SWEETWATER, Tenn. — The pastor of a newly-created church in Sweetwater said he found out a visiting speaker was a convicted sex offender, then allowed him to participate in the final night of a revival service and sleep at the church the day before he was arrested for failing to notify authorities of his whereabouts.
Monroe County deputies and U.S. marshals arrested Jerry Anderson, 46, on Tuesday. Anderson was convicted in Arkansas of second-degree sexual assault with a 7-year-old victim, records show.
He is registered as a resident of Scottsville, Kentucky, but illegally failed to notify Kentucky and Tennessee authorities of his two-week-long trip to Tennessee, a police report said.
Eagle's Rest Church pastor Philip Spears initially said he heard rumors about Anderson in the final days of the two-week revival, but did not fully investigate before authorities arrived to make the arrest.
"It was too late unfortunately for me to do anything about it," Spears said. "In church, just like anything else entertainment, you get a lot of gossip and a lot of drama, so you don't pay attention to some of the things that you hear."
But the Monroe County detective assigned to the case said Spears told officers Tuesday he knew Anderson was a sex offender.
"[Spears] was aware that [Anderson] wasn't supposed to be around children," Detective Daniel Schneider said.
When later asked by 10News, Spears said he did find out Anderson's status the final afternoon of the revival celebration. He said he told the evangelist he wouldn't be permitted to preach a final sermon but could play music for the service Monday night.
"The church is for everybody," Spears explained. "I don't feel comfortable turning someone away from a house of God."
Deputies arrested him Tuesday at the church, where Spears said he had been sleeping in a cargo trailer on the property.
Schneider said there was no indication Anderson did anything illegal at the church, but investigators plan to speak with a child who attended the services to make sure.
Spears said he plans to conduct background checks on future guest speakers.
"Whenever there’s a rumor, probably I’d check it a lot quicker. A lot quicker," he said.
Anderson is in the Monroe County Jail and is being held without bond ahead of a court hearing on September 20, records show.