Hartmann: Agape Didn't Fit a MAGA Soundbite, so Schmitt Didn't Stop Abuse

Unfortunately for the victims, abused kids just aren't politically relevant to Eric Schmitt

Eric Schmitt.
DOYLE MURPHY
Eric Schmitt treated Agape very differently than he treated other school districts not accused of abuse.

For decades, children at the Agape Boarding School for Boys have allegedly been subjected to mental, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the Christian school's staff. Here is some of what took place (all denied by the school) according to lawsuits filed against what one survivor described as a "torture compound":

Boys were routinely beaten. One was choked with an electrical cord. Another was handcuffed for two weeks. Another ended up with his arm in a sling from an overzealous restraint. Another was nearly starved during punishment. One was chased around a volleyball court (captured on video) wearing just a bathrobe, in view of other students, before getting kicked and dragged by a staff member after falling. Multiple boys claim they were victims of sexual abuse.

But here's the good news: There were no reports of any boy being forced to wear a mask during the COVID-19 epidemic.

Presumably that's why shutting down Agape never quite made it to the top of Attorney General Eric Schmitt's priority list. That's not to say he didn't express outage a full year ago; he did. But nowhere to be found was the big, bad, tough guy Eric Schmitt — the one seen in MAGA campaign ads taking a blowtorch to President Biden's "socialist agenda." He did not file Sunshine Law requests and lawsuits against Agape. No, Schmitt couldn't muster even a fraction of the outrage he showed over Missouri schools attempting to follow the advice of the world's health experts by requiring masks during the pandemic.

The Agape campus is located deep in southwest Missouri in a little town called Stockton (population 1,810) in little Cedar County (relevant statistic to Schmitt: 80.89 percent Trump voters in 2020). It's not the sort of place that a MAGA attorney general wants to be seen breaking china at the expense of local politicos. Not even if said AG tried to sued China.

What happened last year in Cedar County is as much a confirmation of Schmitt's lack of character and competence as all the horrific pain he inflicted on school districts throughout Missouri. That's saying something.

Consider the facts: In March 2021, the attorney general's office was asked by Cedar County to assist with the need for prosecution of the Agape Boarding School. Schmitt's office agreed to help.

But, according to that office, what it found was an appalling disinterest on the part of Cedar County Prosecutor Ty Gaither to take seriously the apparent crimes against the boys. Schmitt found that the county prosecutor had no interest in pursuing enough charges — or serious-enough charges — against alleged perpetrators at the school.

So, what did Schmitt do? He ran for cover like fellow insurrectionist Senator Josh Hawley scurrying like a chipmunk out of the path of January 6 MAGA rioters.

Here's the unbelievable headline from last September 24 in the Springfield News-Leader: "Missouri AG asks governor's permission to exit Agape child abuse case, citing concerns about prosecutor." What followed in the reporting on Schmitt's letter to Governor Mike Parson was jaw-dropping.

"Mr. Gaither's decision to pursue a relatively small number of minor felony offenses reveals that he has no real need of the expertise and resources of the Attorney General's Office," Schmitt's letter to the governor said. "Gaither has indicated that he does not intend to seek justice for all of the 36 children who were allegedly victimized by 22 members of the Agape Boarding School staff."

Schmitt wanted 65 criminal counts against 22 Agape codefendants, including some high-level felony child-abuse charges carrying 15-year prison sentences, the News-Leader reported. But Gaither only wanted to charge seven defendants, none with more than Class E felonies carrying no more than four years in prison.

Just to recap, the attorney general of the state of Missouri discovers a glaring failure and unwillingness by a county prosecutor to pursue real justice against nearly two dozen perpetrators of child abuse. On a case in which the attorney general has been called to help.

And what does Schmitt do in the face of this outrage? He begs the governor publicly to let him out of the case. Shame on all of us for not paying enough attention to the malpractice of this coward.

Schmitt had far better options, according to local attorney Elad Gross, an expert on these matters. One was to sue to have Gaither removed from office, something the attorney general is empowered to do. (Replace "Ty Gaither" with "Kim Gardner" and imagine what Schmitt would have done.)

But Schmitt didn't even have to bother with Gaither. "Schmitt has long had the power to go after Agape Boarding School's nonprofit status under our consumer protection laws and close the institution on his own, but he has refused to do so," Gross told me.

Gross added that Schmitt "delayed and botched the new enforcement action he finally took to close the school, which left the students there subject to months of additional abuse."

Presently, there are loud bipartisan calls for closing Agape. As the Missouri Independent reported, "House Speaker Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, has become a vocal proponent of closing the Stockton-based boarding school that faces mounting allegations of staff physically and sexually abusing students.

"'I refuse to turn a blind eye! Let's call out the corruption that has allowed this organized crime against children to persist,' Vescovo tweeted, along with a video compilation of news clips regarding abuse allegations at Agape.

"House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, and Rep. Keri Ingle, D-Lee's Summit, replied to Vescovo's tweet, saying it is 'past time' to shutter the school.

"'This isn't partisan,' Quade said."

Schmitt, meanwhile, is smartly positioned on the right side of the issue as part of the growing clamor for closure of the school. Even more smartly, Schmitt is in the background and glad that the politicians are turning a "blind eye" to his failure to act a year ago or more to save these kids.

That doesn't change the cold reality of the situation: Schmitt was uniquely positioned to make a difference in this case, and he let the kids down. That wasn't his intent, to be sure, but it was the consequence of abuse at Agape Boarding School not fitting any MAGA narrative that could help Schmitt in what really matters: his campaign for U.S. Senate.

So, if you want to hear from Schmitt about the passionate activities of his office, don't be looking for any further insights about alleged child abuse at a Christian boarding school. No, the attorney general is on to more important litigation involving young people: He's suing Biden — at Missouri taxpayers' expense — to make sure folks don't get their college loans forgiven.

Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at [email protected] or catch him on Donnybrook at 7 p.m. on Thursdays on the Nine Network and St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).

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