1/31/10 – TG: Parental rights cut for some Alamo followers

Texarkana Gazette
January 31, 2010
By: Lynn LaRowe

Parental rights cut for some followers

After hearing she and six other parents devoted to Tony Alamo have permanently lost custody of their children, one mother was carried from the Miller County Juvenile Justice Center.

“This is one of the most difficult decisions a juvenile court judge has to make,” said Circuit Judge Joe Griffin. “It’s comparable to looking a capital murder defendant in the eye and telling him he’s sentenced to death.”

Parents Jim Meyers, Bert and Miriam Krantz, Carlos and Sophie Parish, Greg Seago and Al Reid lost their parental rights.

The rights of Bethany Meyers, Jim Meyers’ wife, were not terminated Friday and she will return to court in six months. She was jailed last year after she refused to divulge the whereabouts of her husband and their other children. Jim Meyers never appeared at any custody hearings.

Cheryl Barnes of the parent advocacy group, Child Protective Services Watch, said last week that DHS has stated she will be terminated as well unless she produces her spouse and missing children.

Miriam Krantz, overcome with grief, collapsed at the hearing’s end and had to be carried from court upon learning her four children were no longer legally hers.

Carlos Parish attended the first day of court and didn’t return. He and his wife disappeared several months ago with the baby Sophie Parish bore in June. Friday they lost custody of their four older children. Sophie Parish, who married her husband when she was 12 and he was 19, didn’t appear at all this week.

The parents were directed early in proceedings that acquiring housing and employment independent of the controversial ministry was a must. Krantz and Seago alleged in a civil lawsuit they filed against DHS administrators that the requirements would lead to the loss of their salvation.

Griffin signed orders permanently removing the children of the five families after three days of hearings that included playback of jailhouse conversations Alamo had with followers.

“There was indication that even though Mr. Alamo is incarcerated, he’s still in control,” Griffin said. “That control includes everything from major policy decisions down to minute, day-to-day business.”

Barnes agreed the tapes showed Alamo’s influence over his flock is still strong.

“The parents had a high degree of integrity in their loyalty to Tony Alamo. He’d instruct them to lie, to say they’d done things when they hadn’t,” Barnes said. “Had the situation been reversed, he would not have stood by them as they do him. But you can’t convince them of that now. It’s a time thing.”

Griffin said the rights of the Alamo-following parents were terminated to protect the children.

“The bond between parent and child is deep and emotional,” Griffin said. “Severing that tie is a very hard thing to do. The court never looks forward to making that determination.”

Barnes said she believes the court could have permanently placed the children with relatives or extended their foster care stays to give the parents more time to choose their children over Tony Alamo.

“There were family members willing to take children who weren’t allowed to do so and permanent custody could’ve been awarded to them. Termination of parental rights should be reserved for the most extreme cases where there is no chance the parents will be fit,” Barnes said.

“The way to deal with this situation is to get the perpetrator and Tony Alamo is not going to be able to run his church from federal prison because of a law enacted in 1999 that states you can’t run a business from prison.

“Unlike the other 99 percent of your dependency/neglect cases, this case involved families’ deep commitment and dedication to their religious beliefs and philosophies,” Griffin said. “The last thing I’d want to infringe on is one’s religious beliefs, but when the person directing you is practicing outside what he professes and children are harmed, the court must act.”

Barnes said she believes the rights of one family, Debbie and Richard Ondrisek, should have been terminated because they allowed one of their daughters to marry Alamo as a child. Alys Ondrisek, 20, remains one of the “sisters in the house,” according to testimony at Alamo’s criminal trial.

Another daughter was living in Alamo’s house at the time of the Sept. 20, 2008, raid on ministry property in Fouke, Ark., by the FBI and Arkansas State Police and was among six girls taken into state custody then.

She has aged out of foster care.

Spencer Ondrisek ran away from home as a teen and is one of two men named as plaintiffs in a civil lawsuit seeking damages for suffering they endured as children living on ministry property.

Testimony in various hearings concerning Alamo included descriptions of his absolute control over the group and parents’ willingness to do anything Alamo instructed. Their children could be taken at any time, forced to fast, beaten with a board, married, forced to labor in lieu of school and were often denied regular medical care.

Since the raid, 36 children have been taken by the state. A handful have been returned to their parents, several have aged out of foster care and are taking advantage of services the state offers juveniles whose 18th birthday occurs while they’re wards of the state. Some have been placed with family members who have no ties to convicted child sex abuser Tony Alamo and others remain in foster care.

Approximately 90 children named on removal orders signed by Circuit Judges in Miller and Sebastian counties have never been found.

DHS spokeswoman Julie Munsell said the parents can appeal Griffin’s ruling.

Munsell said that if older children don’t want to be put up for adoption, they won’t be. Younger children will be put up for adoption though they could be returned to their biological parents if they succeed in the appellate courts and have their rights restored.

“We only begin the adoption process when we have two orders, one for each parent, terminating parental rights,” Munsell said.

Griffin still has two Alamo-related cases pending including Bethany Meyers. A decision regarding Don Thorne’s children hasn’t been made either. Thorne is Sophie Parish’s father and walked her down the aisle when she was 12.

“To presume everybody would’ve made the same decision is unfair,” Barnes said of the choices some parents made for their children with Alamo’s guidance. “These parents are victims of Tony Alamo, too.”

In: 2010

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