New Agape School Lawsuit Allegations Include Sexual Assault
New court filings reveal some of the most brutal allegations of abuse at Agape boarding school so far, including a former student’s account that two staff members sexually assaulted him.
Those details were outlined in motions filed Monday in 19 civil lawsuits asking that the Cedar County judge overseeing those cases allow the attorneys to seek punitive damages. The new allegations cover a period from 2007 to 2021 with much – including the sexual assault complaint – from the past three years.
Changes to Missouri law in 2020 require attorneys to file an amended petition if they seek punitive damages on behalf of their clients. The law also allows for the filing of an amended petition if new information arises that was overlooked or unknown at the time the case began.
In a separate case, the Missouri attorney general’s office filed an injunction in September to close the school, saying the safety of current students was at risk. Since then, the case has been stalled in court.
The new petition in the civil suits contains seven pages of detailed allegations that describe broken noses, attempted suicides that were a “pandemic among college students” and intense physical assaults that resulted in outside medical treatment.
A former student, identified as MN, was at the school from 2017 to 2019 and alleged that a member of staff punched him in the testicles and that he “had to be taken to hospital where he underwent an ultrasound, and it was determined that he suffered a traumatic injury to his groin.
Some alleged the abuse began when they were transported to the Christian school near Stockton, Missouri, or shortly after arriving. One said he was ‘groped’ during his admissions process, and others described excruciating physical restraints that left them with bruises and damaged nerves.
“These are aggravating circumstances that the plaintiff should be allowed to present to the jury at trial so they can decide whether punitive damages are appropriate in this case,” the motion for leave in the RB lawsuit said, student at Agape from 2007 to 2012. “Claimant clearly carried his burden.”
This trial is one of 19.
Robert Bucklin, 28, who is identified in the motion and lawsuit as RB but last year made his identity public, declined to comment on Tuesday. The motion describes that he was ‘strangled’ by a member of staff with the cord of a hair clipper until he nearly passed out. He also alleges that he attempted suicide 15 to 20 times during his nearly six years at school and drank chemicals to do so.
Ryan Frazier, whose law firm represents Bucklin and the other 18 former students, said Agape “has misled parents into thinking it’s a school with a heart, a place who can get wayward boys back on track, with love and care.”
“However, many former students of Agape Boarding School tell a different story,” Frazier said. “These individuals were mentally and physically abused under the guise of discipline, with some reporting sexual abuse as well.”
The lawsuits, Frazier said, were filed to allow the former students to “pursue justice for the trauma they endured and to give them an opportunity to have their voices heard.”
Agape’s lawyer, John Schultz, said the school had provided more than 6,000 boys over three decades with the opportunity to “get their lives back on track and towards a bright future”.
“We are disappointed to learn of the sensational allegations some of our former boys are now making…” Schultz said in a comment on Tuesday, which he also provided for an earlier story. “We have read many specific allegations that we know could not have happened given the 24/7 surveillance that extends to the dorm, showers, classroom, the dining room and all outdoor activities.
“We intend to file a response, denying the allegations and look forward to a trial where evidence can be presented to refute these allegations.”
After MN, who said he was punched in the testicles, returned home for a brief period in May 2018, he was brought back to school. He said he was picked up in the middle of the night by Robert Graves and former student dean Brent Jackson, according to the motion. Graves, himself a former Agape student, is the son-in-law of late Agape founder James Clemensen, and was until recently the Cedar County Sheriff’s Deputy.
The boy testified in deposition that Graves and Jackson entered his bedroom and woke him up. Parents often pay a transport company to pick up and deliver their children to boarding schools like Agape.
MN begged them not to take him back to Agape, the motion says. When the boy screamed for help, he said Jackson grabbed him, kicked him in the stomach, then tackled him to the ground.
“Graves then handcuffed MN and dragged him outside to their car,” the motion reads. “MN remembers vomiting uncontrollably in the car due to the trauma.”
The former MP was mentioned several times in the motion. One of those times involved an incident with a student identified as CM who, within two weeks of arriving, attempted suicide by hanging himself in the bathroom, according to the petition.
CM was in school in 2017 and 2018.
Graves “grabbed CM by the collar and dragged him to the floor in the admissions room and told CM that if he ever tried to kill himself again in Agape, Graves would put him in hell himself,” says Graves. the motion.
The documents name numerous other Agape staff members, three of whom are among the five currently charged in Cedar County with physically assaulting students. These men – Seth Duncan, Agape medical coordinator Scott Dumar and Trent Hartman – have all pleaded not guilty and have hearings into these crimes scheduled for next month.
Duncan and Dumar, along with staff member Dan Goldsmith – a former corrections officer in Pennsylvania – and Bryan Clemensen, director of Agape and son of its late founder, have been recognized by the state Department of Human Services as having abused or neglected students, according to the lawsuit. All but Duncan are still working at the Christian boarding school while they appeal the findings.
A former student identified as WH attended the school from 2019 to 2020, according to the motion. He said he was physically restrained on several occasions and later sought treatment for injuries sustained in those incidents.
“Before and during the restraint measures initiated by Duncan, WH had control, and not a threat of injury to himself or others,” the motion reads. “Instead, WH testified that Duncan initiated the restraint, for example, because WH stopped doing workouts because he was having trouble breathing.”
The motion also describes another incident involving the former student and two other staff members.
“WH was also escorted alone from the shower bay to the gymnasium where he was isolated, pinned down and restrained by staff,” he said. “During the restraint, WH testified that his shorts were pulled up to his knees and he (said) something was forced into his anus by staff causing him to pass out.”
In June 2021, The Star reported on allegations of two former students who said they were gang raped by Agape staff in 2009 and 2010. The two men were not at school at the same time and did not know each other not. Both said they were sexually assaulted by five staff members, with one staff member named in both alleged attacks. He still works at school.
WH’s recent sexual assault allegation describes a similar assault by two staff members. One of these two staff members who WH says attacked him was also identified in the 2010 gang rape allegation. The Star contacted this staff member last year and received no answer.
The new motion says the Agape Ministry staff handbook “expressly prohibits” child abuse or neglect at any time. This includes physical abuse, physical neglect, sexual abuse, medical neglect, mental abuse, bizarre discipline and corporal punishment, the motion says.
“Agape concedes that the only circumstances in which a student should be physically touched or restrained by staff are ‘when reasonably necessary to prevent an individual from physically harming themselves or another individual,'” the filing reads.
According to the motion, Goldsmith said Agape staff began “physically restraining students with handcuffs based on vague advice/recommendations from a Cedar County Sheriff’s Deputy and management Bryan Clemensen.” . Goldsmith said he kept a pair of handcuffs in his home and “personally handcuffed Agape students on more than one occasion and for consecutive days.”
The motion says that Goldsmith is still working at Agape.
This story was originally published November 15, 2022 12:34 p.m.