The nightmares hadn’t stopped, but he had for a while. Then, around last Thanksgiving, a time for family and grace, Amanda Grant found herself in a familiar position, cowering while her father exploded over nothing.
It started with a conversation about her holiday plans. Then, Amanda said, he was yelling and slamming her into the kitchen table. He smacked her on each side of the head and head-butted her.
For as long as she could remember, Amanda said her father had been raging — breaking glass, tearing doors from their hinges and threatening his family. She had suffered most of it in silence, but now she was 18. She could finally do something.
When it was over, Amanda ran to her room. She snatched her medication and her phone charger and drove away. Within the next few hours, she had filed a police report and gotten a restraining order against her father, but it was not enough.
She wanted him to face real consequences. She wanted him to be held accountable, so she started firing off emails to lawyers.
“I’m scared of this process,” she wrote. “I don’t know what is next.”
On her 19th birthday, March 3, 2016, Amanda Grant filed a potentially groundbreaking lawsuit against her father, Phillip Grant, a former pastor, for years of physical and emotional abuse.
In his official response, Phillip called the lawsuit “frivolous”, and said it was “an abuse of process.” He denied all the claims of abuse his daughter made in her complaint and is seeking attorney fees. Neither Phillip or his attorney, Robert Becker, responded to requests for comment.
The legal complaint outlines some of Phillip’s abusive episodes, which stretch back to Amanda’s early childhood. For many, Amanda was a witness, like when her father beat and strangled her mother. For others, she was the target, like when he threatened to drive his Hummer through the bay window while she slept or broke a glass bowl over her head.
Then there's the fallout. Her father’s unpredictability made her afraid to bring friends to the house. His fear of anyone asking questions kept her from leaving. She became isolated, had few friends and quit all her favorite activities.
She has been diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Loud sounds — glass shattering, cars backfiring — drag her back to all his fits. In high school, they used to pull her out of class before fire drills because she would curl up into a ball on the floor when she heard the alarms shriek.
Amanda is suing her father in Hamilton County Superior Court for common law battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She is asking for punitive damages, costs to treat her injuries and compensation for the effects of her father’s abuse. Still, she can't fathom how to put a dollar amount on what she's been through.
Amanda speaks quietly. Her voice tends to quiver. She is tidy. She likes to match her jewelry and nail polish to her clothes. Sometimes, she has trouble making eye contact. She is short, with cropped, dark hair and sharp features. When she looks in the mirror, she sees too much of her father.
The lawsuit is not about the money, Amanda said, but about accountability. She wants him — and others who torment their own families — to see that this abuse cannot go on unchecked.
“I just want it to end.”
When he saw Amanda’s email, Indianapolis lawyer Greg Bowes did not wait to call her back.
“This case involves a child being hurt, and the person responsible for taking care of her is the one who was doing the hurting,” Bowes said. “I’m glad to have the skills to help someone who’s been hurt like this.”
Bowes has experience with other cases where people who were abused by their caretakers sue retroactively, but as far as he can tell, there has never been a case exactly like Amanda’s in Indiana.
Children are often reluctant to sue their parents even when it is justified. Lawsuits are expensive and exhausting, and the emotional toll on a family can be an even higher price to pay, Bowes said.
When they do sue, it is mostly in cases of sexual abuse. In rare cases, parents who are abused by their partners in front of their young children file lawsuits on behalf of the kids to reckon with the trauma they’ll face in the future.
Amanda’s case is somewhat of a hybrid, split between the violence she witnessed and what she suffered directly.
Bowes is working the case on a contingency fee, meaning if they win the case, he will be paid. If they lose, he gets nothing.
“I know I’m taking a big risk that I may put a lot of work into a case that doesn’t turn into a lot of money,” Bowes said. “I don’t mind because it’s sort of a calling.”
Minister Phillip Grant believes in the teachings of the Bible, according to his Facebook biography — the power of love, grace and goodness, honor and respect.
On Sunday mornings, when he stood at the pulpit at Faith Deliverance Church in Franklin, Indiana, preaching these values to an adoring congregation, Amanda said she would cringe at his hypocrisy. While he shared the word of God, her mind would drift to how he used scripture to justify his behavior.
In church, they were picture-perfect: the pastor, his wife, Karen Sue, and their two daughters, both the spitting image of their father. At home, the women walked on eggshells, unsure what would set Phillip off.
“No one would ever have thought he could do what he did,” Amanda said.
The earliest memories Amanda has of her father’s violence stemmed from punishments. He would go overboard with spankings while her mother stood nearby, begging him to stop. The legal complaint includes a time when he was beating her with a belt. After several minutes, when he had struck her so many times her skin was raw, Amanda’s mother laid down on top of her. He turned the belt on Karen Sue instead.
The constant abuse splintered the marriage, but for a long time, Karen Sue was too frightened to leave. In front of other family members, Phillip would make violent threats.
“If you ever leave me, I will kill you,” he said, according to the complaint. “I will find you and slash all four of your tires.”
