Monday, July 17, 2017


In a victory for the elderly and disabled in Arkansas, U.S. District Judge D.P. "Price" Marshall, Jr. has awarded $83,787 in attorney fees to Legal Aid of Arkansas for successfully mounting a class action lawsuit against the Arkansas Department of Human Services to protect home care for some 7,000 elderly and disabled people.


The lawsuit challenged a DHS switch to use of a computer formula to determine hours of care rather than a nurse's discretion. 

The effect was to reduce services to the point that those covered would be forced to consider institutional care.

Marshall did not grant all fees sought by Legal Aid of Arkansas, but the state had sought an even greater reduction, claiming the lawsuit was unnecessary beyond changes that could have occurred in an administrative appeal process. 
Judge Marshall disagreed and awarded $8,007 in costs and $75,780 in fees.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017


Employees of the Arkansas Department of Human Services "condemned" 35 foster and adoptive children "to life with a known violent sexual predator" who sexually abused at least 18 of them, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Fort Smith.

The Department of Human Services knew that Clarence "Charlie" Garretson, now 66, of Van Buren had sexually assaulted two children at knife point a year before approving him to be a foster parent in 1998, according to the suit, which was filed by David Carter, a lawyer in Texarkana, Texas.

"For several years following the approval, the Garretson home operated as a den of sexual depravity, with Arkansas DHS defendants serving up a seemingly endless supply of victims and Charlie sexually assaulting child after child," according to the lawsuit.


Between 1998 and 2004, the Department of Human Services received several complaints from victims about Garretson's sexual abuse, according to the suit.

"Despite these complaints, the Arkansas DHS defendants failed to remove any of the children from the Garretson home," according to the suit. "Instead, the victims were forced to stay in the custody of their abuser."

Carter requests a jury trial and unspecified damages for the seven plaintiffs, one of whom is male.

Nine people are named as defendants in the case, including Garretson's wife, Lisa Garretson, and eight current or former employees of the Department of Human Services, including former Directors Richard Weiss and Kurt Knickrehm.

Lisa Garretson hasn't been charged in federal or state court.

The department can't comment on foster cases, said Brandi Hinkle, a spokesman for the state agency.

"DHS would never intentionally put a child in harm's way," she said in an email. "Sadly, there are people who prey upon children and may try to use the foster system to do so. When that happens, we act swiftly to ensure youth in foster care are in safe homes."

The system for vetting foster families is much stronger than it was 20 years ago, Hinkle wrote.

"We conduct state and federal background checks, child maltreatment checks, home studies and training," she wrote. "We also do re-evaluations of homes annually, and new background and maltreatment checks are run every two years. ... We also are more diligent about closing foster homes when abuse allegations are perhaps unsubstantiated but there are concerns about the environment."


Clarence Garretson, a long-haul truck driver, pleaded guilty in October to five counts of interstate transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. He was charged with 11 counts involving eight minors, but the government dismissed the other six counts as part of a plea agreement.
Not only did Garretson abuse children at his home, but also while driving his 18-wheeler, according to the lawsuit.

"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," according to the suit.

Victims told investigators Garretson would stop his truck for the night at locations that had casinos. He would sexually abuse them, then go into the casinos to gamble.

On May 31, U.S. District Judge P.K. Holmes III sentenced Garretson to life in prison.

Holmes also criticized the Human Services Department.

"The FBI investigation showed a failure of the system, and it's had a devastating effect on the people involved," he said.

During the past 18 years, 35 children were placed in the Garretson home for protection against abuse, but 14 of them became victims of sexual abuse from Clarence Garretson, Holmes said during the hearing. (The number of victims in the judge's comment differed from 18 as stated in Carter's lawsuit.)

Holmes recused from the civil case Tuesday, and it was reassigned to U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks.

Garretson's abuse of the children came to light in March 2016 when the Van Buren Police Department received a report that Garretson had molested a 10-year-old foster child in the summer of 2014 when he took her on the road with him.

According to a search warrant affidavit, the girl told police that Garretson raped her and said "he done it the whole time we were on the road."

According to the affidavit, when a Van Buren detective confronted Garretson with the girl's allegations, Garretson said she was lying and "it never happened."

