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Reformatory CP - August 2003

Corpun file 11786

Hannibal Courier-Post, Missouri, 15 August 2003

Tri-State News

Heartland founder testifies in lawsuit

Calls manure punishment 'dumb'

By Bev Darr
Of the Courier-Post

Students from the Heartland Academy stand outside the Federal building in Hannibal during the lunch recess. Students were forcibly removed from the school last year by police who ordered the academy be shut down. (C-P photo/Dan Dalstra)

Although testimony began July 21 and was expected to require only two weeks in a civil lawsuit filed by Heartland Christian Academy of rural Ewing, the case is now expected to continue until mid-September. This is because U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber has a previously scheduled trial next week, and the case had already been delayed a week earlier in August.

Defense witnesses testified this week, with Thursday being the final session until after the judge's new trial. The lawsuit is being heard in the third floor federal courtroom at the Hannibal Federal Building.

Heartland, led by its founder and leader, Pastor Charles Sharpe, is suing three people involved in the court decision to remove all 115 students on Oct. 30, 2001, as numerous charges of child abuse were pending. Five Heartland employees had been charged with felony child abuse, with some accused of sending 11 teens who misbehaved into manure pits to shovel manure as punishment. (See related article on the court cases).

The civil lawsuit is seeking to prove that this removal of the students was illegal and in violation of the civil rights of their parents. The defendants are Lewis County Sheriff David Parrish, 2nd Circuit Court Juvenile Officer Michael Waddle, and 41st Circuit Court Juvenile Officer Cindy Ayers.

Heartland alleges that the three defendants engaged in a "systematic persistent and continuous campaign of harassment and intimidation" in an attempt to disrupt and destroy the school. The lawsuit seeks "injunctive and declaratory relief and attorneys' fees."

The removal of Heartland's students ended on Nov. 2, 2001, and the students were allowed to return.

Four days later, Waddle said the removal of the children followed 16 "substantiated" cases of child abuse or neglect. Also that day Judge Webber issued an order temporarily forbidding the removal of children from Heartland. On Nov. 16, 2001, Webber barred mass removals of Heartland students, pending a final ruling.

On Thursday Sharpe testified in response to questions from the defense attorneys. Discussing the manure pit punishment that spawned criminal charges, Sharpe testified that he had previously called the decision to use this punishment "dumb as a rock," because although it did not harm the students, it was bad for Heartland's image.

"We don't want Heartland's name tied to manure," Sharpe said. "There is no question the people used very bad judgment in doing this." He believes it was only done about three times, and said the allegations that manure fell on students was impossible, because the students were only shoveling manure from the sides of the platform (not pit), a job usually done by employees. The students were assigned this punishment because they did not want to attend school, to show what kind of job could result from the lack of education, he said, adding, "all of them did want to go back to school the next day."

In response to other questions, Sharpe testified that when a student enters Heartland, the parents sign an agreement that corporal punishment (swats with a wooden paddle) may be used. They also agree to having no contact with their child for the first month, then scheduling visits in advance.

Heartland attorneys Bob Haar, Lisa Pake and Al Johnson called only a few witnesses, including the three defendants, during the opening days of the court case.

Each defendant is represented by different attorneys. John Lynch and Paul Rauschenbach are representing Waddle. Peter Dunne is Parrish's attorney, and Doug Leyshock and Cheryl Schuetze represent Ayers. All except Dunne are assistant attorney generals of Missouri, and Dunne was hired by Lewis County.

Only Missouri requires no licensing

During a court recess Thursday, Waddle explained the discipline problems at Heartland are the result of the lack of state regulations. "Missouri is the only state in the nation that does not require a license for faith-based residential programs," Waddle said, and as a result "you miss out on minimum standards for the programs."

As Sharpe was questioned Thursday by Rauschenbach, he viewed photographs showing Heartland students with bruises allegedly caused by swats, and was asked if he considers these bruises abuse. He said he does not consider bruises injuries, and said he approves of using a wooden paddle for swats. "If there is a broken bone or bloodshed, that is abuse."

Acknowledging there have been 44 Hotline calls about possible child abuse at Heartland, Sharpe said he is committed to "keeping kids safe. That is our number one priority. I don't want to swat, but sometimes we have to."

Discipline is needed, he said, because, "Heartland is made up of people that have problem backgrounds. That is our mission."

He acknowledged Heartland staff having a wooden paddle with holes drilled in it. He also described an incident in which a girl was held down by several staff members to be given swats with a paddle. He said another choice of discipline is simply holding a student in a "bear hug" until he or she calms down.

He said several hundred students have attended Heartland, and he believes 54 have graduated from the program. And of this number, "only one has had a run-in with the law since graduation."

Questioned about the charges filed against employees, Sharpe said this has damaged Heartland "tremendously" by damaging the reputation of the people. He has since moved his personal property from Lewis County, where the charges were filed, to Knox County.

Earlier this week witnesses included Aline Marshall, a former Heartland group home parent with her husband. She was questioned about incidences of paddling children that caused bruises. This resulted in Hotline calls and child abuse investigations by the Division of Family Services. Marshall said paddling is the only corporal punishment used at Heartland, and a written report is filed each time. She said paddling is based on Biblical instruction of using a "rod" and using hands only to show affection.

Under cross examination, Marshall explained that a 6- or 7-year-old boy was paddled with a wooden paddle only after repeated warnings. She said a 2-year-old girl was given "four swats" with a wooden spoon because she was attacking another child and pulling out the child's hair. Both children were living in her group home, because their mothers were in the women's program at Heartland.

When the civil case began, Sharpe said he wanted the government to leave Heartland alone, explaining, "we hope to prove that parents have jurisdictional rights as to the education and care of their kids. It was totally violated. ...The whole argument is whether the government has control of the kids or the parents. ...Let us run our business and take care of the kids' education and teach them to be good citizens." Heartland now has 300 students, half of whom are residents.

All contents Copyright 2003 The Hannibal Courier-Post and Morris Digital Works.

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