Jun 072015
 

May 28, 2015

The Honorable Asa Hutchinson
Governor – State of Arkansas
State Capitol Building, Room 250
Little Rock, Arkansas 72201

 

Dear Governor Hutchinson:

The purpose of this letter is to report to you what I have found in my investigation of the DHS case involving the removal of 7 children from the home of Garland County residents Hal and Michelle Stanley in January.  In this report I will only discuss facts and findings that are public knowledge or with permission.  I will be glad to visit with you and your staff personally with the facts and findings that I cannot share with the public.

I have considered and am still considering bringing this before Children and Youth Committee on which I serve or before the Joint Performance Review Committee of which I am Senate chair. Because of the sensitive information involved I decided for now to only share the results of what I have found.  Probably, the first question that should be answered is why I am involved at all.  As the State Senator for the area I was contacted very soon after the removal of the Stanley children by numerous constituents, many who were mutual acquaintances of the Stanly family and myself on behalf of the Stanley’s.  Soon after and to this day I have been contacted by concerned citizens across the state including many concerned legislators.  It is the type of issue that I would normally expect to make a few phone calls and that would be it.  We would either most likely find that the agencies involved were doing their job and I would report that back to those asking or possibly find an error in the system and work to correct it behind the scenes.

This case turned out to be much more complicated than that.  Having a sense of owing conscientious answers to my constituents, the Stanley family, and fellow legislators, I continued to dig deeper and deeper into the case.  This was despite my lack of time to commit to it and my reluctance to be drawn into Monday morning quarterbacking of those doing very tough jobs.

In the process I learned that a legislator is in a very unique position to learn more than most anyone else in such a case as the law requires that folks share what they know with us, although we cannot share what we know publicly.  Whether there is a miscarriage of justice or the governmental authorities should be backed up for doing their jobs correctly, we as legislators are in a very unique position to know the facts.  Partly because of the unique facts encountered, It turned out to be a duty I couldn’t feel good about shirking.

 

Page Two

Letter – Governor Hutchinson
May 28, 2015 – Senator Alan Clark

 

What did I find?  One of the charges leveled at authorities by some members of the public was that there was a organized conspiracy to remove the Stanley children from their home.  There is a grain of truth in that but with a twist.  I believe the facts support an organized conspiracy to remove the Stanley children. But if so, the conspiracy was not by governmental authorities.  I did not find that any government employee involved in this case acted in any but the absolute scope of their jobs.  It appears to me that action was always with the best interest of the Stanley children in mind.  If anything, the authorities were used to accomplish the goals of others.  Those using the system for their own means seemed to have a good understanding of what it took to have the Stanley children removed and what authorities would feel compelled to do under certain conditions.

The first determination I believed needed to be made was whether the Stanley’s should have been investigated at all.  Once one knows the scope and seriousness of the allegations and the credibility of those making the allegations, law enforcement would have been derelict in their duties if they had not undertaken a serious investigation.

The second question was, should there have been a 72-hour hold placed on the Stanley children that temporarily removed them from their home.  A different decision certainly could have been made.  Even the authorities involved were not completely agreed on that decision. That being said, knowing the seriousness of the allegations, the credibility of those making them, AND (I can say this only because the Stanley family themselves have released this information to the public) that the Stanley teenagers expressed fear if they were left in the home that night and expressed that their parents would flee out of state with the children, it was a reasonable decision under the circumstances.  I have no doubt many of us including some of the harshest critics would have made the same decision if faced with the exact same circumstances.

The third question is, should the state have acted to ask the judge to go beyond the 72-hour hold and keep the children in state custody versus placing them back in the home with safety measures.  This involves calling into question both the DHS attorney and the circuit judge’s decision.  This was a judgment call that could have gone either way but the people in this line of work have to make these type of serious decisions every day.  I believe the allegations were serious enough to justify the decision that was made.

