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Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders calls on Board of Corrections member to resign

 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.

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is joining a chorus of state officials asking a member of the Arkansas Board of Corrections to resign.

Alonza Jiles formerly worked at The Lord's Ranch, a defunct religious boarding school in far north Arkansas. He was employed as its senior director and is now a pastor. Currently, severallawsuits are underway against former camp employees for sexual abuse that was alleged to have happened at the facility.

While at the camp, the school's Director of Social Services, Emmett Alden Presley, allegedly sexually abused several residents. Survivors alleged that Jiles helped Presley cover up his abuse and threatened students when they tried to report it.

The lawsuits list at least seven instances where Jiles was told about the abuse but did nothing to stop it. He also allegedly officiated a forced marriage between an employee of the camp and a young resident.

Several legislators have asked Jiles to step down in the past few weeks, including Rep. Aaron Pilkington, Rep. David Ray and Sen. Ben Gilmore, all Republicans, as well as Sen. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville. Gov. Sanders released a statement on Thursday calling for Jiles' resignation, calling the accusations "concerning and a distraction from his work and the work of the Board of Corrections.”

“I am calling on Mr. Jiles to resign from his post and allow our state to fully focus on improving community safety and ending the revolving door in our prisons,” the statement reads.

Another plaintiff named in the suit is former camp director Ted Suhl. The suit alleges that Suhl was also involved in and aware of the sexual abuse. Suhl was once friends with Sanders' father, former Gov. Mike Huckabee.

In 2006, The Arkansas Times reported that then-Gov. Huckabee and future Gov. Sanders were passengers on Suhl’s plane when it performed an emergency landing.

Suhl later went to prison for accepting bribes to raise Medicaid payments to his organization. Around the same time, the camp shut down. Suhl’s sentence was commuted by former President Donald Trump at Huckabee's request. Trump called Suhl “a pillar of his community before his prosecution and a generous contributor to several charities.”

Representatives of two law firms bringing the suits, Romanucci & Blandin and the Gillispie Law Firm, said they “fully support” the governor's stance.

“We are dedicated to holding him accountable for his actions and strongly believe Alonza Jiles has no role in public service,” the statement reads.

In a statement to Little Rock TV station KARK/Fox 16, Jiles said he would not resign his position.

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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.