Hinkle said potential foster parents shouldn't be swayed by stories of abusive foster parents.

"There is a great need for loving, suitable foster homes for children who have been abused or neglected," she said. "They come into the child welfare system through no fault of their own."

However, through faults of DHS and its employees, these children are placed in circumstances similar to or worse that the homes from which they were removed.



Tuesday, June 6, 2017


Court documents filed against Arkansas Department of Human Services employees allege that the department placed several children in the home of a known sexual predator. The complaint was filed June 5, 2017 in Fort Smith.

The complaint alleges that DHS approved Clarence “Charlie” Garretson and his wife to be foster parents despite the fact that one year prior to the approval DHS had substantiated a report that Garretson had sexually assaulted two children at knifepoint.

According to the complaint, the DHS employees approved Garretson to be a foster parents despite knowledge of his history of sexual assault upon children, failed to conduct a proper background check prior to placing children in their care, failed to thoroughly investigate the fitness of the foster home, deliberately ignored repeated warnings and signs of abuse, failed to promptly investigate allegations of abuse and failed to promptly remove victims from the home after notice that children were being sexually abused.

The lawsuit claims that at least 18 of the 35 children placed in the home were sexually abused. DHS received several victim complaints about Garretson’s sexual abuse between 1998 and 2004 and failed to remove any children from the home, according to the complaint.

According to the complaint, DHS employees obtained knowledge on different occasions that children were being sexually assaulted in the home and no action was taken. Reports were not made to authorities or the child abuse hotline and the children were left in the home.

The Arkansas DHS revoked the Garretson’s foster status in 2004. In July 2014, Charlie took the 10-year-old daughter of his former foster child and victim on a road trip and raped her repeatedly. He was arrested in 2016 and pled guilty to multiple counts of interstate transportation of minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.

Garretson was sentenced to life in prison on May 31th - see our previous post.

Monday, June 5, 2017



A former foster parent was sentenced on May 31st in Fort Smith to life in federal prison for sexually assaulting minors.

U.S. District Judge P.K. Holmes called the defendant Clarence “Charlie” Garretson’s repeated sexual abuse and rape of children in his home “the most horrific criminal conduct I’ve seen in regards to child exploitation.”


Holmes also noted the “extreme failure on the part of the [Arkansas] Department of Human Services in this case.” DHS, the state agency responsible for child welfare and foster care in Arkansas, licensed Garretson and his wife, Lisa, as foster parents from 1998 to approximately 2004. The state placed some 35 children in the household over that time period. Holmes said the presentencing report — which is sealed by court order — provides evidence that 14 of those children were abused by Garretson.

“When you look back on it, you wonder how it could ever have happened — but it did,” the judge said Wednesday to a Fort Smith courtroom filled with victims, their families and the family of the defendant, including Lisa Garretson.

A long-haul truck driver, Clarence Garretson would take children on cross-country trips, sexually assault them in the cab of his truck and coerce them into silence afterward, according to federal prosecutors. His victims appear to have been mostly young girls, but included at least one boy as well. Despite the fact that at least one victim reported Garretson’s actions to state authorities during the early 2000s, he was not charged with a crime until he raped yet another child in 2014. That victim reported the abuse to her mother, who contacted the police, in 2016, leading to an FBI investigation that uncovered a pattern of earlier assaults that occurred when the Garretsons operated their DHS-licensed foster home a decade earlier.

Garretson, 66, pleaded guilty in October 2016 to five counts of interstate transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. In exchange, federal prosecutors dropped six additional counts and agreed to not prosecute Lisa Garretson.

Confidentiality laws prohibit DHS from commenting on individual foster care cases or child maltreatment investigations, which means the agency cannot publicly refute specific allegations of misconduct. When asked about the Garretson case in October, DHS spokeswoman Amy Webb said, “this is a tragic situation, and DHS would never intentionally put a child in harm’s way. Sadly, there are people who prey upon children and may try to use the foster system to do so. When that happens today, we act swiftly to ensure youth in foster care are in safe homes.

“The system for vetting foster families is much stronger and more thorough today than it was 20 years ago. ... We conduct state and federal background checks, child maltreatment checks, home studies, and training. We also do re-evaluations of homes annually and new background and maltreatment checks every two years. In addition, we have a more sophisticated computer system. We also now have a system in place that automatically notifies [the DHS division responsible for foster care] when there is a call into the child abuse hotline that includes an allegation against a foster parent.”

