congregation was told he committed a “grievous sin.” The church went on to say that Sweet was removed as a deacon and no longer allowed to attend Hays Hill.
Multiple allegations of abuse
On January 26 of this year, the Hays County Sheriff’s Office responded to the second call of sexual assault of a child against Sweet. The caller said she was a counselor at a youth camp and a prior student at the camp told her she was molested by Sweet when she was between four and six years of age.
During an interview with police, the victim said that when she was around five years old, Sweet was the deacon for the Hays Hills Baptist Church. She said Sweet and his wife would conduct youth-led ministries in a trailer located on a property on Windmill Way in Buda.
The victim reported Sweet inappropriately touched her over her clothes and would stop when Bible study began or when another adult entered the trailer. According to the affidavit, she went on to say that she attended the youth ministry around three times a week and Sweet probably touched her more than 100 times.
In her statement, the victim said Sweet would give her gifts like a coin collection, chocolate, a $10 a week allowance and promised to buy her a car when she turned 16.
Police interview the former deacon
In May, investigators interviewed Sweet about the accusations brought against him. He admitted to police that he had sexually abused multiple young girls and specifically named the victim who came forward in January.
Sweet stated that he could not remember if he inappropriately touched anyone in his home, but followed that up saying, “If the victim said I did it I take it as absolute truth,” according to the affidavit. Sweet told police his inappropriate touching was due either to sex addiction or uncontrollable impulses.
According to the affidavit, Sweet admitted to abusing multiple young girls, who he named.
The affidavit says Sweet told detectives he’s only attracted to girls under 12 years old and has no interest in girls over the age of 13.
The affidavit reads, “Sweet elaborated and stated, ‘If I saw a 20-year-old woman walking nude,’ he would not be attracted to that woman. Sweet continued and stated that if he ‘saw a six-year-old girl fully dressed’, he would have an ‘overwhelming attraction for her'”.
In a press conference Wednesday, Child Abuse Detective Eric Guevara said APD had already reached out to some of the victims and is awaiting a response.
“I’d like to ask that if you’re ready to come forward related to Charles sweet victimizing you, please contact the Austin Police Department Child Abuse direct line and/or Hays County Sheriff’s Department, as well,” Detective Guevara said. “I just want to let the survivors know that coming forward doesn’t mean it’s all about the criminal investigation, but it also has to do with this recovery process.”
Former students and neighbors remember Charles Sweet
KXAN spoke to people who knew him, including one young woman who worked closely beside him when she was a girl.
“He’s been around our family for a very long time. Somebody would have said something, right,” questioned Mandee Munoz, who once attended Sweet’s youth ministry classes.
For years, Sweet lived and worked closely with Munoz and her neighbors.
“He was very understanding, a really great guy,” said Munoz. She said he would teach her about God from a trailer on the block.
“It was a safe place,” Munoz said. “Somewhere we could go, hang out with our friends, get our work done, pass our classes. [Mr. and Mrs. Sweet] helped us with so many things, so it was really good.”
Of the people KXAN spoke to, they say they saw no signs of inappropriate behavior from the former deacon.
Near his home in Austin, neighbors echo similar, kind thoughts.
“We’ve never had any incidents with them. They’ve seemed like a sweet, old couple,” said Mary Guzman, who lives next door to Charles Sweet.
Neighbors say they didn’t see him out and about very often, which they now realize is a good thing.
“The neighborhood is friendly and safe. The children down the street run back and forth riding bikes and having art sales and things like that,” Guzman said.
They all said it’s hard to believe the man they thought they knew is accused of these predatory charges.
“The only thing that I can say is what I’ve seen and what I feel. And from what I’ve seen, there was nothing wrong with that place,” Munoz said.
Sweet faces indecency with a child by contact charges.