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Prosecutor says restraining children at Missouri's Agape Boarding School doesn't violate the law

Laura Bauer and Judy L. Thomas, The Kansas City Star on

Published in News & Features

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A southwest Missouri prosecutor said the attorney general wanted him to file dozens more charges against Agape Boarding School employees, but he didn’t believe restraining students violated the law.

Cedar County Prosecuting Attorney Ty Gaither said parents have the right and discretion – according to Missouri law – to discipline their kids. And when students are at the school, staff are acting in place of their parents.

“If the Missouri legislature wishes to change that, they have the power to do so,” Gaither told The Kansas City Star on Thursday. “Our job is to follow the law. The facts presented to me … would not justify a conviction for disciplining the children out there.”

Since the fall of 2020, as local and state authorities investigated two boarding schools in his county, Gaither has publicly said little more than “no comment.” He repeatedly has insisted that Missouri’s rules of professional conduct for lawyers prohibited him from speaking about cases.

But he changed course this week after Missouri House Speaker Rob Vescovo urged federal authorities in a Sept. 21 letter to intervene in the Agape case, labeling Gaither and other county officials as “undeniably corrupt.”

“Yes, it hits a chord,” the prosecutor said. “I believe it requires a response. … It is undeniably beneath the dignity of the office of the speaker to make unfounded allegations that I and other local officials are corrupt and complicit in human trafficking.”

 

In a 21/2-hour interview inside a Cedar County courtroom Thursday, Gaither said declining to file those charges related to 42 counts of student discipline has “deteriorated” his relationship with the attorney general’s office.

He did file charges against five Agape staffers. He accused the AG’s office and the Missouri Highway Patrol of cutting him off and refusing to help with those cases – by not providing contact information for the alleged victims or help in transporting them to southwest Missouri.

“If I’m not able to have the children transported here, if I’m not able to find those children, if I’m not able to subpoena those children, it seriously hampers our case,” the prosecutor said.

Chris Nuelle, press secretary for the AG’s office, said “history will prove that the attorney general’s office was on the right side of this issue.”

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