The fourth question is, should the children have been removed for the length of time they were.  I think the answer is absolutely not.  Once this process is started, time is one of the serious flaws in the system if you as a parent are NOT a child abuser.  I do not know how we cut the time that these investigations take, but I have no doubt that the time taken in this case whatever the reasons was too much.  I don’t know whether the reasons are not enough staff, not enough resources, not high enough priority put on this type of investigation, etc.  But God help you if you are an innocent parent caught in this system with your children removed from your custody.  This we can and should change.

 

Page Three

Letter – Governor Hutchinson
May 28, 2015 – Senator Alan Clark

 

Governor, I have no doubt I can expect your help in making this change.  I introduced a bill during the session that would have limited the time the state would have to make such a determination.  I pulled it because of my own concerns we had not studied this question thoroughly enough and because I am not sure legislation is the best way to solve it.  But it does need to be solved.

The fifth question is should the Stanley’s have true findings of child abuse or child maltreatment which mandates they be placed on a child abuse/maltreatment register.  The answer in my opinion is absolutely not.  When I began to study the case I thought once I got the reports from DHS and CACD I would agree with the findings and report that to the public.  That is not what I found.  As I have expressed to authorities behind the scenes since late February and early March, I do not find valid findings for abuse in this investigation and have challenged all involved to prove me wrong.  It was continually insisted that I must be wrong and that there was other information that I did not yet have. So I dug deeper and deeper.  If I do not possess everything available on the investigation it is not because I have not asked.  I have studied everything made available to me and investigated on my own besides.

The True Findings of Child Abuse have been released to the Stanley’s and they have given me permission to discuss them publicly.  The true finding that drew my attention initially was “burning a child”.  If the Stanley’s were guilty of that (and I assumed they were when I read the true finding in the report) then they were guilty, period.  The worst types of abuse come to mind and the horrible people that do them should go to jail (if we can’t do worse).  As I read the report further to find out about this abuse I found “the burning of a child” was the placing of a nutritional supplement which a parent had confidence on a skin growth/abnormality of a child to attempt to remove it.  It caused a temporary chemical burn which dismayed and embarrassed the parents.  I hope we don’t find parents in Arkansas guilty of child abuse for such errors.  I do not believe that is what the child abuse laws and rules mean when referring to “burning a child”.

The second finding that drew my attention was “educational neglect”.  Although I searched and searched for the substantiation in the report, I did not find it.  When I inquired about it I was told the children were as much as 3 years behind age and grade level in their education.  I support home schooling but this lack of an adequate education would be unacceptable actions by the parents in my opinion.  Children should not be held at home and denied an education.  I asked to see the actual confirming reports.  Obtaining those reports, even as a state senator took 2 more weeks.  As I reviewed the reports it appears the children were all in normal range for age and grade level.  No one I presented this to, has disputed my reading of the reports. I do not believe the person who miscommunicated about the children being 3 years behind intentionally misled me.  That is what that person believed when they shared the information.  We are all human and people when they read such findings make assumptions.  Rumors are started.  Once part of the system finds you guilty it is natural and human for others in the system to think the worst.

 

Page Four

Letter – Governor Hutchinson
May 28, 2015 – Senator Alan Clark

 

My investigation revealed the Stanley’s have a true finding of educational neglect for 2 reasons.  The first is that they failed to register their children as home schooled with the local school district.  They should do that.  The Stanley’s say that was a simple mistake.  Whether it was an error or deliberate  that should not be sufficient reason to have a true finding of child maltreatment.

The second reason given to me for a true finding on educational neglect was that the Stanley’s agreed to that finding in order to get their children back into their home.  That is not acceptable to me for 3 reasons.  First, the true finding was made before the Stanley’s agreed to the finding.  Second, after having their children out of their home for 60 days many parents would agree to most anything to get their children back.  Third, DHS indicated to me that if Hal Stanley would cooperate they would work to get the children home soon.  I indicated the same to their attorney.  I did not realize that cooperation meant agreeing to true findings that I had already indicated to DHS I believed were invalid.

