A Mounds View man has been charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a child under age 13 for alleged sex abuse when he worked as a teacher at a Christian school in 2001.
Nathan D. Qualley, 46, of Mounds View, was charged in Chisago County District Court with sexually abusing a 10-year-old girl at Chisago Lakes Baptist School, now called Chisago Christian School, in Chisago City.
According to the criminal complaint, filed March 13, Qualley "groomed" and then sexually abused the girl, who had been sent to him for speech therapy.
Qualley was appointed as a deacon and a member of the church council at GracePoint Church in New Brighton in 2019, according to the church's website from that year. That had been on hold pending the outcome of the case, but this week GracePoint Senior Pastor Jared Carlson said the church will appoint someone else to the position.
The church congregation has not been informed of the Qualley lawsuit, Carlson said. However, church leadership has been notified and were exercising oversight, he said.
"Everything has its appropriate response at its appropriate time," said Carlson, noting that Qualley has the right to due process.
Qualley did not respond to several Star Tribune requests for comment. However, in the complaint, he denied inappropriately touching the girl.
Plaintiff Melissa Stewart, now 29, who contacted media with her story, said the abuse started when she was 10 years old in the fall of 2001.
She was receiving enunciation lessons after school from Qualley in a Chisago classroom where just the two met.
At the time, Qualley was one year out of high school, according to his profile in the career networking website LinkedIn, which shows no professional training in speech therapy.
According to the complaint, Qualley's contact with Stewart started small, "such as him placing a hand on her knee in class or while they prayed, or holding hands with her while praying."
But the contact advanced. Stewart stated that during one session, Qualley unzipped his pants and showed her his genitals.
During another session, Qualley had her touch his genitals, the complaint said.
On another occasion, Qualley inappropriately touched the girl under her dress, the complaint said.
During one of the last speech therapies with Qualley, a "Deacon Tim" opened the classroom door and saw Qualley holding her hands and sitting close, Stewart reported.
A Chisago County investigator contacted that deacon, Tim Montzka, "who immediately recalled the incident," the complaint said.
Montzka told the investigator he was doing his rounds, checking rooms, and saw a door shut.
Looking through the window, he saw Qualley and Stewart "sitting nose to nose" and "appeared to be praying." Opening the door, he saw that the two were holding hands, the complaint said.
Montzka told the investigator he was so upset by the incident that he "chased" the defendant out of the room and told Stewart's mother what he saw.
The incident was never reported to police, said Stewart, nor did the school investigate it or interview her. She said she didn't "recognize it as sexual abuse" until her early 20s.
Qualley denied showing his genitals to Stewart or touching her inappropriately, said the complaint. Qualley stated "that he may have had shorts on, and that maybe his fly had been down and he zipped it up."
However Qualley said he and Stewart typically hugged when she came to class, and they may have held hands.
Stewart, now a student at Duke University School of Law, said she hadn't planned to go public with the case.
But she did so after learning that Qualley was active in the church and had been named a deacon for a congregation that was uninformed about his past.
"I thought, maybe this will put them on alert," said Stewart. "The congregation needs to be warned of this."
A court hearing is scheduled for July 1.