Hester calls on Arkansas Board of Corrections member Jiles to ‘immediately resign’

Board of Corrections member Alonza Jiles (left) looks over papers during the board's recent meeting on Feb. 15, 2024, in North Little Rock. 
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)
Board of Corrections member Alonza Jiles (left) looks over papers during the board's recent meeting on Feb. 15, 2024, in North Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

Senate President Pro Tempore Bart Hester called on Board of Corrections member Alonza Jiles to "immediately resign."

In a letter addressed "TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN," Hester said he was "unaware of the roles that Mr. Alonza Jiles is alleged to have played in enabling and concealing heinous acts of child sexual abuse while working at 'The Lord's Ranch' Residential Childcare Facility."

Since November, former residents of the now-closed youth treatment center in Randolph County have filed five lawsuits against Jiles and other staff members, claiming they were sexually and physically abused during their time at the site.

Hester, a Republican from Cave Springs, is the latest of several prominent figures in Arkansas government who have called on the Jiles to step down. On Thursday, Attorney General Tim Griffin likewise said Jiles "should resign immediately." Several other state lawmakers also have called for Jiles to resign, including Sen. Ben Gilmore, R-Crossett, who said as much in a Feb. 2 post on X, formerly known as Twitter, Rep. David Ray, R-Maumelle, and Rep. Aaron Pilkington, R-Knoxville.

In his letter, Hester said the lawsuits allege "details of abuse and neglect that are too graphic for me to repeat."

"In light of these numerous, detailed, and graphic allegations, it is my stance that Mr. Jiles should immediately resign from his position as a member of the Board of Corrections," Hester said. "Not only is Mr. Jiles alleged to have enabled and concealed reprehensible acts against children, he is alleged to have done so while working in a position of leadership and trust."

Hester said Jiles' role on the Board of Corrections is inappropriate and insulting to the plaintiffs in the lawsuits, and that it damages the public's confidence in the board and the state.

In an interview, Hester said he left Jiles a message on Thursday over what the senator described as "serious and mounting accusations," asking to meet with the board member. According to Hester, he intended to call for Jiles to resign this week "if he didn't have a pretty credible defense he could give to me."

"I didn't hear back from him, so today, for the first time since I've been in the Legislature, to my recollection, I've called for someone in written form to step down from their position," he said.

Jiles, 60, was first appointed to the state Board of Corrections in 2006 by then-Gov. Mike Huckabee, father of Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and was elected secretary of the board the following year. That term expired in 2011. Then-Gov. Asa Hutchinson appointed him to the board again in 2022. Jiles' second term is scheduled to expire Dec. 31, 2027.

A voicemail left with Jiles seeking comment about his status on the board wasn't immediately returned, but Department of Corrections spokeswoman Dina Tyler said in an email on Monday afternoon that he remained a member of the body.

If Jiles were to resign, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders would appoint a replacement. It would be at least the fifth appointment within the state Department of Corrections she has made since December.

One board member has already resigned this month. Jamol Jones, who was also the chair of the state Post-Prison Transfer Board, stepped down on Feb. 2 after news agencies reported the previous day that he was fired in 2018 from the Benton Police Department after he admitted to an internal affairs investigator that he lied about a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl. Sanders, who appointed Jones to chair the Post-Prison Transfer Board in January, appointed Lona McCastlain to take his place in both bodies.

After the Board of Corrections voted to fire then-Corrections Department Secretary Joe Profiri on Jan. 10, she appointed Department of Corrections Chief of Staff Lindsay Wallace to serve as the agency's secretary. The body confirmed Sanders' pick in a unanimous vote on Feb. 15.

Sanders appointed Brandon Tollett to the board in December, replacing former member Whitney Gass.


A total of 52 people who were sent to The Lord's Ranch as young children and teenagers between 1985 and 2010 are listed as plaintiffs in the cases. The first lawsuit was filed on Nov. 6, 2023, in the Eastern District of Arkansas and was followed by a second lawsuit filed on Jan. 9. Three more were filed on Jan. 26.

The lawsuits state that Emmett Alden Presley of Jonesboro, a former counselor for the Lord's Ranch, along with other staff members and some residents at the facility, sexually abused the plaintiffs and that Suhl, Jiles, and others in leadership positions covered up attempts to report the violations. Reports described in the complaint stretch from as far back as the mid-1980s into the 2000s.

