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Nazarene church suspends arrested Marshall pastor

By Robin Y. Richardson
May 8, 2012 at 2:07 a.m.

<p>Pictured is the First Church of the Nazarene where Raymond Earl Cooper, who was arrested last week for online solicitation of a minor, serves as pastor. Cooper has been placed on leave since his arrest.</p>

Raymond Earl Cooper, a local pastor arrested last week for online solicitation of a minor, has been placed on leave from the church following his arrest.

"After seeking advice from the General Secretary of the Church of the Nazarene as well as denominational legal counsel for the Church of the Nazarene, we have placed Raymond Cooper on leave from the pastorate of First Church of the Nazarene, Marshall, Texas," Rob McDonald, Dallas District Superintendent for the Church of Nazarene, said in an e-mailed statement.

The Dallas District hired Cooper as pastor of First Church of the Nazarene located on Pocono Street in Marshall.

McDonald said church officials consider the recent allegations concerning Cooper as "tragic."

"We have not been privileged to see the evidence of the alleged misconduct. All we know is what the news media has reported. In any event, it is a tragic situation," said McDonald. "The family is devastated by the allegations. The church, though understandably shocked by the events of this week, is relying on their faith in God."

McDonald said church officials will continue conducting their own investigation.

"For the next period of time we will continue to investigate the situation and follow due process as warranted by the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene and denominational counsel as to Pastor Cooper's credentials," he said. "We want to be careful and cautious, yet prudent in the handling of this most sensitive issue."

Cooper was arrested last week for allegedly soliciting a person online that he believed to be 14 years old. His bond for the offense was set at $50,000 by Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Mike Smith.

A warrant was issued for Cooper's arrest after the Louisiana State Police Internet Crimes against Children Task Force out of Lafayette, La., alerted Marshall Police Department and the Texas Rangers of the alleged activity.

The task force monitors all types of child sexual exploitation activities occurring online.

An ongoing investigation conducted by the task force revealed that an individual, later identified as Cooper, allegedly sexually solicited someone whom he believed to be a 14-year-old female in an Internet chat room.

According to the complaint filed by Texas Ranger Jason Dudley, Hall Hutchison, a trooper, with the Louisiana task force contacted them on April 23, informing that the pastor had exposed himself on a webcam to someone he believed to be a 14-year-old female. As part of his duties as a Cyber crimes detective, the trooper created and maintained an undercover persona of a 14-year-old female. The persona is intended to serve along with an online presence of a 14-year-old female for the investigation of Internet crimes against children.

The complaint says, on April 9, the detective logged into a Yahoo messenger chat room in an undercover capacity and received an unsolicited message from Cooper who stated, "hi there." The undercover detective responded with "hi" and later advised that he was a 14-year-old female in Lafayette. Cooper responded that he was a 42-year-old male in Shreveport, La.

"As the chat progressed, (Cooper) communicated with Hutchison in a sexually explicit manner," the complaint stated.

According to the complaint, Cooper continued talking provocative, using vulgarity and proceeded to sexually expose himself on the web cam, showing his face and private parts with a picture of Jesus Christ hanging on the wall in the background.

The detective sent a subpoena of production for evidence to Yahoo, and obtained the IP address Cooper was allegedly using during the sexually explicit chat on Yahoo. The information the detective obtained for the IP address revealed the account holder as Ray Cooper, First Church of The Nazarene, 907 Pocono, in Marshall, Texas.

Once the information was turned over to the Texas Rangers, Ranger Dudley searched and found a Texas driver license for Ray Cooper in Marshall and verified that Cooper is 42 years old. The Ranger also learned that Cooper is the pastor of the First Church of the Nazarene, located at the same address.

"It was apparent to (Ranger Dudley) the suspected party observed in the live video feed was the same individual as the Raymond Earl Cooper depicted on the driver's license," the complaint states.

Online solicitation of a minor is a third degree felony. If convicted, the punishment range is imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for a term of no more than 10 years or no less than two years. A fine not to exceed $10,000 may also be imposed.

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