Two assistant state prosecutors no longer employed in wake of church abuse allegation


Two North Carolina assistant district attorneys are no longer employed following a state investigation over reports of church abuse allegations, District Attorney David Learner announced Friday.

This comes days after Learner requested a state investigation of two of his assistant prosecutors who are members of a church that former congregants say beat members and derailed criminal investigations

“Assistant District Attorney Frank Webster and Assistant District Attorney Chris Back are no longer employed by the 25th Judicial District. Assistant District Attorney Lance Sigmon will be the Chief ADA in Burke County, and Kyle Smith will be the Chief ADA in Catawba County," Learner said Friday.

Learner said Wednesday that he asked the State Bureau of Investigation to look at his employees who are members of the Word of Faith church.

The request was made Tuesday, a day after Learner said he was aware of an Associated Press story about Webster and Back providing legal advice, helping at strategy sessions and participating in a mock trial for four congregants charged with harassing a former member.

Nine former Word of Faith members also said that Back and Webster, who is sect leader Jane Whaley's son-in-law, helped derail a social services investigation into child abuse in 2015 and attended meetings where Whaley warned congregants to lie to investigators about abuse incidents.

Under North Carolina law, prosecutors cannot provide legal advice or be involved in outside cases in any manner. Violation of those rules can lead to ethics charges, dismissal or disbarment. Offering legal advice in an ongoing investigation to help a person avoid prosecution could lead to criminal charges.

“I, along with my staff, have worked very hard in the past two years to rebuild the reputation of the DA’s Office, and I cannot allow the integrity of the office to be called into question. My administration is dedicated to the fair and impartial administration of criminal justice for the citizens of Burke, Caldwell and Catawba counties,” Learner said Friday.