UPDATED, 6:05 p.m.: U.S. Attorney Kenneth Elser
announced today that Clarence Garretson,
65, of Van Buren, had pleaded guilty today in federal court to five counts of interstate transportation of a child with intention to engage in criminal sexual activity.
The case was initiated this year by a girl who said Garretson, a truck driver, raped her in 2014 when he took her on a multi-state trip. She was then 10 years old. Garretson had received a waiver from the trucking company to have a passenger. Garretson acknowledged in his plea agreement that he'd taken the child on the trip with the intent to engage in sexual activity.
In May 2016, the girl told her mother and a school resource officer about the assault, the plea agreement states. When the Van Buren Police Department determined the abuse had occurred outside of Arkansas, he contacted the FBI.
The plea agreement
also states that Garretson and his wife had been approved by the Arkansas Department of Human Services
to operate a foster home in 1998 and later were approved to become an adoptive home. It notes that he was accused in 2002 of sexually assaulting a foster child, although the agreement does not note the outcome of that allegation. The FBI special agent assigned to the case, Rob Allen, found more assaults of children as he interviewed children placed in the home in the 2000s. They remained adoptive parents through 2015, the federal papers indicate.
The plea states that Allen determined that "at least 35 minors had been placed in the Garretson residence" during the time he and his wife operated the foster home. It's not yet clear what relationship the child who stepped forward in 2016 had to Garretson.
However, the original complaint in the case, filed in June of this year, contains an affidavit from FBI agent Allen that includes the following paragraph stating DHS was alerted to sexual misconduct by Garretson on multiple occasions:
Your Affiant learned that GARRETSON and his wife were foster parents for the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) and had foster children in their home in Van Buren, Arkansas, from May 23, 1989 [Note: presumably, this date is a typo — the home was not opened until 1998] through and including December 30, 2004. According to DHS records, the GARRETSON residence was classified by DHS as an adoptive home from April 13, 2001 through and including January 29, 2015. Your Affiant reviewed DHS records and learned that multiple teenage foster children had reported to DHS that GARRETSON sexually assaulted them while in his care. The DHS reports your Affiant reviewed indicate DHS received reports of sexual misconduct committed by GARRETSON, some of which were unfounded and some were founded as "true." Reports alleging sexual misconduct by GARRETSON on foster children in his home were made to DHS in August 1997, January 2003, July 2004 and April 2006. Your Affiant noted that the April 2006 report was made after the foster child had been removed from the home. Your Affiant has not been able to review the complete DHS file because it has not been available in its entirety at this time. Based on the reports your Affiant found in DHS records, your Affiant began conducting an investigation into GARRETSON'S conduct with foster children who were in the GARRETSON residence. Although many of the former foster children that were placed in GARRETSON'S home are now over the age of 18 and therefore, are no longer minors, the federal statute of limitations does not preclude federal prosecution for federal offenses committed against "a child under the age of 18 years" during the life of the child or for ten years after the offense, whichever is longer.
Late this afternoon, we received a response from Amy Webb, a spokesman for DHS:
As you know, I am prohibited by law from talking about specific maltreatment investigations, foster care records and calls into the child abuse hotline. 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. The safety of our foster children is our number one priority, and we do everything we can on the front end to make sure the people wanting to serve as foster parents will provide safe, loving and stable homes. 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 DCFS when there is a call into the child abuse hotline that includes an allegation against a foster parent.
We appreciate law enforcement’s efforts in this case.
Time for a legislative investigation. If the parents in an adoptive home are accused of sexual assault, and the home is closed as a foster home, can it remain an adoptive home? How serious was the investigation into the allegations of abuse against Garretson in 2004? We need to know whether people in that chain of command remain in command now. It is simply wrong for a state agency to hide behind a shield of confidentiality meant to protect children when exactly the opposite result occurred. Gov. Hutchinson?
The superseding indictment
of Garretson outlines eleven counts of rape or other sexual crimes against eight minors, mostly in the early 2000s. Some of the victims are now adults. Garretson pleaded guilty to five counts (encompassing five separate victims, including the most recent one, in 2014) in exchange for the U.S. dismissing the other counts and in exchange for the government's agreement "that it will not prosecute Lisa Garretson, the Defendant's wife, for her concealment of the Defendant's earnings by her acceptance of payment for wages the Defendant earned while the Defendant was receiving Social Security benefits."
The U.S. attorney's news release outlines the other four counts to which Garretson pleaded guilty as follows:
* Minor #2 was interviewed in June 2016 and was a foster child in the home from 2000 to 2004. She disclosed that Garretson had taken her on over-the-road truck trips when she was his foster child. Garretson stipulated and agreed that he transported the minor in interstate commerce with the intent to engage in sexual activity with her, and that the sexual activity he engaged in with her was Violation of a Minor in the First Degree, a Class C felony. At the time of the offense, she was over 13 years of age, and less than 18 and the conduct engaged in was sexual intercourse. ...
* In 1999, DHS placed Minor #3 and his two older sisters in the Garretson home, and Minor #3 was legally adopted by them in 2001. Minor #3 was interviewed by the FBI Special Agent in July, 2016 and disclosed that Garretson had taken him on long distance truck trips starting in the summer of 2001 when he was 11 years old and that he had sexually assaulted him on multiple trips during summer vacation from school in 2002 and 2003. Garretson stipulated and agreed that he transported the minor in interstate commerce with the intent to engage in sexual activity with him, that the sexual activity he engaged in with him was Rape, a Class Y felony. ....
* In 1999, DHS placed Minor #5 and her two siblings in the Garretson home and she remained there until 2004. She was interviewed by the FBI Special Agent in July, 2016 and disclosed that she was sexually assaulted by Garretson on an over-the-road trip to California during the summer of 2000 when she was 13 years old. Garretson stipulated and agreed that he transported Minor #5 in interstate commerce with the intent to engage in sexual activity with her, that the sexual activity he engaged in with her was Rape, a Class Y felony...
* Minor #8 was born in 1993 and was interviewed by the FBI Special Agent in September, 2016. She stated that Garretson transported her and her siblings between Arkansas and California as a favor to her family since their parents lived in different states. She disclosed that in 2002 when she was 9 years old, Garretson had her sleep nude or partially nude in the bed with him inside the truck and engage in sexual activity with her. Garretson stipulated and agreed that he transported Minor #8 in interstate commerce with the intent to engage in sexual activity with her, and that the sexual activity he engaged in with her was Rape, a Class Y felony. ...
Garretson, who was arrested in June, was charged in a superseding indictment by a federal grand jury Oct. 4. Sentencing will be later. He could face a life sentence.
We tried for some additional comment from the U.S. attorney. He didn't stray from the contents of the indictment and plea agreement, which are damning enough. But he said, in response to one question:
I completely agree that the facts of this case as set forth in the plea agreement concerning the fact that several of the victims were placed in the care of Mr. Garretson raise serious concerns which should be addressed to DHS.