KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A well-known West Michigan pastor and his wife are facing accusations involving sex, money and teenagers.
Reverend Strick Strickland, 36, is pastor at Kalamazoo’s Second Baptist Church on North Rose Street. His wife Jazmonique Strickland, 25, was a paraprofessional at Phoenix High School in Kalamazoo until she resigned last fall, one day before police executed a search warrant at the family’s home.
After a four-month investigation by Michigan State Police, several sources confirmed to Target 8 that detectives found Strickland had paid teenagers to engage in sexual acts at his family’s home on Prairie Avenue in Kalamazoo.
That property is owned by Second Baptist Church, where Strickland has been pastor since 2012.
As of Thursday, police had identified four alleged victims, one of whom was 14 years old at the time. All were under 17. A fifth person came forward Friday with a similar allegation.
“At this point, with everything we have done, we believe that it occurred over a period of time on more than one occasion,” MSP Detective 1st Lt. Chuck Christensen told Target 8 in an interview Thursday.
Strickland called the allegations against him and his wife “absolutely 100 percent false” when reached by phone Thursday.
“Wow,” Strickland responded when a Target 8 investigator detailed the accusations against him and his wife.
The pastor and former head of the Kalamazoo chapter of the NAACP vehemently denied all accusations and said his home was a place of refuge for young people.
“There are 40 or 50 young people who’ve been in and out of my house,” Strickland said.
“I am not afraid to talk about any of my activities with adolescents. … My home is a safe haven for kids in the neighborhood," he continued. "It’s really unfortunate your whole life can be destroyed by things you can’t respond to."
The pastor, who came to Kalamazoo from a church in Mississippi, said he cannot fully address the allegations because he has yet to hear them for himself from MSP or his attorney.
The investigation isn't the pastor's first negative publicity. In an unrelated case last summer, murder suspect Donnovan Lewis told police he killed his girlfriend Aniya Mack, a Western Michigan University student, over her growing relationship with Strickland, her pastor.
Christensen of MSP said while the investigation is ongoing, detectives have turned over their findings to Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting, who will make a charging decision. Getting declined to comment on the case Thursday.
“If there are any other victims out there that would like to come forward, they need to contact us at the MSP Paw Paw Post at 269.657.5551," Christensen said.
Attorneys for Strickland and his wife told Target 8 they hope the prosecutor will decline charges, but if he does go forward, they’ll be prepared.
“We’re ready to defend,” Mike Hill, Strick Strickland’s attorney, said.
“From my client’s perspective this has been a long investigation, and he’s ready to put it behind him,” Hill explained. “If they charge, we’re looking forward to pleading not guilty and vigorously defending (our client).”
Don Sappanos, who’s representing Jazmonique Strickland, echoed Hill’s sentiments.