The ongoing story about Rep. Justin Harris' adoption and "rehoming" children in the home of a child molester has stirred a response from many who, like Harris, think the state Department of Human Services bears some culpability not only in his case but in others.
The giant agency, which oversees billions in federal spending, is no stranger to attention and controversy. Its work covers some of the most vulnerable people in some of the most vexing of circumstances. The caseload is huge and, for the most part, never-ending. Human beings often must make judgment calls on difficult cases. Those affected often differ in opinion on the wisdom of those decisions.
LITTLE ROCK — Two state representatives who filed separate bills last week to address the issue of ‘rehoming’ of adopted children say they were unaware until a few days ago that the practice was legal in Arkansas — and common enough to have a name.
“I think it’s fair to say that most of the Legislature was unaware that this was even an issue, that this was legal, as little as 72 hours ago,” Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, said Friday. “It has raised a lot of concerns.”
The Arkansas Times first reported last week that in October 2013, Rep. Justin Harris, R-West Fork, and his wife, Marsha, placed their two adopted daughters in the Bella Vista home of Eric Cameron Francis and Francis’ wife. The Harrises had adopted the girls, who are sisters, in March 2013.
Eric Francis pleaded guilty in November to three counts of second-degree sexual assault involving one of the Harrises’ adopted daughters and two other girls. The two sisters have since been adopted by another family.
Friday afternoon, Rep. Justin Harris and his wife Marsha held a press conference at the state Capitol to address the revelations in this week's Arkansas Times cover story about their failed adoption, which ended in the "rehoming" of two girls in a household where one of them was sexually abused. As Max Brantley wrote yesterday, it was an emotional statement. But extensive reporting we've done these past few days casts doubt upon crucial points in the narrative Justin Harris delivered Friday.
The Arkansas Times has learned that Rep. Justin Harris and his wife Marsha began the process to adopt a third girl in addition to the two children who were the focus of this week's cover story about rehoming — an older sister.
We've been told she was about 8 years old upon entering the Harris home in 2012 along with her younger siblings. Unlike the two girls in our previous story, she evidently left the Harris household long before the adoption was finalized.
Prior to our publishing the story, unofficial sources had mentioned the third girl to the Times but we were unable to substantiate the presence of the third girl in the household. Since the story broke, we've been contacted by multiple sources in Northwest Arkansas, some with knowledge of the adoption, who confirm that the Harrises did intend to permanently adopt the third sister as well.
In a sometimes emotional Capitol news conference, state Rep. Justin Harris, with his wife, Marsha, by his side, told of a failed effort to bring three sisters into his home for adoption, but an inability to have them adjust.
He spoke for the first time of the third sister, which we reported earlier today. He said the state Department of Human Services had insisted that the Harris family take in that child if he was to adopt two younger sisters as he hoped. She was a danger to his family, he said, and ultimately placed elsewhere. The younger sisters, too, proved a problem. One "crushed" a small animal, he said. He said he had his older sons sleep with him out of fear.
The most explosive charge by Harris was that he DID seek DHS assistance before giving the children to another family, but was met only with a threat of child abandonment charges . He said he supported both Rep. Greg Leding's bill on rehoming limits (which would prohibit in the future actions such as Harris took in turning children over to another family) and Gov. Asa Hutchinson's vow to put DHS practices under review.
Rep. Justin Harris presented today his bill to allow school districts to erect Nativity scenes and refer to Christmas as Christmas if they choose and display Christian symbols. In the face of opposition, he pulled the bill down.
The bill was written cagily:
It says districts "may educate students about the history of traditional winter celebrations and allow students and school districts to offer traditional greetings regarding the celebrations …"
I'm not aware of any rule that currently prohibits anyone from saying Merry Christmas.
The bill also says religious symbols maybe used as long as more than one religion is included in a display or a secular image is also included.
In short: Have a Nativity scene, but it's OK if you stick Santa Claus in it.
Harris has another bill about the kinds of messages students can express on T-shirts and elsewhere.
Harris emphasized that his bill was permissive, not a requirement. He said districts are hypersensitive to concerns about religion in public schools.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson elaborated today on a statement yesterday responding to the Arkansas Times reporting about the adoption of children by Rep. Justin Harris, his "rehoming" of them with another family and the subsequent rape of one child at the new home.
The governor's statement:
“I have previously instructed the Department of Human Services to review the practice of ‘rehoming’ and recommend changes with the best interest of the child foremost in mind. In addition, I have met with Rep. Greg Leding and Rep. David Meeks to discuss their legislation and additional ideas to reform our adoption procedures so that our children have the greatest opportunity for a safe, loving and secure home.
“There are legitimate concerns brought forth by the recent story in the media. And the public policy issues pertaining to it should be addressed as soon as possible. Our children deserve nothing less than our full attention and utmost care.”
Rep. Justin Harris and his wife, Marsha, have issued a statement through their lawyer, Jennifer Wells, in advance of tomorrow afternoon's press conference, at which Harris is expected to offer comment on the rehoming of their adopted daughters. The girls were placed by the Harrises in a household where they were subsequently sexually abused, as revealed by our cover story this week.
I just don't know what to say in response to this statement. After weeks of digging into this story and the various lives that have been upended by the actions of the Harrises, reading this simply leaves me speechless. Here's the full thing:
JEFFERSON, Ohio -- A husband and wife accused of making three of their adopted children virtual prisoners inside their home pleaded not guilty Wednesday in a case that began after prosecutors say two girls crashed the family van while trying to make their escape.
