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Pressure mounts against Board of Corrections member affiliated with abuse

 The Lord's Ranch in Warm Springs, Ark. is seen in this undated photo.
Romanucci & Blandin
Courtesy photo
The Lord's Ranch in Warm Springs, Ark. is seen in this undated photo.

A member of the Arkansas Board of Corrections is facing calls to resign after allegations of child abuse were lodged against a former employer.

Alonza Jiles was once the senior director of The Lord's Ranch and is now a pastor. The therapeutic boarding school was formerly located in Warm Springs Ark. near the Missouri border. It has come under fire after former residents say they were physically and sexually abused at the facility, and that Jiles knew and did nothing to stop it.

The Gillispie Law firm in Arkansas has been filing lawsuits against the now-defunct camp’s former employees. So, far they have filed two lawsuitson behalf of dozens of accusers listed only as “John Does.” The lawsuits detail at least seven instances where Jiles was told about molestation at the camp, but refused to intervene.

The Lord's Ranch first opened in 1976, serving children ages 10 to 17 with emotional and psychological problems. It stopped serving patients in 2014 after its leader, Ted Suhl, was found guilty of accepting bribes. Its license was then revoked by the Arkansas Department of Human Services.

During the years it was in operation, many residents claim they were molested by the school's Director of Social Services Emmett Alden Presley. He is said to have abused children during weekly counseling sessions. Former students also claim they were physically assaulted and emotionally abused by staff during their stay.

The suit alleges that Jiles “never once lifted a finger to help the children or prevent their sexual abuse by Presley.” It says he along with other staff members “did everything in their power, including the use of threats, intimidation, and physical violence, to silence the many children who spoke up and reported Presley.”

One student alleges she was forced to marry a camp employee. William Sweetwood was a counselor at the camp despite allegedly having no qualifications. A 16-year-old female plaintiff said she was not interested in his sexual advances. When she turned 18, Jiles allegedly officiated a marriage between her and Sweetwood.

The marriage happened without her parents' knowledge or consent. She later escaped the camp and got a divorce.

A person known only as John Doe 1 alleges he reported his sexual abuse to Jiles, saying “he was sexually molested and raped by Emmett Presley dozens of times, at nearly every weekly counseling session, over an approximately two-year period.” John Doe 1 says he was also photographed during the abuse.

When John Doe 1 reported the abuse, he was told by Jiles and two other staff members that “consequences would be severe should he ever utter another word.”

Soon after, his collarbone was broken by a staff member when he allowed his eyes to “wander” during a church service.

At least five other allegations of Jiles being told about abuse are detailed in the lawsuits. They say each time he did nothing to stop the abuse, allowing it to continue.

State Sen. Ben Gilmore, R-Crossett, was one of the first to call on Jiles to resign from the Board of Corrections.

“The allegations are vivid. They are disturbing,” he told reporter Samantha Boyd with Little Rock television station Fox 16. “They happened under Mr. Jiles' watch.”

Rep. Aaron Pilkington, R-Knoxville, agreed with him. On X, formerly Twitter, he said “The heinous allegations against Mr. Jiles for his despicable cover-up of child sexual abuse allegations are utterly revolting.”

Rep. David Ray, R-Maumelle, called the allegations “beyond disturbing,” before calling for Jiles' resignation.

This comes a few weeks after another member of the Board of Corrections stepped down following allegations of abuse. Jamol Jones was appointed to serve as chair of the Arkansas Post-Prison Transfer Board by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, but resigned shortly after it was revealed he was fired from the Benton Police Department after he had an alleged sexual relationship with a teenager.

The Arkansas Department of Corrections had no comment on the allegations against Jiles.

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Josie Lenora is a news anchor and reporter for KUAR News. She has listened to KUAR and NPR since she was a young child growing up in Little Rock and says she is thrilled to give back to an organization she loves. Josie was previously an intern in the fall of 2021 assisting in production, then spent another semester with the station interning in the newsroom in the spring of 2022.
Formally KUAR, news from the staff of content partners Little Rock Public Radio at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. They are a NPR member station.