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story.lead_photo.caption State Rep. Justin Harris

State Rep. Justin Harris let his two adopted daughters live with a man who later sexually assaulted the older, 6-year-old girl, the lawmaker said Wednesday, confirming a story first reported by the Arkansas Times.

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Harris, R-West Fork, and his wife, Marsha, adopted two sisters in March 2013 at the request of their mother, Harris said. The Harris family sent the two girls to the Bella Vista home of Eric Cameron Francis, now 39, and his wife in October of 2013.

Eric Francis was arrested in the girl's assault on April 4, 2014. In November, he pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual assault in the second degree, involving one of Harris' adopted daughters and two other girls. The two sisters have since been adopted by another family.

The girls were sent to the Francis home because they had become a danger to themselves and others in the Harris home, Harris said.

"When our adoption became final, we went to the court, the whole family, exchanged teddy bears and everything -- and it was like a light bulb suddenly flipped on for the girls. They knew, suddenly knew, that this was their forever home, and they were no longer ever going back to Mom's house," Harris said. "There was anger and an instant behavior change."

Harris said he sought help for the girls and took them to counseling, but their behavior did not improve.

No law prohibits a parent from leaving a child in the care of others.

Harris and his wife have three biological children and had never adopted before. The Francis family had three children, all by adoption, he said. The Francis family had passed background checks for international adoptions, which are more stringent than those in-state, Harris said.

Francis had also worked for Harris' family-owned preschool, Growing God's Kingdom, for three months and had a clean criminal background check there, Harris said.

The Harris family maintained contact with the two sisters and forwarded any money received from the state Department of Human Services for their support to the Francis home, Harris said. The girls seemed to be doing well, he said. The state became involved with the girls while they were still with their natural mother, he said.

"We would have never knowingly put a child in harm's way, and anyone who knows us knows that," Harris said.

Former Gov. Mike Beebe said Wednesday that he never heard of a Human Services case in which a family had gone through an adoption and then given the child up soon thereafter. Beebe was governor for eight years, state attorney general for four years and a state senator before that, beginning in 1987.

"I was shocked. I'm appalled. Why would anyone go to the trouble of adopting a child and then give the child away?" Beebe said.

He said he first learned of the case in 2014, when Arkansas State Police briefed him about the rape investigation. The state police routinely informs the governor about any criminal investigation involving a public official, even in cases where the public official is not the focus of the investigation.

Beebe said he considered calling for steps to discourage adoptive parents from releasing their children to others. He didn't because he could not reveal his reasons until this case became public, he said. The case's records did not become public under the state Freedom of Information Act until Francis pleaded guilty in November. Beebe left office in January.

A bill to prevent "re-homing" was filed Wednesday. Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, filed House Bill 1648, which would prohibit transfers of adopted children to other families.

The House minority leader, Rep. Eddie Armstrong, D-North Little Rock, released a statement on behalf of House Democrats.

"First, our thoughts and prayers are with this little girl and other children that may have been exposed to injury as a consequence of this practice. I think everyone in our caucus was dismayed to learn that 're-homing' is allowable in Arkansas, and a bill has already been filed to address this tragic gap in the law so that our children can be protected," the statement said.

Asked if he thought Harris could continue his work as a legislator, Armstrong said he didn't have a definite answer.

"That's a tough one to call. As long as Harris can do his job ... he should do that," Armstrong said. "It's too early to call [until] all the facts are known. But we're focused on fixing the actual problem."

House Majority Leader Ken Bragg, R-Sheridan, said he did not know the details and did not want to speak about the specifics of Harris' situation.

"I've known Justin since being elected to the Legislature. I know him to be a dedicated Christian, a family man with the highest integrity who cares deeply for the welfare of children," Bragg said.

House Speaker, Rep. Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, said there would be no sanctions or repercussions from the legislative body in this case.

"At this time, that situation, as far as we're concerned from the House perspective, is past tense, and we're moving forward and looking at the remainder of our calendar and finishing the month strong," Gillam said.

Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, sits on the House Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs Committee of which Harris is vice chairman.

Flowers said she was "shocked" to learn that re-homing is practiced in Arkansas.

"I didn't even know [re-homing] was a word. Most of us didn't know it was a thing. ... We didn't know it could be done," Flowers said. "The important thing is to close the loopholes and protect kids."

Asked if she thought Harris' ability to act as a lawmaker had been compromised by the revelation, Flowers said "that's a good question," but she didn't offer an answer.

A Section on 03/05/2015

Print Headline: 'Re-homed' by legislator, girl, 6, sexually assaulted

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  • God_Loves_Me_Best
    March 5, 2015 at 5:08 a.m.

