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A federal lawsuit filed Monday accuses members of the Arkansas Department of Human Services of turning a blind eye to a foster father's sexual abuse of more than a dozen boys and girls placed in his home.
Last week Clarence "Charlie" Garretson, 66, of Van Buren, Ark., was sentenced to life in federal prison by U.S. District Judge P.K. Holmes in the Fort Smith Division of the Western District of Arkansas.On Monday, a civil suit filed by Texarkana lawyer David Carter on behalf of eight of Charlie Garretson's victims names eight individuals who served as directors and caseworkers for Arkansas DHS and also Charlie Garretson's wife, Lisa Garretson..
Carter alleges in the suit that DHS approved Charlie and Lisa Garretson as foster parents in mid-1998 despite a finding the year before that Charlie Garretson had sexually assaulted two children at knifepoint.
"For several years following the approval, the Garretson home operated as a den of sexual depravity, with the Arkansas DHS defendants serving up a seemingly endless supply of victims and Charlie sexually assaulting child after child," the complaint states. "At least 18 of the 35 children placed in the Garretson home were sexually abused by Charlie Garretson."
The complaint alleges DHS ignored complaints about Charlie Garretson's sexual abuse of children repeatedly between 1998 and 2004. Named as defendants are Kurt Knickrehm, who became director of DHS in 1999; Richard Weiss, who served as interim director in 1998; and Dick Pickarts, who served as a director of DHS operations in Logan County. The remaining DHS defendants who served as caseworkers for the abused youngsters include: Debbie Williams, Nikkole Hurst, Carol Gillis, Patsy Chase and Robbie McKay.
In addition to molesting children in his home, Charlie Garretson, a long-haul truck driver, also traveled across state lines with many of his victims, sexually abusing them in multiple jurisdictions, the complaint states.
"Charlie frequently took his victims with him on his trucking routes, so that he could satisfy his carnal urges even when he was away from home," the complaint states. "In 2004, the Arkansas DHS finally revoked the foster status of the Garretsons. However, Charlie's reign of sexual terror continued."
According to the complaint, Charlie Garretson took a child on a road trip in 2014 during which the girl was repeatedly raped. The girl reported the abuse in May 2016, when she was 12. Charlie Garretson was arrested the following month.
According to a criminal complaint filed by the FBI in Charlie Garretson's case, "Reports on sexual misconduct by Garretson on foster children in his home were made to DHS in August 1997, January 2003, July 2004 and April 2006."
The complaint notes that the 2006 report was made after the foster child had been removed from the Garretson home and after the Garretsons' status as foster parents was revoked Dec. 31, 2004. The complaint also states that at the time it was prepared in June 2016, the FBI had not been able to review all of DHS records concerning the Garretsons because they were not available.
The complaint accuses DHS of violating the victims' civil and constitutional rights and accuses the DHS defendants of negligence. Lisa Garretson is accused of negligence for failing to protect the children under her care and for failing to report Charlie Garretson's abuse of the minors living under their roof.
The complaint seeks to recover damages for the victims' past and future medical expenses, past physical pain and suffering, mental anguish and court costs. The suit asks for exemplary and punitive damages as well. Carter's suit has been assigned to Holmes, the same judge who sentenced Garretson to life last week.
"This was an abject failure on the part of Arkansas DHS to protect our most vulnerable children. The agency charged with protecting these kids from abuse actually placed them in the custody of a known violent sexual predator," Carter said. "To make matters worse, the cries of victims were ignored for years, forcing them to remain in the hands of their tormentor. My clients are committed to bringing about a change in the system, so that no other child has to suffer as they did. Alone and without a voice."
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