South Carolina

Youth pastor accused of groping, abusing children while working in SC, deputies say

An Alabama man allegedly sexually abused multiple children while employed as a youth intern pastor at a Spartanburg church, according to a statement from the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Department.

Peter William Cooper, 63, was working at the Central Church of Christ in 1976 when he allegedly groped a 13-year-old girl during a Bible study at her home, according to his arrest warrant.

Years after the assault, the woman told investigators that Cooper put his hand underneath her dress while she was playing piano during the Bible study, according to the warrant. Other victims have come forward and described similar incidents to law enforcement officers.

Investigators were first told about the more than 40-year-old case in October 2018, when deputies were called by officers in Alabama, according to the statement. A Spartanburg County resident had called the police department and told them about a sexual assault that happened to her in Alabama years ago.

The case was too old for Alabama prosecutors to file charges, so the police department reached out to the South Carolina sheriff’s department to investigate further.

The woman who reported the assault told deputies she spoke with two other people who said they were also assaulted by Cooper, according to the statement. One of those people still lived in Spartanburg County.

The local resident told investigators that she reached out to Cooper to talk about the incident and that he apologized for groping her, according to the statement. An investigator traveled to Alabama and interviewed Cooper.

Cooper said he did not remember the assault, but he did recall apologizing to the victims, according to the statement.

Cooper was later arrested in Alabama and extradited back to South Carolina on charges of lewd acts on a minor. He may face more charges in Greenville County, where another victim has been located.

The Greenville County Sheriff’s Office case is still active.

Deputies in Spartanburg County encouraged anyone else who may have been abused to come forward. Cooper worked at the church in 1976 and 1977 before leaving the state, according to a letter from the church.

The Central Church of Christ sent out a letter to congregants in November after details of the case began coming to light.

“Clearly, these are acts of sexual abuse of a minor, actions severely condemned by God and not to be tolerated in any form by the church,” the letter read. “We have prayerfully wept on multiple occasions at the thought of any child or teen being attacked. We are so sorry.”

Emily Bohatch helps cover South Carolina’s government for The State. She also updates The State’s databases. Her accomplishments include winning a Green Eyeshade award in Disaster Reporting in 2018 for her teamwork reporting on Hurricane Irma. She has a degree in Journalism with a minor in Spanish from Ohio University’s E. W. Scripps School of Journalism.