11/19/09 – NWA: Neglect deemed clear at Alamo’s; State right to move children

NWA News
November 19, 2009
By Charlie Frago

Court: State right to move children
Neglect deemed clear at Alamo’s

The state was right to remove children from the compound of evangelist Tony Alamo and declare that they had been neglected, the Arkansas Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.

The court upheld Miller County Circuit Judges James Scott Hudson Jr. and Joe E. Griffin, who ruled in three cases involving three fathers who challenged the right of the Department of Human Services to take custody of their children.

The appeals court opinions revealed previously undisclosed information from the closed custody hearings.

For instance, victims testified that they had been forced to fast on just water and coffee and had been put on “diesel therapy,” which involved a forced ride with a ministry truck driver.

Chief Judge Larry D. Vaught cited circuit court findings of beatings, underage marriages, involuntary fasts, inadequate education and poor medical care for the children.

“The evidence overwhelmingly demonstrated that the environment at the compound in Fouke is potentially dangerous for the children of its members,” Vaught wrote.

Alamo was sentenced to 175 years in prison last week, three months after a jury convicted him on 10 counts of taking underage girls across state lines for sex, in violation of the federal Mann Act.

Five victims, now between ages 18 and 31, testified that Alamo had taken them as his “wives” at ages as young as 8 and sexually abused them at his house at the compound, about 15 miles south of Texarkana.

In the appeals cases decided Wednesday in Little Rock, the three fathers – Alphonso Reid, Greg Seago and Brian Broderick – denied any knowledge of a pattern of physical or sexual abuse or that anything illegal happened to their children.

The Bible condones fasting, argued Seago. And Broderick claimed that Alamo’s ministry and compound was “a great environment in which to raise children,” according to the opinions.

Seago claimed that the court’s order for him to move off church property and find alternative employment if he wished to be reunited with his daughter violated his First Amendment right to freedom of religion.

Vaught and Judges Robert J. Gladwin and D.P. Marshall Jr. ruled unanimously on all three cases. They dismissed the fathers’ arguments, saying that even if their children had not yet suffered abuse, the chances were good that they would if they returned to the compound.

“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,” Gladwin wrote in the Broderick opinion.

Alamo founded the ministry with his wife, Susan Alamo, in Hollywood, Calif., in the late 1960s. The ministry later expanded to Arkansas and Nashville, Tenn., attracting hundreds of followers who worked in ministry-owned businesses, including one that designed and manufactured elaborate denim jackets worn by such celebrities as Dolly Parton and Mr. T. Susan Alamo died of cancer in 1982.

After former ministry members contacted the Arkansas State Police, an investigation began that culminated in a September 2008 raid on the Fouke compound.

Federal authorities said after Alamo’s sentencing that they will continue to work with state police and prosecutors to file charges against church members who were complicit in the victims’ abuses.

The Arkansas Department of Human Services, which has placed 36 ministry children in foster care, contends that the children are endangered by practices that include allowing underage marriages and punishing misbehavior with beatings.

At the appeals court, the cases are CA09-350, Alphonso Reid v. Arkansas Department of Human Services; CA09-244, Greg Seago v. Arkansas Department of Human Services; and CA09-351, Brian Broderick v. Arkansas Department of Human Services.

In: 2009 - (Trial year)

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