Court reduces damage awards in Alamo case | Arkansas Blog

Court reduces damage awards in Alamo case

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Bernie Hoffman, aka Tony Alamo
  • Bernie Hoffman, aka Tony Alamo

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today reversed the punitive damages awarded to two men who had sued Tony Alamo (Bernie Lazar Hoffman) and remanded to the district court a verdict imposing $12 million in damages for each plaintiff, "despite the exceptionally reprehensible nature of Alamo’s conduct." At 10 times compensatory damages, the court wrote, the $30 million award to Spencer Ondrisek and Seth Calagna for being beaten by Alamo as young boys was unconstitutional. Ondrisek and Calagna had sued Alamo for battery, outrage and conspiracy.

The court let stand $3 million awarded each plaintiff in compensatory damages.

The court recited the charges against Alamo:

Spencer Ondrisek and Seth Calagna were raised in TACM. They were forced to work without pay starting at the age of 8. Alamo began threatening to beat Ondrisek when he was 11. Alamo told him that if he disobeyed, he would be enlisted in the military and “shot and killed.” When he was 12, Alamo had an “enforcer” severely beat him because he made a small tunnel while hauling dirt for the church. As Ondrisek received discipline of 15 to 20 blows to his face, Alamo made his father watch. Ondrisek then received 20 to 30 strikes from a paddle that was three feet long, an inch-and-a-half thick, and three or four inches wide. He was unable to sit for several days and not allowed to attend services because the swelling on his face was too visible. Two years later Alamo had Ondrisek beaten again for horseplay. He sustained 15 to 20 hits to his mouth, beginning to bleed after the second blow. He also received 30 to 40 paddles (maybe more), causing severe bruising that did not fully heal for several weeks. He has permanent scarring from the beating. At 15, Ondrisek’s schooling stopped, and he began working on the church’s property 70 hours a week. He was forced to attend services and listen to Alamo’s recordings daily. As punishment for falling asleep as a night watchman, Alamo required him to fast two days, giving him only water. At 16 or 17, Ondrisek was beaten for a third time after being falsely accused of bullying. He was slapped 20 or more times in the face, and paddled 40 times. Ondrisek blacked out, but no one took him to a hospital. His hand was severely injured and still causes him pain.

Calagna’s youth at TACM was similar to Ondrisek’s. When he was 14, Calagna’s parents woke him at 4 a.m. to have him beaten. He was hit so hard he vomited. His face was unrecognizable afterwards; his injuries took weeks to heal. Less than a month later, he witnessed his father get beaten, causing him emotional distress. He was beaten again at 17 for talking about “Harry Potter.” He was struck until the paddle broke and then hit again with a larger board. In addition to physical abuse, both boys experienced verbal abuse. They both contemplated suicide, “unable to imagine that death would be worse.” At 18, Ondrisek and Calagna escaped TACM separately. They still have trouble sleeping, experiencing nightmares and flashbacks.

Alamo is serving a 175-year sentence in a Marion, Ill., federal prison for 10 counts of transporting minors across state lines for illicit sex.

From the ArkTimes store

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