Nicole Nava was one victim who addressed the court Wednesday. She entered DHS custody at age 4, in 1996, and remained in foster care until she turned 18. Her biological parents had abused her before their parental rights were terminated by the state, she said, as well as her uncle. That abuse “continued in the foster care system,” she said.

Nava was 11 when she entered the Garretson household. After her foster father began to sexually abuse her, she said, she repeatedly attempted to alert DHS, to no avail. “I mean, who could believe this could happen in a state-run foster home? … I was made out to be a liar, not only by Charlie, but by Lisa, state officials, investigators, DHS, everybody.”

“Arkansas DHS put me and many others in the hands of a monster,” Nava said. “Nothing can take away what he has done, so the next best thing is for him to rot in a federal prison.” She enumerated the lasting psychological effects of childhood abuse: anxiety, nightmares, a chronic inability to trust others. Nonetheless, she said, “I have overcome the majority of my past.” Nava said she is married with three children and has a career in the nursing field. “I have a good life — something to be proud of,” she said. “And it’s not fair that I wasn’t believed.”

“You will get yours, Charlie,” she told Garretson. “I hope you get tortured while we continue our lives.”

Another victim, Rachel Clark, broke down in tears as soon as she began to speak, prompting Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyra Jenner to read Clark’s statement in her stead. She entered the Garretson household as a foster child along with her younger brother and sister, and the Garretsons eventually adopted her younger brother. Clark’s statement said she hid the fact she was abused in part because she feared telling someone would result in her being separated from her siblings. “I did not want to lose the only family I had,” she said. Later, Clark found out Garretson had been sexually exploiting her siblings as well.


In all, seven victims or family members of victims gave statements, most of which urged Judge Holmes to hand down a life sentence. Holmes said that the court had received five letters of support for Garretson, but no one spoke in favor of a lighter sentence at Wednesday’s hearing other than Garretson’s attorney and the defendant himself.

Jenner, the U.S. assistant attorney, told Holmes that “there is no sentence short of life that would be reasonable and just.” She declined to go into further detail, but the prosecution’s sentencing memorandum laid out the argument for maximal punishment:

“The nature and circumstances of the offense are exacerbated by the prior histories of the minor victims who were placed in the Defendant’s home by DHS,” it states. “Most of the foster care children who became the Defendant’s victims had been physically and/or sexually abused, experienced abject poverty, had parents addicted to drugs or alcohol or been living in dangerously dysfunctional situations. The Defendant’s victims from the foster care system came into the Defendant’s home hoping for and expecting a more stable environment and better lives. They needed the Defendant’s physical, emotional and academic support. To some victims, the Defendant and his wife were the only ‘family’ they had. The Defendant betrayed them. He preyed upon his victims’ fears of abandonment, trust issues, isolation from any outside family support systems, low self esteem and insecurity.”

The memorandum also states that the circumstances of the case are analogous to those in United States v. Bernie Lazar Hoffman. The defendant in that case — better known as evangelist Tony Alamo — was given a life sentence for five counts of interstate transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. Garretson pleaded guilty to five counts of the same crime. “Similarly, both defendants used their respective positions of power and authority to gain access to their victims. Each incorporated fear tactics and threatened retribution to silence their victims,” the memorandum says.

Garretson’s attorney, J. Marvin Honeycutt, disputed none of the facts outlined by prosecutors or victims. He requested merely that Holmes spare his client a life sentence, arguing that Alamo’s example should not be used as a benchmark because that case went to trial. Because of the plea agreement, Garretson’s victims were at least spared the pain of delivering testimony on the stand and undergoing cross-examination, Honeycutt argued.


Garretson himself kept his remarks brief. He said he didn’t remember all of the victims who spoke, but added, “for anybody I’ve hurt, I apologize with all of my heart.” He asked the judge for a sentence that would give him a faint hope of release one day, should he live long enough, and referenced his 37-year marriage. “I couldn’t ask for a better wife … let me die at home with her,” he said.

