11/18/09 – Appeals court upholds removal of children from Alamo compound

Arkansas News
November 18, 2009
Arkansas News Bureau

Appeals court upholds removal of children from Alamo compound

State human services officials were justified in removing children living at the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries last year for their own protection, the state Court of Appeals ruled today.

In three separate opinions, the court concluded there was enough evidence to support the state Department of Human Services’ decision to remove the children following a September 2008 raid on the Alamo compound in Fouke.

Among other things, the rulings said the children faced danger of beatings and forced fasts ordered by the 75-year-old evangelist convicted earlier this year of transporting underage girls across state lines for sex and sentenced this month to 175 years in prison.

Since the raid by state police and the FBI, DHS has seized about three dozen children. Three men with children taken by the state appealed rulings by Miller County Circuit judges Joe E. Griffin and James Scott Hudson Jr. that allowed the children to remain in protective custody.

In one of the appeals court rulings today, Judge Robert J. Gladwin wrote that the evidence “presented a clear picture of the danger to children in the ministry compound at Fouke.”

“Given the juvenile code’s goal of preventing the abuse of children before it occurs, if at all possible, we have no hesitation in affirming the circuit court’s finding that these were children dependent-neglected,” Gladwin wrote.

In a separate opinion, Chief Judge Larry Vaught wrote that the “evidence … overwhelmingly demonstrated that the environment at the compound in Fouke is potentially dangerous for the children of its members.”

Though the custody hearings were closed, today’s appeals court rulings offered new details about the lives of children at Alamo ministries, outlining how children suffered burst blood vessel and passed out after “spankings” over perceived slights to the 75-year-old preacher.

Some testified that Alamo began sexual relationships with the young daughters of followers and ordered others that reached puberty to marry men at times more than twice their age. Witnesses at Alamo’s federal trial testified he took child “brides” as young as 8.

“My childhood was robbed from me. I can’t ever speak to my mother. My children think that I don’t love them,” according to testimony quoted in the opinions from one woman forced to marry a 35-year-old man when she was 15. “I still think that I have this thing in the back of my mind if I testify to show what my mindset was that somehow I am going to be cursed by God, because God is going to cause me to be sick.

“Because you know, Tony says he is a man of God, and all he brings him and he repairs lives and heals people’s hearts, but all he’s done is destroy mine.”

Alamo testified at the custody hearings. Gladwin’s opinion today says the preacher told the court he believed polygamy is acceptable and that girls can be married after they reach puberty, though he denied permitting practicing those beliefs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

In: 2009 - (Trial year)

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