One of the plaintiffs claims that in 1992, when she had turned 18, Jiles officiated a "forced" marriage between her and the facility's social worker, William Sweetwood.

The plaintiff had previously reported to the staff that Sweetwood had begun sexually abusing her when she was around 15 years old, but they failed to prevent it, according to the complaint.

"Rather, Jane Doe 1 was told that Staff Member W loved her and she would learn to love him," the document states. "Jane Doe 1 was eventually forced to marry Staff Member W at the Lord's Ranch chapel, without her parents' knowledge, consent, or presence."

Jiles is also accused of breaking a resident's arm in 2002 while administering a restraint hold. That resident, who is among the plaintiffs in the case, also reported being sexually abused at the facility.


The recent changes in makeup to the Board of Corrections and the agency's lead role had come amid a series of public disputes between Sanders and the board that began in November when the governor called a news conference pressuring board members into supporting her request to add 622 beds at several state facilities. The board agreed to some of Sanders' requests but initially rejected her call for a combined 492 beds at the Barber Ester Unit in Pine Bluff, the McPherson Unit in Newport, and the Maximum Security Unit in Jefferson County.

At the time, the board said renovations were needed at two of the facilities. Members also expressed concerns that some of the prisons were already overcrowded and the expansions wouldn't serve county jails' long-term needs.

The board later agreed to additional beds at the Ester Unit but hesitated to add 368 beds at the McPherson and Maximum Security units in Newport and Jefferson County. A spokeswoman for Sanders' office said on Dec. 8 that Profiri would move forward with the full plan, anyway, under orders from the governor.

The body soon suspended Profiri with pay and banned him from the Department of Corrections administrative building, then fired him four weeks later. Within about three hours, Sanders announced she had hired the former secretary as a senior adviser in her office.

Jiles was one of the five board members who voted in favor of Profiri's termination, according to minutes from a Jan. 10 meeting. Board of Corrections member Lee Watson made the initial motion to fire Profiri, according to minutes from the Jan. 10 meeting. William "Dubs" Byers seconded the motion. The votes in favor of firing Profiri came from Magness, Watson, Byers, Tyrone Broomfield and Jiles. John Felts and Brandon Tollett voted no.

Sanders demanded Chairman Benny Magness' resignation in late December after he requested the deployment of 138 National Guardsmen to work full-time in prisons.

Although Magness had also been appointed to the body by Huckabee, Sanders sharply criticized the chairman's request, which she described as "yet another example of the desire to play political games." In her letter to Magness, she said, "It is clear the Board of Corrections is incapable of rational, reasonable, or fiscally responsible decision making under your leadership."

Magness declined to step down, however.

"Since 1999, I've worked with every governor and have enjoyed good working relationships with each one of them," he said at the close of a Dec. 22 Board of Corrections meeting. "We've worked together to achieve our goal to do what's best for the Department of Corrections and the people of Arkansas. I and the board stand ready to do the same for the Governor Sanders administration."

Two lawsuits have also been filed as a result of the conflict between Sanders and the board. One filed on Dec. 14 by the Board of Corrections against Sanders and Profiri alleges that Sanders and Profiri used a pair of Arkansas laws to skirt the board's authority in an attempt to expand the number of beds at state prisons. Another, filed Dec. 15 by the attorney general against the board, claims the board violated the state's open meetings and records law when it hired attorney Abtin Mehdizadegan during a closed session and that the body failed to properly respond to a Freedom of Information Act request from the attorney general's office.

The decision to hire Mehdizadegan came in a 4-2 vote, with Magness, Watson, Byers and Gass voting in favor. Jiles and Felts voted against the motion.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Patricia James on Dec. 15 issued a temporary restraining order barring the enforcement of Act 185 of 2023 and portions of Act 659 of 2023, which the board contends weaken the board's authority set forth in the Arkansas Constitution.

After a hearing in early January, James converted the order into a preliminary injunction, which will stay in place until the lawsuit is resolved.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox dismissed Griffin's Freedom of Information lawsuit on Jan. 22, though Griffin has filed notices of appeal in both cases.

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