Holmes was not inclined toward leniency. “The [presentencing report] is much more extensive than what we heard today,” he said. “What occurred here was Mr. Garretson, under the guise of being a foster parent … brutally tortured and sexually assaulted [children] … at a time when they were looking for a place of safety.” Holmes noted that Garretson’s status as a foster parent was secured “with the help of the Department of Human Services.”

I recognize that DHS has a difficult job,” Holmes added later. However, he said, the Garretson case “shows … a failure of the system, and it had devastating effects on victims.” He especially noted the “unfortunate” effects on Nava, who unsuccessfully attempted to report the abuse over a decade ago. Holmes had harsh words for Lisa Garretson as well: “If she didn’t know what was going on, she should have known.”
Holmes sentenced Garretson to life in prison only for the first count. For the remaining four counts, the judge delivered a sentence of 15 years per count, to be served concurrently.

At least five people told investigators that Clarence C. Garretson had sexually assaulted them on long-distance truck trips when they were minors.

The investigation began when a girl came forward saying she had been raped by Garretson in 2014. Garretson was a driver for C & T Trucking Company in Van Buren at the time, and had gotten a special waiver from the company so the girl could go with him on the trip. The girl was 10 years old at the time, and Garretson was 63.

The FBI investigation uncovered other children who described being abused by Garretson.

In 1998, Garretson and his wife were approved by the Arkansas Department of Human Services to operate a foster home and to later become an adoptive home. In 2002, DHS received a report from a foster child that she had been sexually assaulted by Garretson.

That child told the FBI in 2016 that she was a foster child in the home from 2000 to 2004. She said Garretson had taken her on truck trips and sexually abused her.

In 1999, DHS placed a boy and his two sisters in the Garretson home. The boy was legally adopted by them in 2001. The boy told the FBI that Garretson had taken him on long-distance truck trips and abused him. The trips started in 2001, when he was 11 and continued for two years.

A different child living in the Garretson home was sexually assaulted on a trip to California in the summer of 2000. She was 13 years old at the time.

Another girl told the FBI that Garretson drove her and her siblings between Arkansas and California. She said that in 2002, when she was 9 years old, Garretson had her sleep partially nude in bed with him inside the truck, and abused her there.

Garretson agreed that he transported these 5 minors across state lines with the intent to engage in sexual activity. 



Guilty...but no punishment.

That was the ruling of a Sherwood judge Wednesday.

Midway through an interrogation last year with a Sherwood detective Denise Thomson realizes for the first time that the foster child who died in her care had a lethal dose of prescription drugs in his system.

Drugs that she takes...and drugs that she spilled days before his death.
"So how would he have gotten this?" asks a Sherwood detective.

"The only way he would have gotten it is if I dropped one on the ground or something...I don't know,” answers a distraught Denise Thomson. “Oh God! Oh my God! Oh God."

"Okay this is something that we're going to have to deal with OK?"
"Oh God,” bellows Thomson as she smacks table and cries.

Denise Thomson reacts after being told that the cause of death for Thurman Billings was a lethal dose of prescription medication.

"This was my biggest fear,” cries Thomson as her interrogation continued. “This was our biggest fear."

Wednesday morning Thomson and her husband arrived at Sherwood court for her misdemeanor negligent homicide trial.

We learned that four back surgeries and two neck surgeries had left her taking a regular regimen of both oxycodone and oxycontin for pain.

"Oh God...I'm so sorry to the parents (sobbing)," continues Thomson.

It was likely both the guilt and the grief on display during her interrogation that guided Judge Butch Hale to find her guilty...but sentence her to no fine or jail time…saying she was irresponsible in not making sure all the spilled pills were picked up but that she had suffered enough.


 "Are you satisfied with no jail time and no fine?"

"Yes...I'm satisfied with that,” answers Leola Calvin, Thurman Billings’ great grandmother. “That wouldn't change nothing. Jail time...that ain't gonna solve no problem, you know?"

Ms. Calvin is now caring for Thurman Billings’ sister. Thurman's mother...the reason he was in foster care in the first place...was not at the trial.

The amount of medication found in the 14 month-old boy was four times the recommended dosage for an adult.

The public is not satisfied Judge Hale.  Judge Hale is the Sherwood judge that runs what has been described at the "Debtor's Prison" hot check court system and is at the center of a lawsuit in Federal Court.