In what has been coined in the media as the Coleman Family Massacre, the man in the center of the case was a well known and respected authority in Joyce Meyers Ministries. Christopher Coleman, son of a preacher, was originally hired to train the Meyers’ guard dog. With further involvement in the ministry, Coleman quickly climbed the ranks and became the head of security.
Allegedly petitioning to divorce his wife amidst an affair, Joyce disapproved of the split, especially for high ranking employees. A short time later, both Joyce and Chris began receiving threats against the Coleman family. The first of which from the account firstname.lastname@example.org warned, “Tell Joyce to stop preaching the bullsh*t or Chris’s family will die.”
Further threatening emails, as well as letters, were sent to Joyce, Chris, and Chris’ wife Sheri. While patrols around the family home were heightened and security for the Coleman’s increased, there were no investigations on The Joyce Meyers Ministry computers.
Early in the morning of May 5, 2009, Sheri Coleman and the 2 Coleman sons were found strangled to death. Chris Coleman was a quick suspect in the case and arrested a short time after the deaths. One of the many pieces of evidence used against Coleman in trial was the confirmed creation of the email account used to send the death threats. It was found that the account was created on Coleman’s password protected work laptop, as well as the device from which the emails were sent. The jury convicted Coleman on three counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
According to a new lawsuit filed against Joyce Meyers Ministries, the company failed to adequately investigate and monitor company computers. Both the employer and Christopher Coleman were sued for wrongful death, survival claims and negligent retention and employment of Coleman. Given the facts in the case, the pursuants claim that the ministry was negligent in their continued employment of Coleman. Furthermore, the accused are said to have failed to effectively monitor company computers.
In a decision by the appeals courts, Joyce Meyer Ministries failed to monitor Coleman’s emails as well as take appropriate disciplinary actions against Coleman after receiving knowledge of numerous death threats to his family. The court additionally reversed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s wrongful death, as well as the corresponding survival claim. The appeals court held there were sufficient facts to establish the employer owed a duty of care to the decedents.
While the facts in this case are dismal, some can be learned from this incident. Employers are responsible for monitoring company equipment, especially when given reason to do so should egregious situations arise. Should a company learn about suspicious behavior, it is advisable that they take immediate action to not only avoid liability but to prevent tragedies such as this.
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