TEXARKANA, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas authorities have taken into protective custody 21 children associated with the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries based on allegations of neglect and physical abuse.
Police took the other 18 children from two vans during a traffic stop.State officials in Arkansas took into protective custody 21 children associated with an evangelical group whose founder, Tony Alamo, faces federal child sex charges.
Department of Human Services spokeswoman Julie Munsell declined to elaborate on the allegations of neglect and abuse in the court order authorizing the seizure.
The 74-year-old Alamo has pleaded not guilty to two federal counts of transporting a juvenile across state lines for sex.
Alamo has preached that the Bible allows young girls to marry once they reach puberty but has said he didn’t adopt the practice. However, witness testimony and assertions from prosecutors indicate otherwise.
John Wesley Hall Jr., Alamo’s attorney, questioned whether his client will be able to get a fair trial in Texarkana considering the news coverage that has accompanied each development in the case. Hall said Alamo is an easy target in the child welfare hearings.
The hearings this week are to determine whether the girls should be returned to their parents or be placed under continued care arranged by the state.
Alamo’s trial is set for February. At the bond hearing, witnesses said Alamo had taken young girls for wives, and the 14-year-old girl made the same claim Monday.
The 14-year-old girl, who spent much of her time in Alamo’s organization in Fort Smith, said Alamo coached her and others to say they weren’t touched improperly or beaten, and Alamo recorded interviews with the girls to document the statements.
Other than in the Texas raid on the property of the polygamous FLDS sect, Arkansas DHS asked for — and received — a court order allowing it to take children from Tony Alamo’s compound into protective custody:
Julie Munsell of DHS says, “We had been gathering information, gathering evidence over the last several weeks, but was actually sped up by the reported movement of families and children in the area. So we went ahead and decided to execute the court order that we had received for the removal of the children.”
A judge criticized the Texas Department of Human Services and ordered the children of a religious compound near San Angelo returned to their parents after that state took the kids into protective custody. It’s a case involving similar allegations of sexual abuse.
Arkansas DHS turned information over to the courts, and made their move Tuesday only after a judge gave the okay.
Munsell explains, “Obviously here the drive is protecting children. We want to make sure that we’re doing that. But we want to make sure that we do it well. Aand sometimes you need the additional action or the additional guidance from the court to help you make that decision. And that’s what we asked for here.”
As of Tuesday night, 11 boys and 9 girls, ranging in age from one to 17, are in the protective custody of the state.