Southwest Baptist University (SBU) in Bolivar, Mo., has expelled two students allegedly involved in an assault at an off-campus group home unrelated to the university.
Viavia Manuma, 24, was charged Feb. 1 with one count of child abuse and two counts of first-degree assault in the incident said to have occurred in July 2016 at Home Court Advantage Inc., a residential treatment facility for children, the Associated Press (AP) reported. Henry Epenesa, 21, was arrested Feb. 2 and charged with two counts of assault and one count of child abuse, The Missouri Pathway reported. Both men were SBU football players.
“Southwest Baptist University has dismissed two students in accordance with the university’s judicial process. The action was taken based on a preponderance of evidence for their involvement in an alleged assault that occurred in a Bolivar area residential care facility for children,” the university said in a written statement on Jan. 30.
SBU added in a subsequent statement released on Feb. 1, “The alleged incident related to the video was not connected to Southwest Baptist University or any University-sanctioned activity.”
Manuma and Epenesa were charged after video surfaced of an assault on a teenage juvenile housed at Home Court Advantage Inc., where Manuma and Epenesa were employed independently of SBU. According to a Polk County sheriff’s deputy, the video showed Manuma punching a juvenile in the face, and seemed to indicate that whoever videoed the incident kicked the juvenile in the head, the AP reported. The victim appeared to lose consciousness, but was helped to his feet by a third staff member, the sheriff’s deputy told AP.
The Christian university affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention notified law enforcement officials upon learning Jan. 24 of the alleged incident, SBU said. The university did not release names of the students to the media.
“As a father and grandfather, I am especially grieved about recent allegations against two SBU students of alleged abuse at a local residential care facility for youth,” SBU President C. Pat Taylor said in a Jan. 31 written statement.
“I am saddened any time that we learn of conduct that does not align with our mission and values,” he noted. “On behalf of the SBU family, I express great sorrow over these actions. Such behavior will not be tolerated by the SBU community.”
Taylor also requested prayer for everyone involved.
“I encourage you to join me in praying for the parties involved in this situation and for the SBU family. We will not let the regretful actions of a few define who we are as an institution,” he said. “We are a community of 3,700 students, 350 full-time faculty and staff, and more than 27,000 alumni around the world – and we continue to carry out our mission of being a Christ-centered, caring academic community preparing students to be servant leaders in a global society.”
Home Court Advantage Inc. describes itself on its website as “a small organization designed and operated by a diverse team of mental health professionals and people experienced in helping kids, children and adolescents make positive choices for their futures – no matter what decisions they may have made in the past.” The AP reported Feb. 1 that the center housed 64 children with psychiatric problems and developmental disabilities.
Manuma and Epenesa were placed in Polk County Jail on $50,000 bonds. No information was available as to whether they had since been released. Several state agencies have joined law enforcement officials in the investigation, AP reported.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)