    I love the self-serving narrative of victimhood that Harris has given here. The facts are that Harris "re-gifted" an already-abused adoptee to a child rapist who he had previously hired to work with young children at his pre-school. His stated hiring standard was that the child rapist was a "good Christian."

    If you are naive, you can say that this was nothing more than really bad judgement from a person who should never be given responsibility for children or for legislatively determining family policy. If you are more jaded, you will note Harris's affiliation with Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, the place that produced Alabama's infamous Gary Aldridge.

    Adopted children are not puppies who can be given away when you grow tired of them.

  • 23cal
    March 5, 2015 at 6:01 a.m.

    Isn't this the same legislator who took over a million dollars in education funds from the state while running a christian ministry pre-school in violation of church/state separation laws? "Growing God's Kingdom"........how can anyone not know that is a church/state violation and you can't take state funds for that? Whoever stuck the "good Christian" label on this guy didn't realize they were indicting Christianity.
    *
    From Religion and American Law (Bucknell U.) " this preschool has received over 1 million dollars since 2006 from the Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) program. The ABC program is funded by both federal and state task dollars and distributes money across all preschools in Arkansas. Growing God’s Kingdom is heavily religious based (as evident in the name of the program) and Christianity is included in the curriculum. This is evident in the preschool staff’s handbook, which instructs employees to “share the love of Jesus with these children” and “teach them the word of God.”

  • arkieland
    March 5, 2015 at 6:08 a.m.

    This could have been reported in the "Crime in Arkansas" section of the paper... if we'd only had laws in place to protect these children.

  • WGT
    March 5, 2015 at 6:41 a.m.

    All this mess. Pitiful and pathetic. These children ar scarred for life due to the hubris of "christians". If this is how "christianity" works, I want none of it. Get these children out of this "family" and to an environment of safety.

  • herenow
    March 5, 2015 at 7:25 a.m.

    Justin Harris is a disgrace to the state. He should be removed from any position of leadership in the Arkansas Legislature. My guess is that there will be no repercussions to him for his part in the abuse of these innocent children. But, he is one of those who spoke strongly about how abortion should be outlawed.
    Bring those kids into the world but after that, they are fair game for abuse, both sexual and physical. His attitude seems to be, "We did our part, we got them birthed, but now they are on their own."
    Not saying they should have been aborted so don't flame me on that comment. My point is they deserve protection in life, just as they do in being born.
    Harris took those kids to raise. Adoption is not an easy process to complete. But then he gave them away like an unwanted puppy.
    The shame of it is beyond my understanding.

  • MeadowcliffMafia
    March 5, 2015 at 8:24 a.m.

    "Re-homed?" Really? How about calling it what it is? "Child trafficking"

  • JakeTidmore
    March 5, 2015 at 8:28 a.m.

    Let's rehome Justin Harris to another state.

    Apparently Nate Bell is condemning folks to hell who report the story about Harris. Who elects such self-righteous Pharisees?

  • God_Loves_Me_Best
    March 5, 2015 at 8:48 a.m.

    If they are not being bought off, area law enforcement agencies need to investigate whether this is part of the adoption ring run by one of the NW Arkansas mega-churches. These rings are notorious for buying children stolen from their families in Asia and Central America. They often work hand in glove with the big-money "crisis pregnancy" adoption mills.

    Many people are suspicious that there may be something even more sinister here. It should certainly raise red flags if a child rapist has been given children by one of his buddies without going through legal channels.

  • Nodmcm
    March 5, 2015 at 9:14 a.m.

    Sad to say, but these two little girls would have obviously been better off in a Muslim preschool, learning Sharia Law, than in the hands of this bunch of "Christians." Hate to say it, but whenever a grown man, like the child rapist Eric Francis, seeks a job at a preschool, perhaps an alarm should go off somewhere. Sort of like scoutmasters and big brother volunteers, sadly, molesters seek jobs that place them near their preferred victims. All of this is sad and horrible, but quite human. Are church preschools the new place for pedophiles to go to have sex with youngsters?

  • Skeptic1
    March 5, 2015 at 9:33 a.m.

    While the legislator takes up the issue of re-homing adopted children, the greater need and issue is to pass legislation mandating that circuit courts refer any family court case to the prosecutor's officer where sexual abuse allegations have been made, regardless of whether DHS deems the report substantiated. There are numerous cases that can be cited right now, but when the allegation is made in the family court it stays there with incredibly the alleged abuser receiving court ordered visitation or even custody. Governor Beebe with his righteous indignation, knows of one horrific case and did nothing, so his attack on this senator (a Republican) is very obviously partisan and not out of any great concern for the children.

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