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Reformatory CP - May 2004
Waynesville Daily Guide, Missouri, 5 May 2004
Arraignment date for Day set for today
By Jodi Elder
PULASKI COUNTY -- After a preliminary hearing Monday afternoon before Judge Ralph Haslag of Phelps County in Pulaski County courts, Nathan Day was bound over to circuit court for arraignment.
It was determined that Nathan Day will go to trial for allegedly beating a student at his boarding school.
Day, the director of Thanks to Calvary Baptist Church & Boarding Academy in Devils Elbow, faces four felony child abuse charges.
The date for arraignment and setting request for trial was set for May 5 in a Pulaski County court. Judge Wiggins will preside.
After a civil suit was filed by a former student's mother, Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Laura Kriebs filed child abuse charges against Day in August 2003.
Day allegedly beat at least one of his boarders, 16-year-old Christopher Jensen, of Marseilles, Ill.
According to investigators with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Day tied Jansen to the back of a lawn mower and an all-terrain vehicle and made him run behind it. The investigators continued that each time Jansen fell he was dragged a few feet before Day would stop.
In the petition filed last August by Jansen's mother, Deborah Stedman, there were several incidents of abuse while Jansen was in their care.
Stedman, who is represented by St. Robert law firm, Smith Turley Long, states in her petition that her son received excessive physical and mental injuries while in the care of Day's boarding school. Jensen had been a resident of the school since April of 2002. His mother paid the boarding school $800 a month for the boarding, care and education of the teenager. She claims in her petition that because the Defendant, Day, advertised himself as a person qualified to "educate, discipline, counsel and modify the behavior of troubled youth" she placed her son in his custody, relying on Day to take charge of the boy.
She claims that she wasn't aware of the alleged mistreatment until recently because the boy was isolated from his family as Thanks to Calvary's school policy requires. Students are not allowed to talk with relatives until after the first six months of boarding, but always with supervision from Thanks to Calvary employees, according to the school's policies. Thanks to Calvary's policies also outline its belief in corporal punishment.
"A maximum of fifteen swats of any kind ... may be administered in a 24-hour period," reads the Enrollment Agreement, which all parents/guardians must sign before turning over guardianship to Thanks to Calvary.
Jensen remained in a catatonic, non-responsive state in a hospital in Illinois for weeks after the reported incident at the boarding school, according to the petition.
The petition claims that Day "utilized physical striking, forms of mental coercion and deprivation techniques as discipline. It also alleges that Day was negligent in the following respects: he used excessive force leaving bruising on Christopher's body from his buttocks to his knee area, he continued the punishment while bruising still existed and caused intense pain and traumatic psychological injury, and he did not seek medical attention for the teenage boy.
Attorney Tyce Smith, of Tyce Smith Long, told the Daily Guide that allegedly the boy had been deprived food as a form of punishment in addition to the physical striking.
Day's attorneys released a written statement to the press.
"We believe the criminal charges are ridiculous. We believe they are greatly exaggerating the supposed 'injuries' that this young man has received," the attorney said.
Copyright © 2004 Waynesville Daily Guide
Boston Herald, Massachusetts, 8 May 2004
Cult hoping expansion plans may flower with Plymouth cafe
By Dave Wedge
Members of a controversial cult accused of racism, violating child labor laws and hitting kids with sticks defended their lifestyle yesterday as they planned to open a new cafe in Plymouth.
"We spank our children out of love," Twelve Tribes member Kevin Gadsby said. "There's so many misconceptions about us."
The 3,000-member international sect, led by elusive "prophet" Elbert Eugene "Yoneq" Spriggs, runs the Common Sense health food shop on Main Street in Plymouth and recently purchased an adjacent building where they will open an eatery. The sect operates Common Ground cafes in Dorchester and Hyannis and has several compounds in Massachusetts, Vermont and New York where members live communally.
"They're very nice people. They keep things clean," said Lynda Oehme, who runs Stevens Florist next door to Common Sense.
Ex-members, though, say the Judeo-Christian religious sect is really a brainwashing cult that preaches against interracial marriage, sucks members dry of money and property, and abuses children. In addition to hitting children with "balloon rods," the sect has been accused of locking kids in basements and forcing children to work at their factories.
The group was fined for child labor violations in New York in 2001 and has been embroiled in several child custody scandals in which members allegedly hid children from authorities. There have also been investigations into newborn deaths and accusations that children have died of preventable diseases because members aren't vaccinated or taken to doctors.
