1/15/09 – Judge: Father must tell kids’ whereabouts

Texarkana Gazette
January 15, 2009
By: Lynn LaRowe

Judge: Father must tell kids’ whereabouts

The number of sign-carrying Tony Alamo Christian Ministries followers dwindled to just a few Wednesday outside the building in downtown Texarkana where custody hearings for 23 children are being held.

The shackles around the ankles of one follower, jailed Tuesday evening for contempt after refusing to reveal the whereabouts of two of his children, clanked as he walked to and from the courthouse. His bright orange uniform provided a stark contrast to the olive green worn by his escorting deputies.

“I conferred with his attorney as to what my requirement would be for him to purge his contempt,” said Circuit Judge Joe Griffin after lunch. “He has to provide us the information.”

The man’s children, and more than 120 others, were named on removal orders signed by Griffin and Sebastian County Circuit Judge Mark Hewett in November.

The orders came as witnesses testified in final custody hearings concerning six girls removed from properties in Fouke, Ark., in September. The witnesses described beatings, forced fasts, polygamy, underage marriages and educational and medical neglect.

To date, 36 children have been found. Six were removed in September. Twenty were taken in November and 10 each were removed on two dates in December.

On Tuesday, Griffin said testimony heard during the custody proceedings made it clear the man had violated his November directive.

“It could be indefinitely or until I’m satisfied,” Griffin said of the length of time the Alamo devotee might linger in the Miller County jail if he continues to keep silent.

Griffin said he didn’t have plans to order the lockup of any other parents, including a mother of six who has three children in state care and three unaccounted for. That mother did not return to court after lunch Tuesday.

“She’s just a party who decided not to attend at this time,” Griffin said of the woman.

As Griffin spoke with reporters, a longtime member of the church documented the exchange with her cell phone camera.

A few minutes later, she responded to questions from court security staff about her interest in the hearings. At first, the woman said she was “freelancing,” then admitted she was “definitely in favor of the church.”

Earlier in the day, the woman had been among a group carrying signs with phrases such as “Pastor Alamo is innocent.”

“Members of Partnered Against Cult Activity choose not to acknowledge the followers with our own anti-Alamo protest because we want to respect the privacy of these hearings,” said Mary Coker, a spokeswoman for PACA. “It’s a shame they care more about their pastor’s image than getting their children back.”

The follower who’d photographed the judge told Court Security Director Tom Harness she didn’t knowingly break the rules.

After checking the woman’s identification, Harness said, “Ignorance gets a lot of people in trouble with the law.”

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