STOCKTON, Mo. (AP) — A southwest Missouri prosecutor said Tuesday he has charged five employees of a private Christian boarding school with abusing students — far fewer than the number of charges recommended by state investigators.
The five employees of the Agape Boarding School near Stockton were charged with a total of 13 third-degree felony assault counts, Cedar County Prosecuting Attorney Ty Gaither said.
The charges come after the Missouri State Highway Patrol investigated allegations of abuse at the school.
Based on that investigation, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt recommended prosecuting 22 employees with 65 counts on behalf of 36 victims, including felonies for abuse of a child and tampering with a victim, and misdemeanors for endangering the welfare of a child and failure to report child abuse.
After Gaither said last week that he planned to charge far fewer employees than recommended, Schmitt asked Gov. Mike Parson to remove his office from the investigation because he didn’t believe Gaither intended to “seek justice” for all the victims.
Gaither said this office believed “these to be the appropriate charges under the fact of the investigation,” The Kansas City Star reported.
Although Gaither asked for the attorney general’s assistance in the case, Missouri law gives county prosecutors sole authority in deciding what charges are filed.
A Missouri law passed in 1982 exempted religious residential care facilities from state licensure requirements. After the allegations of abuse at Agape arose last year, the Legislature passed a law that gave the state greater oversight of unlicensed residential care facilities for children.
“It’s unacceptable,” said Brett Harper, of Oregon, who attended Agape from 1999 to 2003 and has pushed for three years for an investigation into abuse at the school.
“It’s one third of the people who should be charged and he lowered the charges,” Harper said Tuesday. “Nobody would call that justice.”
The Star reported that two former students contacted the FBI last week and were told the agency’s office was looking into the Agape case. An FBI spokesman in Kansas City did not confirm or deny an investigation.
According to online court records, the probable cause statements describing the alleged offenses will be kept confidential to protect victims’ rights.
Two of those charged are former students who became Agape employees: medical director, Scott L. Dumar, and Seth Duncan, the son-in-law of David Smock, a Stockton doctor who for years has provided medical care for Agape students. The others charged are Christopher R. McElroy, Everett L. Graves and Trent E. Hartman.
An investigation into the school began after The Star reported on the abuse allegations last year. Since then, former students testified at legislative hearings that they tried to report the abuse at Agape and the now-closed Circle of Hope Girls Ranch for years, but that Cedar County authorities and other officials did not respond to the complaints.
Circle of Hope Girls Ranch near Humansville was closed last year after authorities removed about 25 students amid an investigation into abuse and neglect allegations.
The owners, Boyd and Stephanie Householder, were charged in March and await trial on 100 criminal counts — all but one are felonies — including statutory rape, sodomy and physical abuse and neglect. Both have pleaded not guilty and were released in July on $10,000 bond pending trial.
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