The original allegation of poisoning the children would be serious enough if true.  In my opinion that has been proven in my investigation to be completely untrue.  But we also have a true finding on that charge.  I do not believe at this point there is any reason to believe the Stanley’s were poisoning their children.  The medical investigation did not substantiate the charge and there is nothing in the Stanley’s behavior, profile, or history to support it.  There is some testimony in some interviews that alleges the poisoning but I believe that other interviews seriously undermine that testimony.  I don’t think we can be of 2 opinions on this one.  If the Stanley’s were intentionally poisoning their children, we have no business returning them to the household.  If they were not, then a true finding is unwarranted.

Of the allegations that remain with true findings, if eliminate the findings already mentioned the most serious remaining is striking a child in the head.  This allegation refers to a supposed incident that is over 2 years in the past and an allegation that was made only after law enforcement was in the Stanley home on the night the children were taken from the home.

It was never mentioned to authorities beforehand.  This is notable when you consider that the purpose of the allegations was to cause the removal of the Stanley children from the home.   While the Stanley’s deny the allegation, what if it is true?  A DHS official asked me “Don’t you think that is crossing the line?”  Well, yes. Of course I do.  But to put some perspective to that allegation, I watched a news clip from the Baltimore riots where a mother who became an overnight sensation and a national hero was videoed repeatedly striking her child in the head.

If she were charged with child abuse in Arkansas I believe the finding would have to be that the allegation was true.  Should she be on a child abuse/maltreatment register?  It appears to me,

if true, that incident would be about the only thing that could stick as child abuse.  If it is true and the only abuse the Stanley’s are guilty of in 22 years and 9 children, I cannot see registering them as child abusers.

 

Page Five

Letter – Governor Hutchinson
May 28, 2015 – Senator Alan Clark

 

The other scary thing about this allegation is it was made after authorities were investigating because of other allegations.  It appears to me if someone wanted to maliciously injure a parent they could make a false allegation of child abuse, serious enough to trigger an investigation.

If found in an interview that in ancient history some behavior toward a child “crossed the line” according to a strict reading of the laws of the state of Arkansas, a true finding of child abuse/maltreatment could be made in regards to a lot of very surprised and decent parents.  Before you discount that, look at how strict some of our laws are.

During my investigation I found this also concerns some who are veteran employees within the system.  Some have confided that they themselves had participated in (innocent) behavior toward their own children that if reported would place them in danger of a true finding.  That in turn would of course cost them their job.  These are serious admissions about the system by those who know it best.

There is a lot of finger pointing when you try to find someone to be responsible for decisions that are being made.  That is understandable when you see how complicated the system is.  It seems the fact that a circuit judge has ruled on many of these matters “so we must be right” is the most common scapegoat.  A circuit judge cannot be expected to read every line of every report on every case that comes before him.  They should and do reply heavily on the experts that present their findings to the court.  To present to a judge why he/she “must” make a ruling and then point to him/her making that ruling as proof that we are correct lacks sound logic.

I have only reluctantly inserted myself in this process.  When everyone is doing their job but because of flaws in the system, coming to the wrong conclusions, seems to be the right time for a representative of the people to attempt to intervene.

As previously stated, I do not believe anyone at any agency acted in any way except what they believed was best for the Stanley children and in the scope and rules of their job and the laws of Arkansas.  But here I find another (what I believe to be) major flaw in the system.  If we find child abuse to a degree that someone should be prosecuted, those charges must not only be found by an investigator and their supervisor, they must pass the judgment of a prosecutor, a judge, and a jury.  But if we believe that the charges are not that serious, but serious enough to place a person on the child abuse/maltreatment register they must only be judged that serious by the investigator and their supervisor.  As a supervisor myself, I know there is no way that we can expect the supervisor to retrace the steps of every person under their supervision on every decision and case.  That is not practical.  If you do so you are no longer the supervisor but a second person doing the same job as the supervised.  The supervisor must trust people to do their jobs. That means in reality that only the investigator is left to make a very serious decision.  The best of us are going to make a mistake sooner or later.  This is a very weighty decision to be made by one person.  The affect is that the accused is basically found guilty without trial and then must prove their innocence.  That is not the way our laws are supposed to work.

