A reader from Northwest Arkansas passes along this series of screenshots from a Facebook exchange with Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin about the adoption and "rehoming" of two young girls adopted by Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork), which was the subject of our cover story this week.
The reader, who asked to remain anonymous, told me she does not know Martin and has never personally interacted with him in the past, but when a mutual Facebook friend posted the Arkansas Times story, she (the reader) became drawn into a back-and-forth with the Secretary of State.
She said she thinks Harris should resign and criticized him for his "self-pity" and refusal to accept blame. But, she also said (like many others who have responded to this story) that she has little faith in DHS and can believe their account may not be the whole truth.
Enter Martin. He replied to the reader's comment, saying she was "making a judgement based upon misinformation by a vile socialist anti-Christian propaganda blog about one of the most righteous seeming, humble, and gentle men I have ever met in my life."
Rep. Justin Harris blames DHS for the fallout related to his adoption of three young girls, but sources familiar with the situation contradict his story and paint a troubling picture of the adoption process and the girls' time in the Harris household.
By Benjamin Hardy
An emotional Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork), his wife at his side, told reporters at a press conference last week that he sent his two adopted daughters to live with another family, where one of them was later sexually abused, because he would have faced abandonment charges by the state.
WEST FORK -- One former employee of Growing God's Kingdom says the Harrises didn't just believe their adopted kids were possessed, but they also believed students at the school possessed demons as well.
The former employee and mother of a student at the school wants to be named only as Amber. She says Justin and Marsha Harris would often try to pray the demons out of misbehaving students at their pre-school, Growing God's Kingdom.
"If they got in too much trouble they would pray on the kids, do a circle around them, put their hands on their heads, saying, trying to rebuke demons." Said former employee, Amber.
Amber was an employee at Growing God's Kingdom for about five months in 2013. She says Justin Harris fired her after a difference in opinion on how to discipline students. Though she says she learned a lot about the Harris family during those five months.
"How did you learn about the fact that they were praying demons out of kids?" Lauren Conley asked Amber.
A nurse’s assistant from Palmdale was sentenced Wednesday to seven years to life in prison for torturing two children she had adopted, prosecutors said..
In December, Ingrid Brewer, 53, pleaded no contest to two counts of torturing the 7-year-old girl and 8-year-old boy she had adopted after serving as their foster mother, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.
On Jan. 20, 2013, the two children were found blocks from Brewer’s home after they ran away. They were bruised and beaten, huddled under a blanket without winter clothes in temperatures that had dipped below 20 degrees, officials said.
The children fled because they were "tired of being tied up and beaten," Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. Brian Hudson of the Special Victims Bureau said at the time.
The children told deputies that Brewer beat them with electrical cords and a hammer and locked them in their bedrooms when she went to work as a nurse’s assistant at UCLA Medical Center, Hudson said.
Rep. Justin Harris, who turned over two adopted children to the family of a child molester, has added a second attack on the Department of Human Services in the matter.
Friday, he said he'd turned over the 3- and 5-year-old girls to Eric Francis, now serving a 40-year sentence for molesting the older child after assuming custody, because DHS had threatened to pursue abandonment charges against them if he asked the state to rescind the adoption, which it can and will do. The state won't comment on specifics (because it says it can't under the law), but has generally denied that it would threaten abandonment against someone seeking help.
Harris also said Friday that the little girls presented a danger to his older sons, though the oldest was five and the children are described as small for their age.
Today, Harris added a new dimension to his story. In an interview with KTHV he said Cecile Blucker, the director of the DHS Division of Children and Family Services, was aware of his handoff of the children to Francis but didn't report it to other authorities. DHS still won't comment.
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.
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.
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.
year-old boy was sexually abused by his foster father after two Broward County child welfare groups failed to conduct proper background checks on the man, according to allegations in a civil lawsuit filed this week.
Lawyers for the boy say that ChildNet, Inc. and Kids In Distress, Inc. failed to do adequate investigations of John Michael McGuigan before granting him a foster care license.
Officials could have easily discovered several troubling allegations about McGuigan's past that would have made him ineligible, the boy's lawyer, Howard Talenfeld, said Wednesday.
McGuigan also lied about aspects of his background that should have been uncovered by an appropriate screening, he said.
"There were very significant red flags," Talenfeld said.
McGuigan resigned as head of Broward House, the service center for people with HIV and other medical problems, in 2012 amid controversy about the foster care allegations.
The boy, now 12, is referred to only by his initials in Broward Circuit Court records. He was placed in McGuigan's care in August 2010.
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."