The 58-year-old adopted father is charged with sexually abusing the two girls, now ages 17 and 14. He and his 64-year-old wife are both charged with kidnapping, felonious assault and endangering children in Ashtabula County, east of Cleveland.
The Associated Press is not naming the suspects to avoid identifying the girls. County Prosecutor Nicholas Iarocci said the couple also abused and neglected an adopted son, now 21, who is mentally disabled.
Iarocci said Wednesday that the couple "repeatedly and harshly" beat the girls and older son with a paddle that eventually became stained with blood. The three victims were given little to eat and were malnourished, Iarocci said.
He called living conditions inside the home "deplorable."
An Ashtabula County couple accused of locking away three of their adopted children and subjecting them to physical was arrested Thursday.
An Ashtabula County Grand Jury secretly indicted David and Rejeana Moss on Wednesday on nine felony counts, with David Moss facing an additional five counts related to sexual misconduct with the two female minors.
Authorities say the abuse took place during a two-year period between Sept. 1, 2011 and Sept. 12, 2013 at the family’s Dorset Township home. The three victims, two female children and an adult male who is mentally challenged, were adopted by David and Rejeana Moss about 11 years ago.
The children were home-schooled most of the time and had not been allowed to socialize outside of the home for several years, Ashtabula County Prosecutor Nick Iarocci said. They told investigators the girls, who shared a room, and the male were locked in their separate bedrooms at the residence “virtually all-day, every day.”
JEFFERSON_ Dorset Township couple David V. Moss and ReJeana Moss were secretly indicted by an Ashtabula County Grand Jury on nine felony charges of kidnapping, felonious assault and endangering children.ac name ReJeana Mossac name David V. Mossmoss
David Moss was also indicted on two second degree felony charges of sexual battery, and three third degree felony charges of gross sexual imposition with a minor.
The incidents are alleged to have occurred between September 1, 2011 and September 12, 2013 at 2530 St. Rt. 307 in Dorset Township where Mr. and Mrs. Moss and the victims resided. Mr. and Mrs. Moss adopted the victims approximately 11 years ago.
The charges stem from claims by two female children and an adult male who is mentally challenged. These individuals allege that the girls and male were locked in their separate bedrooms at the residence virtually all-day every day. The girls shared one bedroom and the adult male had his own bedroom. They further allege that were repeatedly beaten with a paddle by Mr. and Mrs. Moss. The children and male allege that the paddle was used so often and so harshly that it had blood stains on it.
The biological mother of Erica Parsons is speaking out after graphic details of the little girl's alleged abuse at the hands of her adoptive family were revealed in public for the first time.
Casey and Sandy Parsons appeared in federal court Wednesday to learn their sentencing on federal fraud charges. After a full day of testimony, the case was continued and will pick up again on March 27.
During the hearing, several people, including family members, testified about the couple and prosecutors asked questions, including allegations of abuse for the missing teenager.
Erica Parsons was reported missing in July 2013, more than a year after she was last seen by family members.
Witnesses on Wednesday included a woman who says she hired Casey to be a surrogate mother and deliver her baby. Casey claimed she miscarried the child. She later successfully delivered the baby and tried to sell the child to her sister, Robin Ashley, for $10,000.
Ashley took the stand Wednesday saying that Casey beat Erica and made her stand in the corner often. Pictures were shown of Erica standing in that corner on five different occasions.
A Republican state lawmaker has introduced a bill that would force the state to pay for “faith-based” or religious daycare and pre-school, as long as the parent and not the state requests it. Arkansas‘ Rep. Randy Alexander is attempting to amend a state law, the Arkansas Better Chance Program — which provides funding to daycare and pre-school facilities — to remove the section that ensures the state does not fund religious-based education.
Additionally, Rep. Alexander’s Arkansas state legislature colleagues, Rep. Justin Harris and state Senator Johnny Key, happen to own chains of religious early childhood program pre-schools.
A Colorado man was improperly denied an opportunity to contest an adoption in Utah of a son born from a brief sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl, the Utah Supreme Court ruled Friday.
Bobby L. Nevares preserved his parental interest in Utah by acting to do so in Colorado, the high court said in reversing a decision by 4th District Judge Claudia Laycock.
The ruling, which sends the case back for further proceedings, involved the controversial agency called The Adoption Center of Choice, which has been at the center of a number of contested adoptions and whose license to operate in Utah was revoked by the state about a year ago.
An attorney for Nevares, Joshua Peterman, hailed the court's ruling.
"The decision is an important step in eliminating the ability of adoption agencies to obtain children through fraud and deceit," he said in an email. "There are a number of agencies here in Utah who are more concerned with earning a fee than the fundamental constitutional right of a father to parent his child."
A Pennsylvania deputy attorney general has been suspended from law practice after his no contest plea to child endangerment.
Douglas Barbour, 35, was suspended on Friday, report the Sharon Harold, the Associated Press and TribeLive.com. Prosecutors had accused Barbour and his wife of mistreating two siblings they adopted from Ethiopia in 2012. The children were 6 years old and 18 months old when the Barbours were charged.
When Barbour entered the no-contest plea last June, Judge Jeffrey Manning of Pittsburgh said he saw no evidence of malice, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported at the time. “This started out as a significant act of charity gone awry,” Manning said. The couple retained custody of their two biological children.
The couple was charged after hospital officials reported that the girl had multiple fractures and the boy had lesions that could have been caused by contact with urine. Barbour’s wife, Kristen Barbour, told hospital officials that the girl has a history of banging her head. Prosecutors also said the boy was underweight.