"This group is very dangerous," said cult deprogrammer Robert Pardon, who runs a Lakeville home for defectors of high-control groups, including the Twelve Tribes.
One ex-member living at Pardon's center said she was denied anti-depressants and locked in a room for six days before she fled.
But followers, who believe they are a "chosen" people who will be saved by the Messiah upon gathering 144,000 male virgins, deny wrongdoing and say they're "misunderstood."
"We don't hurt our children," said 30-year member John Howley. "We love our children and to not discipline your children is to not love them."
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St Louis Post-Dispatch, Missouri, 28 May 2004
Beleaguered teen reform school shuts down
Several former students alleged mistreatment at Mountain Park Baptist Boarding Academy, which was facing falling enrollment, legal problems and growing competition.
By Matt Franck
One of the oldest and perhaps most controversial teen reform ministries in Missouri has closed, following declining enrollment, decades of legal hassles and new competition.
Friday was the last day on the job for employees at Mountain Park Baptist Boarding Academy, near Patterson, Mo., about 120 miles south of St. Louis. Students have already returned home or been transferred to similar reform schools, according to reports.
Officials from Mountain Park did not return phone calls Friday. This week, the school's principal, Sam Gerhardt, told a local newspaper that the decision follows a difficult period for the reform school.
"It is just time," Gerhardt told the Wayne County Journal Banner. "We've been in some battles for the last couple of years. It is just time for us to do something different."
The ministry is one of several in the state that seeks to turn around troubled youths with a regimen of strict discipline, Bible teachings and corporal punishment. Many parents credit Mountain Park with rescuing their teens, and on Friday some expressed disappointment about the announcement.
"I'm sad that they closed," said Jodi Hoffman, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., parent who had two children at Mountain Park and a sister school in Florida. "I think that they helped many children and would have continued helping children."
Several former students have said they were mistreated at the school.
Last month, a jury awarded a former student $20,000 for allegedly being pushed at the school by an employee. At least two other lawsuits are pending, including one that was filed on behalf of both students and parents.
On Friday, some alumni said they have wished for the school to close for years.
"This is the result we've been waiting for, so I'm very happy about it," said Angela Collier, who attended from 1992 to 1994 and now lives in Oklahoma City.
Collier operates an Internet site that she has used to publicize the school's troubled history. Mountain Park also has been the center of news media attention over the years, including from the Post-Dispatch, which printed a report two years ago based on the accounts of several dozen former students.
But scrutiny of the ministry dates back nearly three decades, long before Mountain Park opened in Missouri in 1987. The school's founders, Bobby and Betty Wills, had previously operated teen reform schools near Hattiesburg, Miss., before they were shut down after years of abuse investigations and a court order to remove all students.
The ministry first came to the attention of many state officials in Missouri when a student at Mountain Park was killed by three others in 1996.
But the school had often thrived since then, typically enrolling more than 150 teens from all over the country. Parents paid roughly $1,200 a month, usually enrolling their children for a minimum of a year.
That enrollment had dropped to about 40 students this year, according to school officials who testified in the school's court case last month.
John Oliver, a lawyer who represents Mountain Park, said this month that the ministry was rethinking its future, in part, because of competition from several teen reform programs in the state. Several reform schools have moved to Missouri because it does not require religious residential treatment centers to obtain a state license.
But former students such as Collier say they think negative publicity on the Internet ultimately may have doomed the ministry.
Collier's Internet site, and a few others, allow former students to recount their experiences at the school. A few have used the message boards to praise the ministry, but Collier estimates that more than 50 former students have shared accounts of mistreatment.
"I think that made a huge difference, because we never had students coming together before," she said.
Mountain Park shut down its own Web site in recent months. Parents interested in the school since then have sometimes come across Collier's site instead, she said.
During the trial, Betty Wills said the ministry wasn't getting as many calls as it used to for new students.
Mountain Park's sister school, Palm Lane Academy in Florida, also is closing. According to the Wayne County Journal Banner, Mountain Park has referred families to similar teen ministries.
One such school, Thanks to Calvary Boarding School, near Waynesville, Mo., is operated by Nathan Day, a former Mountain Park employee. Day said Friday that he would not comment on whether his school has accepted students from Mountain Park.
Mountain Park's legal battles, meanwhile, will apparently outlast the school.
Arkansas lawyer Oscar Stilley, who won the $20,000 settlement against the ministry last month, said he is pushing ahead with at least two other lawsuits.
"I intend to pursue them to the ends of the earth," he said.
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