Four sets of parents whose children were seized from the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries compound neglected the youngsters and did nothing when they were abused, an appeals court ruled Wednesday in upholding their removal by state officials.
The Arkansas Court of Appeals issued judgments affecting 19 children, including one girl investigators said was sexually abused by the evangelist. The appeals court also dismissed claims that the government was interfering with ministry members’ practice of religion.
“Parents were aware of Alamo’s pattern and practice of enforcing adherence to his will by brutal physical attacks,” the court said.
Alamo, 75, was sentenced to 175 years in prison after being convicted in 2009 on 10 counts of taking underage girls across state lines for sex. He professes his innocence.
State welfare officials seized six girls in a September 2008 raid of Alamo’s compound, the findings from which led to other children being taken into state custody. Ultimately, the state was authorized to seize more than 100 children, most of whom investigators could not find.
The AP is not using the names of the families to protect the privacy of the children.
A lawyer with CPS Watch Legal Team, Phillip E. Kuhn of Lakeland, Fla., who represented the parents, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment via phone and e-mail.
The Department of Human Services said it had no immediate comment.
On the front page of the Alamo ministries Web site, a passage attributed to Alamo says, “I am innocent. We will prove it in the 8th (U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals). The girls lied. I have never done anything that would be considered evil by God.”
Alamo has claimed the Bible says girls can marry when they reach puberty. The ruling includes a number of accounts of underage girls in the ministry being forced to marry grown men.
The girl who described being sexually molested by the evangelist also described vicious beatings and “said that the parents believe that Alamo is a prophet and do not question his authority,” the opinion said.
One girl described “being in a group of children present when (a boy) was given 140 licks with a three-feet-long paddle at Alamo’s direction; when it was over, blood seeped through his pants,” the opinion said, summarizing testimony from court proceedings in Texarkana.
The ruling describes one set of parents who watched while their son received a “savage beating,” the ruling said.
The appeals court noted that the trial judges found testimony from three minors and two adults to be credible in their descriptions of beatings, forced fasting, underage marriages, educational neglect and sexual abuse.
However, the court noted that testimony from five adults who denied that abuse took place were not credible.
The appeals court is bound to accept the ruling of a trial judge as to the credibility of witnesses, the ruling said.
One father claimed there was no evidence that his children suffered abuse. But that man’s wife asked an Alamo enforcer to spank one child and the father allowed his 12-year-old daughter to be married to an adult man, the court said. Another person admitted “popping” one of the father’s young children in the mouth.
“Striking a child six years of age or younger on the face or head, with or without physical injury, is abuse,” the opinion said.
The court issued a similar ruling in February that affected four different families.