Former Kennesaw mayor Church charged with child molestation
by Haisten Willis
June 27, 2014 02:23 PM | 13561 views | 9 9 comments | 40 40 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Leonard Church
Leonard Church
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download Leonard Church's Warrant 14W5730-1
KENNESAW — Kennesaw City Councilman Leonard Church, the city’s former mayor, was arrested Friday on child molestation charges, according to Cobb Police Officer Mike Bowman.

Detectives say a nine-year-old boy told his parents Church allegedly showed him pornographic materials on a computer and molested him at the councilman’s home.

Church, 66, was arrested at 2:50 a.m. and charged with two counts of felony child molestation. He is being held without bond in the county jail. According to the arrest warrant, the incident happened between May 8 and May 10 of this year.

City attorney Randall Bentley said he learned of the charges Friday morning.

Regarding any plans the City Council may take, Bentley said, “I really don’t know. I think right now it’s under investigation.”

Bentley referred all questions to the Cobb Police Department.

Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews said in an email that, “From the city’s perspective, we were extremely saddened to hear of the charges and ultimate arrest of council member Church. This is a very sensitive, active and ongoing investigation being conducted by Cobb County PD and their Crimes against Children Division.”

Like Bentley, Mathews referred questions about the investigation to police.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family members of as well as the victim,” Mathews wrote in his email.

Church lives in the Westover subdivision, just across Kennesaw Due West Road from Kennesaw Mountain High School. No one answered the door when an MDJ reporter stopped by his house Friday, but Church’s next door neighbor described the scene of his arrest.

“When we got outside there were cars and detectives,” said Celine Esmeir, a 16-year-old Kennesaw Mountain High School student who has lived next to Church for 10 years.

Church was a widower before he married his second wife, Karen, in March 2013. Between them, the couple has six children and nine grandchildren.

Esmeir said many of those grandchildren could often be found at his house.

“There were always kids at his house, little kids,” Esmeir said. All of them were relatives, I don’t think there were ever kids that weren’t relatives there.”

Esmeir described Church as a friendly neighbor, but said the family did not know him very well. She said Church’s brother knocked on her front door at about 10 a.m. Friday looking for him, and she briefly thought Church was missing.

Esmeir described the allegations as “shocking.”

“Things have happened before to people close to us who have done things that are a little shocking,” Esmeir said. “But for it to be your neighbor — child molestation has got to be the worst thing, in my opinion, that you can do.”

Though Church lives in the city of Kennesaw, the case is being handled by Cobb police to avoid any signs of a conflict of interest, according to Bowman.

Bowman said the case started when the boy came forward Thursday night about the alleged incident. It is unknown if there are other victims at this point. Police did not say if the victim is related to Church.

Reached by phone, Kennesaw Councilman Jim Sebastian said Friday morning he hadn’t heard news of the arrest. Sebastian said he saw no indication Church was capable of the acts he’s charged with.

“Our relationship has been fine, normal,” he said. “You caught me wordless on that one.”

Council members Debra Williams and Tim Killingsworth also were reached by phone, but declined to comment.

A 1966 graduate of Sprayberry High School, Church has worked in the dental field for 45 years. He was first elected mayor of Kennesaw in 1999, serving two terms. He was elected to the City Council in November 2013 and took office in January 2014. His city biography lists his job as a real estate agent with Clear Summit Realty.

The man who Church defeated for the council seat last fall, Bruce Jenkins, urged Kennesaw residents not to jump to conclusions.

“We need to be extremely cautious and wait to see all of the facts,” said Jenkins, who also served on the City Council during Church’s stint as mayor in 2006 and 2007. “Let’s not rush.”

Jenkins compared the case to the ongoing Justin Ross Harris case. Harris, according to police, left his 22-month-old son in a hot car for seven hours June 18, leading to the child’s death. Some say the case is a tragic accident, but Harris now faces murder charges. Jenkins said that case illustrates that the public needs to wait before passing judgment.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call (770) 801-3470.

Comments
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Bill in Kennesaw
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June 28, 2014
Stripped of all the BS, the below is what will happen when/if Councilman Church resigns:

CODE OF ORDINANCES, City of KENNESAW, GEORGIA

Sec. 2.08. Vacancy in office of mayor or council.

(a) A vacancy shall exist if . . . a councilmember resigns, . . . or is convicted of malfeasance in office or of a felony.

(b) In the event a vacancy occurs in the office of a member of the council . . . the vacancy shall be filled in the following manner: . . . the vacancy shall be filled by a special election pursuant to a call of a special election as provided by this Charter. . . a special election shall be held within a period of 45 days after the office becomes vacant . . . the existing vacancy shall be filled for the remainder of the unexpired terms in a special election
What say you
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June 27, 2014
Please do not blame this horrific issue on the city of Kennesaw. If this man has done these terrible deeds, he is the guilty one. If any person has helped hide it, that person is also guilty. But because of your disenchantment with government, does not make the city guilty of child molestation.
in Acworth
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June 27, 2014
I have know Leonard for a long time, and don't think it is possible these allegations are true. I hope they are not true.
Fred Robinson
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June 27, 2014
Wow. What do you mean the city knows more? I certainly hope this is not an issue where the city will be sued by victims. We have already been through this mess with mexican discrimination at city hall. Now this??
Bill in Kennesaw
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June 27, 2014
NEW COUNCIL OPENING?

Now that currently serving Councilman Church is in jail on child molestation charges there is a good chance that there will be a vacancy on the Council.

Tell the Mayor that I will accept the nomination to fill that seat! I was holding out for dog catcher, but I can lower my standards and be a Councilman.

Bill
Bill in Kennesaw
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June 27, 2014
1) Found out that Council only appoints replacements if it is less than 1 year. So there will need to be another election to fill the seat when/if Church resigns.

2) I would like to know just why the delay in filing charges from early May to the end of June? I understand that KPD should not have looked into it and Cobb PD should be 7 weeks is a heck of a long time between incident and warrant being filed.
ParticleMass
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June 27, 2014
when will the city come clean about all the details behind this arrest. they know a lot more than they are saying!
K-TownDad
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June 27, 2014
I don't believe the city has any more information than what the CCPD provided via Officer Bowman or the warrant that is available here on the mdjonline story.

Bill - If such a vacancy occurs you should run during the special election that will need to be held (or perhaps if this were to happen) the election could possibly coincide with the November elections - you should run.
Bill in Kennesaw
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June 28, 2014
Thanks for the kind words, however even I would not vote for me. I would like to support someone who will work well with the 3 'anti-mayor' council members. As I understand it if there is a veto, it takes 4 to over ride it, so we need this soon to be vacant seat to be someone who is not in the pocket of the Mayor. Perhaps Sam Paglioni???
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