5/03/09 – TG: Alamo devotees refuse to give kids’ whereabouts

Texarkana Gazette
May 3, 2009
By: Lynn LaRowe

Alamo devotees refuse to give kids’ whereabouts

Two Tony Alamo Ministries members with children in foster care attended custody review hearings Thursday in shackles and cuffs.

Both parents, a man and a woman from different families, were jailed in January for refusing to tell Miller County Circuit Judge Joe Griffin where their other children were. Griffin, who held hearings for four families Thursday, previously said the parents would not be freed until they “purge” their contempt.

“The children will remain where they are, in the state’s custody,” Griffin said after the hearings. “The parents will continue to work the case plans as ordered by the court.”

If the parents want their children returned to them, they must participate in counseling and other programs. Griffin and Circuit Judge Jim Hudson also ruled that the parents must sever economic, employment and residential ties with the church if they desire reunification with their youngsters.

“This doesn’t have anything to do with them going to church,” Griffin said.

He and Hudson have said the Alamo devotees are free to attend services.

Since a Sept. 20 raid on ministry property in Fouke, Ark., 36 children have been taken into custody amid allegations of physical and sexual abuse and neglect. More than 125 children were listed on removal orders signed by Griffin and Sebastian County Circuit Judge Mark Hewett in November.

In a civil suit filed April 9, DHS is accused of harassing the church, violating the civil rights of members and conducting a “manhunt” for the children. Florida attorney Phillip Kuhn filed the suit on behalf of the church and two fathers—Greg Seago and Bert Krantz—whose children are in state custody. The suit alleges that authorities are trying to disband the church by using “the pretext of a child abuse investigation.”

An affidavit from a second New Jersey man was made part of the civil lawsuit earlier this week. Like one signed by 61-year-old Robert Streit, which was attached to the suit when it was filed April 9, the document penned by Tommy Richards describes a pre-dawn visit from child welfare officials, federal marshals and the FBI at his home in Fort Lee, N.J., on Dec. 8, 2008.

In his affidavit, Richards described the experience as terrifying and stated his 7-year-old daughter often speaks of the incident.

Richards’ affidavit said his wife and seven children were asleep when authorities entered his home looking for children from Arkansas. Richards alleges that his family was questioned for 45 minutes. His affidavit claims he hasn’t been a member of the church or lived on ministry property in more than five years.

“I think he’s a friend of the church,” Kuhn said. “He told me he’d left the church, but I’m positive he’s in the church’s corner.”

Links to R i c h a r d s ’ Website, a YouTube video critical of the Catholic church and Richards’ photograph have been featured on the church’s official site.

“The Roman C a t h o l i c Hierarchy is simply quite evil,” reads a statement on the Website. A link to Tony Alamo’s Ministry Website is available on Richards’ site under the heading “Vatican exposers.”

Last week, Kuhn filed a motion opposing a request by DHS to seal certain records in the case because they deal with juveniles and federally protected health records.

Kuhn accused DHS of trying to conduct “secret” hearings.

“I’ve always believed that openness is the greatest protector of our freedoms,” Kuhn said. “If those records are sealed, they’ll go into evidence. We’ll see them, the other side will see them and the judge will see them.

“The judge would have to clear the courtroom in order to maintain the secrecy of them,” he said.

After the leaking of the videos, Griffin issued a gag order forbidding the release of any more confidential information concerning the children.

DHS was supposed to file an answer to the complaint in the civil suit filed by Kuhn Friday. Instead, DHS requested a oneweek extension of the deadline to respond.

“On April 29, 2009, defense counsel was made aware of a January 15, 2009, order issued by the Circuit Court of Miller, County, Arkansas, prohibiting dissemination of any information obtained in that court under penalty of incarceration,” DHS’ request for an extension states. “Given this additional barrier to the defendants’ ability to adequately present their defense to this suit, they now request additional time to respond to the complaint and motion in order to permit this Court to rule on their Motion to Seal the Record and for a Qualified Protective Order.”

Essentially, DHS wants U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes to rule on their motion to seal certain records in the case before they file an answer to the complaint.

Last year, during the first custody hearings before Hudson, a Gazette reporter who had agreed not to publish the names of any child or parent was asked to leave after a request from the parents’ attorney. A few weeks later, the reporter was asked to leave a hearing regarding attorney appointments after Seago requested the court be cleared of media.

Clay Conrad, the attorney representing some of the families in their appeals of Griffin’s and Hudson’s rulings, criticized Griffin previously for giving statements to the press after custody hearings.

“I think the press has a right to see as much as possible,” Kuhn said. “I think the anonymity of the children is important, so I don’t have any problem with protecting their names, identities and locations.”

Confidential interviews of some of the children with staff at the Children’s Advocacy Center in Texarkana were released by the parents and placed on the Internet last year along with their names.

“I don’t think any video should be released involving the children,” Kuhn said. “If the press wants to violate the anonymity of the children, I just don’t know what you can do about that.”

Advocates of the parents agreed.

“If we would have been involved before those videos would probably have never been released,” said Cheryl Barnes of CPS Watch. “Sometimes parents do things like that when there’s a government agency involved because they’re so desperate to show they haven’t done anything wrong.”

Posts by Richards on his site and anonymous posts on other Websites have espoused that Hudson’s recent hospitalization is the result of God’s anger for his decisions in the Alamo custody cases.

“I don’t do any kind of personal attacks on people,” Kuhn said. “I don’t vouch for the civility of our clients.”

In: 2009 - (Trial year)

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