Florida pastor charged with sexual battery of a child — and there could be more victims

David Cooper
David Cooper Polk County jail

A Winter Haven-area pastor was arrested Thursday and is facing charges of sexual battery on a victim under 12, and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said there could be more victims.

David Cooper, pastor of the Mountain Movers Ministries in Eloise, is also charged with lewd and lascivious exhibition. Both charges are felonies.

In a news conference Friday morning, Judd said Cooper’s wife brought a child under the age of 12 to a hospital to determine if the child had been sexually assaulted. The hospital notified the sheriff’s office, which started an investigation. According to WFLA News Channel 8, the investigation began in September 2017.

A physical examination of the child showed no evidence of sexual battery, but detectives found that the child was a victim of lewd conduct, Judd said. WFLA reports Cooper exposed himself to the child on four occasions over the last year.

But further investigation revealed that, years ago, Cooper allegedly sexually abused another child between the ages of 10 and 12, according to Judd. That child is now an adult. The now-adult victim told investigators the abuse included sexual intercourse at least five times, according to WFLA.

During conversation between the victim and Cooper that was conducted under surveillance, she talked to Cooper about the abuse and he repeatedly told her he was sorry, WFLA reported.

So far, Judd said, investigators have found no evidence that Cooper abused children in the church.

“But we need the families of the people in the church or any families that Pastor David Cooper had access to, to be aware of what we now know,” Judd said.

Judd explained there could be more victims, and encouraged others to come forward with information.

“We’re realists in this business. We know that you don’t sexually abuse a child years ago and do absolutely nothing then, all of a sudden, commit lewd conduct in the presence of a child years later,” Judd said.

“One of the stressful aspects of working in law enforcement is having to come face-to-face with horrendous acts by a child predator. It’s because of the dedication of our deputies who investigated this, and other crimes like it, and the willingness of victims and witnesses to come forward, that this man won’t be able to do this to any child ever again,” Judd said.

Sara Nealeigh: 941-745-7081, @saranealeigh