11/18/09 – AP: Arkansas officials properly seized children living at the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries. “…even when the parents witnessed beatings, they did nothing.”

Pine Bluff Commercial
November 18, 2009

Appeals court upholds seizure of Alamo children

Arkansas officials properly seized children living at the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries who faced “a clear picture of danger” from beatings and forced fasts ordered by the evangelist, a state appeals court ruled Wednesday.

Arkansas Court of Appeals judges issued three opinions dealing with children taken by welfare officials after a September 2008 raid at Alamo’s compound in Fouke. The rulings offered new details from closed child custody hearings about Alamo ministries, outlining how children suffered burst blood vessel and passed out after “spankings” over perceived slights to the 75-year-old preacher.

“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 mind set 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.”

Officials with the Arkansas Department of Human Services have seized about three dozen children since the raid by the FBI and Arkansas State Police. 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.

During closed-door custody hearings, a variety of witnesses testified about life inside the compound, the opinions show. The witnesses said Alamo followers could talk to “outsiders” only when sharing Alamo’s beliefs. Followers faced beatings and punitive coffee-and-water fasts for breaking church rules, while teens were forced into “diesel therapy” _ riding along with semi-trucks associated with the ministry’s private businesses.

“The evidence presented at the hearing overwhelmingly demonstrated that the environment at the compound in Fouke is potentially dangerous for the children of its members,” Chief Judge Larry D. Vaught wrote in one opinion. “Punishment may be directed at a child with the parents’ permission; other times, the parents learn of it later. The evidence demonstrated that even when the parents witnessed beatings, they did nothing.”

Some testified that Alamo began sexual relationships with the young daughters of followers, while the preacher ordered others that reached puberty to marry men at times more than twice their age. Witnesses at Alamo’s federal trial for taking young girls across state lines for sex say he took child “brides” as young as 8.

Alamo himself testified at the custody hearings. An opinion issued Wednesday by Judge Robert J. Gladwin shows that Alamo 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.

Appeals court judges were unmoved by Alamo’s explanation.

“The evidence introduced at this hearing presented a clear picture of the danger to children in the ministry compound at Fouke,” Gladwin wrote. He added: “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.”

Julie Munsell, a Department of Human Services spokeswoman, did not immediately return a call for comment Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes sentenced Alamo to 175 years in prison last week after a jury convicted the preacher on a 10-count federal indictment. Alamo’s defense team has appealed the sentence.

In: 2009 - (Trial year)

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