February 14, 2002
Judge Webber Grants Partial Injunction For Heartland Academy
Former Memphis resident, United States District Court Judge E. Richard Webber, entered an order granting in part Heartland Christian Academy's (HCA) request for a preliminary injunction against area juvenile and law enforcement officers.
Judge Webber's ruling bars local law officials from "seeking or participating in any pre-hearing removal of all boarding children from HCA unless all boarding children at HCA are directly involved in the underlying facts that serve as the basis for such removal."
The academy, is a non-denominational Christian school for troubled children and teenagers who had passed through juvenile courts, foster care and broken homes. HCA and owner, Charles Sharpe, have been embroiled in legal action with area juvenile and law enforcement officials after the residents of the school were removed from the facility after charges of alleged child abuse were aired.
On June 26, 2001, officials in Lewis County, Missouri, filed charges of child abuse against several staff members of the Heartland Community Center in Newark. The charges stemmed from an incident in which students were forced to shovel manure at the dairy farm owned by the organization.
A statement from CNS International Ministeries, Inc., the governing organization for Heartland, stated "We believe that community, structure, and appropriate discipline are key components of our program's success. In April, 11 teenage students were disciplined by being required to shovel manure at Heartland's working dairy farm. The duration of these chores lasted from only a few minutes, to no more than 40 minutes."
The arrest of the staff members on the child abuse charges resulted in a drawn-out legal battle between HCA and Lewis County Juvenile Officer Mike Waddle. That ultimately led to a full-scale operation to remove all of the children from the school in the wake of the abuse allegations.
In the 91-page opinion presented by Judge Webber, he described the scene of the mass-removal of the 115 students on October 30, 2001, as "Surreal, as if captured in some totalitarian state or on a movie set." Judge Webber also noted that "this ill-conceived, poorly executed tearing away of these children from an environment where they obviously felt safe and protected is alarming to watch by even a casual observer."
On July 2, 2001 Heartland Academy Community Church and CNS International Ministries, Inc., filed a complaint in federal court alleging a "systematic persistent and continuous campaign of harassment and intimidation," perpetrated by local juvenile and law enforcement officials. Judge Webber's opinion was issued as a result of the preliminary injunction hearings that occurred November 14-16, 2001 in Hannibal. The HCA lawsuit is seeking injunctive and declaratory relief as well as unspecified damages and the payment of attorneys' fees.