FAYETTE, Mo. - The church leader who spent several months in jail is suing the sheriff's department that put him there.
Ryan St. Anne Gevelinger, leader of the Holy Rosary Abbey, filed a federal lawsuit against Howard County, Deputy Russell Harrison and Sheriff Mike Neal Wednesday, claiming malicious prosecution and false arrest. Deputies arrested Gevelinger, who also goes by Ryan St. Anne Scott and was born named Randell Stocks, in 2015 for financial exploitation of an elderly person. Prosecutor Stephen Murrell dropped the charges in December, while Gevelinger pleaded guilty to an unlawful gun possession charge at the same time. He received a five-year probation sentence for it.
The lawsuit claims Deputy Harrison, a retired dentist, built a close relationship with Gevelinger and Patricia Baldridge, the Iowa woman who lived with the self-styled Benedictine monk, in an old Methodist church in Armstrong, just north of Fayette. So close, in fact, the lawsuit claims Harrison became a co-trustee of Baldrige's estate, along with Gevelinger. However, the relationship grew sour when the two wouldn't help Harrison's church of Latter Day Saints, and after "personal and religious rejection, Defendant Harrison then began a campaign to destroy Plaintiff's reputation, church, and lives through criminal investigation, prosecution, libel, and slander."
"We think Russell Harrison was enraged, and wrote the probable cause statement, and started, frankly, a botched investigation," Gevelinger's attorney Lee Cross told ABC 17 News Wednesday.
Gevelinger and Cross were in Fayette Wednesday for a hearing on Murrell's motion to revoke the probation. Gevelinger faces a seven-year prison sentence if he violates probation, which Murrell said he did when he failed to properly report a move from Branson to Columbia to the parole office. Cross, though, said it was a misunderstanding on the parole office's part. Gevelinger needed medical treatment in Columbia, he told ABC 17 News, and the southwest Missouri parole officer may have forgotten to contact the Columbia office. Judge Cynthia Suter delayed the hearing until October 26.
While he leads a Catholic organization, Gevelinger is not an ordained priest. The Jefferson City diocese warned people when Gevelinger settled in Armstrong that he did not have permission from Bishop John Gaydos to establish a monastery in the area. Gevelinger, then calling himself Ryan St. Anne Scott, ran into financial problems in both Iowa and Illinois, going through bankruptcy court several years ago. Gevelinger, along with his adopted mother Roseanna and his "companion" Barry Rodgers, moved to Armstrong in 2014. Baldridge followed later.
Harrison played a major role in the investigation that put Gevelinger in jail for nine months on $150,000 cash bond. He wrote the probable cause statement, spurred by a call from Baldridge that Gevelinger began acting angrier. Payment on the church was due soon, and Gevelinger was pressuring Baldridge to sell part of her Iowa farm to help. Harrison took Baldridge from the church, and recorded an interview with her that was used in the criminal case. Baldridge, though, became a reluctant witness as early as the preliminary hearing held a month after the arrest, dodging Murrell's questions on what happened with Gevelinger.
Cross said Harrison's close relationship to the two should have precluded him from such a large part of the investigation. Sheriff Neal should have known this, too, and known about the "obviously biased, flawed and inadequate" investigation done.
Neal told ABC 17 News he had not been served with the lawsuit, and would not comment on it.
"Even if we disagree with Mr. Gevelinger's religion, we think it's a sham," Cross told ABC 17 News. "It doesn't give anyone the right to limit his free exercise thereof."