Even before controversial megachurch pastor Creflo A. Dollar Jr. released a statement Friday denying he assaulted his 15-year-old daughter, the College Park minister's legion of supporters rushed to his defense.
"It's just something that's been blown out of proportion," said Randi Garrett, a longtime member of Dollar's World Changers Church International. "Kids misconstrue things, and they take them out of context."
But Fayette County Sheriff's deputies say they found ample evidence to charge the prominent televangelist and author with simple battery, family violence and cruelty to children.
Dollar's 15-year-old daughter alleged her father grabbed her by the throat in the family's home on Sandy Creek Road in Fayette County, pushed her to the ground and then beat her with his shoe, according to the incident report. The AJC is not identifying the girl because she is a minor.
The lone witness to Friday morning's altercation, Dollar's 19-year-old daughter Alexandria, confirmed her sibling's account, telling deputies their father "put both hands around her sister's neck and choked her for about five seconds," the incident report said.
Alexandria Dollar said she then saw Dollar grab her little sister by the shoulders and slap her in the face. She says her sister tried to break free but was thrown to the ground, at which point Alexandria ran to get her mother, Taffi, whose arrival in the kitchen ended the fight, the incident report states.
Sheriff's spokesman Brent Rowan said the teen sustained "superficial injuries" to her neck
Deputies were summoned to the Dollars' home around 1 a.m. after receiving a 911 call. Dollar, who preaches that God will bless the faithful with earthly rewards, said he was merely trying to restrain his daughter, who he claims was acting disrespectful after he forbid her from attending a party.
The 50-year-old pastor, known for his designer suits and lavish lifestyle, told deputies that while he was holding his daughter, she began to hit back. After wrestling her to the floor, Dollar said he then spanked the teen and sent her to her room, according to the report.
“As a father, I love my children and I always have their best interest at heart at all times, and I would never use my hand to ever cause bodily harm to my children," Dollar said in a statement released through his attorney, Nikki Bonner. "The facts in this case will be handled privately to further protect my children."
Dollar, whose church website says he serves more than 30,000 members at the College Park campus and another 6,000 at an affiliate church in New York, has defended corporal punishment in past sermons.
In 2006, Dollar told congregants, "We're responsible for not abusing our children but for disciplining them."
"There’s a place for it, and it should only be administered with temperance," he said. "You don’t go lose your temper on your child, that’s abuse. But you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water either."
Dollar addressed the fracas on his Facebook page, writing, "The fight has already been won. We are just walking it out. It’s already been determined that the devil is defeated through the victory Jesus won. Now we must walk in that victory in our own lives."
While most of the clergyman's supporters cautioned against rushing to judgment, not everyone was quick to forgive.
"Dear Creflo: You know that whole spare the rod thing? There's a clause that forbids punching and choking," CNN commentator Goldie Taylor wrote on Twitter.
Dollar, released on $5,000 bond Friday morning, was picked up at the Fayette County jail by his wife and one of his sons. He will not be prevented from having contact with his younger daughter.
As for Alexandria, deputies said she changed her story when investigators asked her to complete a witness statement, and parroted her father's version of events.
"Alexandria wrote the first statement due to her parents being outside with her while she was writing it," deputies stated in the report. After being separated her from her parents, she produced a statement in line with her original testimony, the report said.
One longtime observer of Dollar's ministry said he may want to temporarily step down from the pulpit as he deals with the fallout from the assault charges.
“It’s very interesting when the preacher gets arrested for battery,” said Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania. “We have to wait and see what the circumstances are surrounding the charges.
"Here we see someone who espouses Christian virtues being arrested for battery," Butler said.
"Perhaps that's a real signal that they need to step down from the ministry for a while. How do you get up in the pulpit and preach on Sunday?"
Dollar, a former educational therapist, started World Changers Ministries in 1986 with eight members, holding services in the cafeteria of a local elementary school, according to the church's website. Its campus now occupies 81 acres, with services held in the 8,500-seat World Dome. Dollar is a regular on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
In 2007, Dollar and Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia were among six ministers audited by U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, for suspected misuse of funds. Neither pastor cooperated with the probe, citing the separation of church and state.