 

Page Six

Letter – Governor Hutchinson
May 28, 2015 – Senator Alan Clark

 

Some in authority have opined that accused parents can appeal a true finding.  They can of course.  But the devastating true finding of child abuse even if it is appealed, if not guilty is life altering.  Appealing is not without cost, both financially, emotionally and in time.  I believe the deck is stacked against you because everyone in the system believes you are guilty.  It is hard to fault them for that. T hat apparently is usually the case.

None of this lets the Stanley family off the hook.  If not for the Stanley family itself there would have been no allegations.  That is an important point that I can explain further privately.  Without the Stanley family themselves and their actions there would be no removing of the children from the home, no keeping them in DHS custody for months, and no intervening measures installed in the home.  That is done.  But dysfunction is not abuse.  Some future flare ups in the home will no doubt be blamed on the authorities’ intervention in the family’s lives.  There will no doubt will be some truth in that.  What is also true, is this happened because there were already serious problems in the Stanley home and they would have been manifested in some other way if not this.

These problems will continue to be manifest in the future, especially if the whole family does not have serious counseling with a view toward real changes.  And that is no guarantee.  A lot of seeds of discontent have already been planted in that family with no help from the authorities and they will continue to grow without serious help.

The final question I think is why should my opinions be taken seriously. Let me list some reasons they should.

1.    I have spent hundreds of hours investigating this case and quite possibly know more about it than any other person.  I have interviewed people that no one else did to get as complete a picture as I possibly could.  My investigation included reading every interview and report made available to me and numerous interviews with those who made allegations, the Stanley family themselves, employees from all government agencies involved and those that have been working with the family since.

2.    I was a youth pastor (untrained and unpaid) for about 12 years and have experience with teenagers and families, dysfunctional and otherwise.

3.    I have very strong opinions on parental rights and abhor the government interfering if not absolutely necessary.  If I was biased about the removal of the children it was in favor of the family, not the authorities.

4.    The Garland County Sheriff defeated a friend of mine in the November election in a very heated election.  If I was biased it would have been against the Sheriff, not in support.

5.    I am much more sympathetic with the teenagers than with Hal Stanley.  I would not want to live in the home myself.  If I was biased it was against Hal Stanley, not for him.  I do not agree with his parenting.  But they are his children and I do not believe he has abused them.

 

Page Seven

Letter – Governor Hutchinson
May 28, 2015 – Senator Alan Clark

 

6.    I will have need of the governmental authorities and employees to help me in future to aid my constituents.  It would be much easier to keep my opinions to myself than stir the waters and possibly create future resentment.  It has been suggested that I should just let the Stanley’s file an appeal, stay out of it and they will probably win.  But I could not look at myself in the mirror if they were not exonerated and I had stood on the sidelines.

7.    If there are any future charges of abuse with or without merit, it makes me a very easy target. It would be much easier and less risky to not offer the conclusions I have drawn.

There are also reasons to ignore me or temper the weight of my opinion.

1.     Respected experts who do this work every day came to different conclusions.

2.     I am not a trained expert and I have only reviewed this one case.

Governor, these are the conclusions I have come to.  It appears that no one will change these true findings without the family appealing.  I strongly believe we should change these true findings and am appealing to your office again.  This is only after asking those in authority within these agencies to do the same.  In any case, I am volunteering to help the Stanleys in their appeal if we do not change the findings.

If you cannot help in this particular case I hope that you will help those of us in the legislature who want to find a way to keep a similar situation from happening again.  While I am told that it is rare to have folks not guilty of child abuse in this position and that this is a very unusual case, once is too often if it is your family.

Thank you for your service to the state and the concern you and your office have shown towards this case and the Stanley family themselves throughout this ordeal.  I hope my report is helpful and that you can help us draw it to the right conclusions.

Respectfully,

State Senator Alan Clark

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