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AG requests removal from Agape case, says prosecuting attorney ‘does not intend to seek justice’ for all victims

  

Attorney General Eric Schmitt has requested to be removed as the special prosecutor in the Agape Boarding School case, saying the prosecuting attorney “does not intend to seek justice for all” of the victims. 

Gov. Mike Parson directed the Attorney General’s Office in March to assist in the investigation into widespread allegations of abuse at Agape Boarding School, a Christian reform school in Cedar County. 

In a letter to the governor Thursday, Schmitt said his team of investigators, prosecutors, and victim advocates identified 65 criminal counts against 22 people, including felony child abuse, misdemeanor assault, and misdemeanor child endangerment charges. However, Schmitt said Cedar County prosecuting attorney Ty Gaither has decided only to file assault in the third-degree charges against seven people. 

“Mr. Gaither’s decision to pursue a relatively small number of minor felony offenses reveals that he has no real need of the expertise and resources of the Attorney General’s Office,” Schmitt said in the letter. “More importantly, however, in deciding not to charge a number of other offenses, Mr. Gaither has expressly rejected the assistance and expertise of the Attorney General’s Office, and he has indicated that he does not intend to seek justice for all of the thirty-six children who were allegedly victimized by twenty-two members of the Agape Boarding School staff.” 

“Please understand that the Attorney General’s Office stands ready to provide services to assist local prosecutors in the prosecution of crimes. However, inasmuch as Mr. Gaither has made plain that he does not desire the Attorney General’s expertise in this matter, and inasmuch as he has made plain that he will not prosecute a number of serious offenses uncovered during this investigation, the Attorney General must seek to be removed as a Special Prosecutor in this impending criminal case.” 

Former students have described horrific allegations of abuse, including grueling manual labor, physical assault, and other punishments.  

“On March 22, 2021, pursuant to state statute and at the request of the local prosecuting attorney, Governor Parson appointed the Attorney General to assist in the investigation and prosecution of criminal defendants arising from incidents at the Agape Boarding School. On September 23, 2021, the Attorney General notified the Governor’s Office that their assistance was no longer needed in Cedar County in reference to these proceedings,” Kelli Jones, a spokeswoman for Parson, said in an emailed statement.

In his letter, Schmitt said his office requested the Cedar County Circuit Court convene a special grand jury to hear evidence of abuse of 36 children, but the request was denied. 

Schmitt’s recommended charges included class B and D felonies. Gaither’s charge is a class E felony.

Gaither was in court Friday and not immediately available for comment, his office said. 

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The Attorney General’s Office is involved in another Cedar County reform school case. In March, he announced dozens of charges against Boyd and Susan Householder who ran the former Circle of Hope girls’ school and boarding home. He said that case is “one of the most widespread of sexual, physical, and mental abuse perpetrated against young girls in Missouri history.”  

Protecting children at Missouri’s unlicensed facilities was a focus of the legislature this year. Parson signed into law a bill that requires those facilities to register with the state and meet certain health and safety standards, including background checks. 

“I believe that a grave miscarriage of justice is occurring,” said Rep. Keri Ingle, one of the sponsors of that legislation. “The children of this state deserve the protection of those sworn to serve them and justice when they are wronged. I urge Mr. Gaither to reconsider his decision regarding charges, and to work with the attorney general to seek justice for all the survivors.”