Police records show law enforcement was called to the house at least seven times, sometimes by neighbors, by Amanda or her grandparents, who would call from their own home and send the police to Amanda’s house.
Once when she was 10, Amanda said she went upstairs after hearing her parents yelling and found her father with his hands wrapped around her mother’s throat. Terrified, she called the police, who arrested Phillip after seeing the handprints around his wife’s neck.
Fear and optimism kept Karen Sue from pressing charges against her husband, Amanda said. Her mother thought the night in jail would scare Phillip into changing.
Karen Sue had to take her daughters to safety more than 15 times, according to court documents. She started keeping bags packed with clothes and toiletries in case they had to flee to her parents’ house in Martinsville, Indiana.
When there was nowhere to run, they would hide in the closet. Amanda remembers sitting in the dark with her grandmother’s voice coming through the phone but being too frightened to respond.
In 2007, Karen Sue got a protective order and filed for legal separation from Phillip. They were officially divorced in 2011. Some people in church had started to notice Karen Sue’s bruises and her meekness, Amanda said, and with the divorce, Phillip could not hide. He left the church, packed up and moved north to Arcadia, Indiana.
For a while, things were better. Amanda regained her confidence and competed in beauty pageants. She loved shopping for fairy-tale dresses and spending hours getting ready. She relaxed, no longer worrying about her mother’s safety while she was at school.
Then her mother fell in love with a good man and moved to North Carolina. Amanda was torn. She did not want to lose her mother, but the idea of being torn from her grandparents, her sister and the only place she had ever lived was too much.
After months of family counseling and hollow promises, she moved back in with her father.
When he wasn't raging, he was a charmer. Phillip met Karen Sue when she was only 19. She was not going to school. She had never had a boyfriend. Within a few weeks of meeting, they were engaged.
When he told Amanda he had met a woman on eHarmony in late September 2011, she feels like she should have expected what came next.
When she came back the next week for one of their scheduled visits, her father was wearing a ring. He had gone down to the courthouse. It was one week from meeting to marriage.
Phillip’s new wife has a little boy from a previous marriage, a scrawny kid with blonde hair and a goofy smile. Amanda cringes when she imagines her father turning his rage toward his stepson. She hopes the lawsuit will keep that from happening.
“I would hate for him to be next,” Amanda said.
In all the years of abuse, he has never apologized, Amanda said. He would tear through the house, then leave his family to handle the wreckage. The only things he ever dealt with were the doors, which he repaired after bursting through them but only to avoid questions that might come from handymen, Amanda said.
He would justify his behavior with scripture and claim it was his job as a man to discipline his family. He’d say it was their fault, that they’d pushed him too far. Then he’d compensate with lavish gifts.
“I remember once after he beat my mom he practically bought out the whole Coach store,” Amanda said. “It was his way of trying to make it acceptable.”
On the stretches between his fits, he was a normal dad. A goofball and a prankster, who snuck up on Amanda in a werewolf mask on Halloween and pretended to get bitten by a creature lurking in the trash can on vacation. He took Amanda on “daddy-daughter dates” to Cheesecake Factory and to get her nails done.
The patches of normalcy were enough to eclipse the fear sometimes. Until she was 12 or 13, Amanda could still imagine her dad in her life, for Thanksgivings and graduations and to walk her down the aisle.
Then one afternoon, she said she went to him and asked what he would do if she were married and told him her husband was physically abusive.
He barely paused.
“I’d ask what you did to make him so angry.”
A few nights a week, Amanda wakes up panting and drenched in sweat from dreams where her father is chasing her. She has not seen him since she moved out of his house in November.
After the incident around Thanksgiving, he went on a trip to Florida. While he was gone, Amanda hauled out her clothes and small furniture, anything she could lift by herself. She drove back and forth between her father’s house in Arcadia and her grandparents’ house in Martinsville, where she lives now.
Even with distance, there are some things she cannot shake off. She still sleeps with her phone under her pillow. She is getting used to being able to leave important things out around the house. Before she had to hide things she cared about.
“I used to ask myself all the time, ‘Is it really worth it to put this out if he’s just going to break it,” Amanda said.
She is in school now and is earning a degree in special education. After seeing how her mother suffered because she was so dependent on her father, Amanda wants to rely only on herself. She takes care of a severely autistic boy. It is a high-stress job, but it is the place she feels the calmest.
Amanda’s father just responded to the lawsuit last week. When the time comes to face her father in court, Amanda said she is determined to be there, to dress up and look him in the eye. The thought terrifies her, but she will not shrink back. She is done hiding from him.
When Amanda started school, she lived with him, so now she makes the 90 minute trip from Martinsville to Kokomo, Indiana, to go to class at Ivy Tech. Every time, she has to pass his house on United States Highway 31.
After she filed the lawsuit, she started noticing signs nailed to his mailbox. They were written on white posterboard, outlined neatly in pencil and colored in with bright markers.
“We love you and miss you, love Dad.”