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Second lawsuit filed against former Arkansas religious boarding school

The Lord's Ranch in Warm Springs, Ark. is seen in this undated photo.
Romanucci & Blandin
Courtesy photo
Owners of a defunct boarding school known as The Lord's Ranch is facing a second lawsuit.

Another lawsuit has been filed against a former Arkansas religious boarding school accused of allowing and fostering sexual and physical abuse.

The Lord's Ranch was a therapeutic facility in Warm Springs, near the Missouri border. The school operated from 1976 to 2016 by family members Ted and Shirley Suhl. They are named as defendants in the lawsuit along with Emmet Alden Presley, a counselor who was the Director of Social Services at The Lords Ranch.

The camp claimed to provide services to students with emotional and behavioral problems. Their website when they were operational said “The Lord's Ranch provides a therapeutic treatment plan tailored to meet the needs of each resident.” It went on to talk about the importance of the Bible in their curriculum.

Part of the treatment was individual therapy sessions with Emmet Alden Presley. Victims say they were raped and sexually molested during these sessions.

One plaintiff, John Doe 9 was at the Lords ranch for three years in the early 2000’s. He alleges acts of sexual abuse by Presley including “oral rape, genital molestation, and being forced to engage in sexual acts with another minor resident in Presley's presence.”

John Doe 9 says, after the abuse would happen, he was often taken to the store by Presley to purchase candy.

Other patients alleged that Presley would give gifts to students he abused. A plaintiff known as John Doe 10 had lost both of his parents and was being raised by his grandmother when he went to the facility.

“Presley would tell Plaintiff that if he succumbed to the abuse, Presley would call Plaintiff's grandmother on his phone and allow him to speak with her,” the lawsuit reads.

However, Presley would allegedly pretend to call her number and then tell John Doe 10 that she was not home.

Several accusers who reported the abuse said they were ignored or mistreated.

“These attempts by children to seek help from outside the Lord's Ranch always resulted in reprisals, often in the form of physical beatings and various forms of psychological and physical torture,” the lawsuit says.

Plaintiff John Doe 12 was allegedly molested on a nature walk. He is said to have reported the abuse to a staffer named Philander Kirk, who allegedly “feigned concern and said he would check on it,” But the abuse was never followed up on.

Plaintiff John Doe 13 says he was molested at age 13 or 14 at the Lord’s Ranch. He says, when he would try to tell his mother over the phone, his call would be cut off. After he reported the abuse to another staff member, “John Doe 13 was taken to the main house where Ted Suhl's office was located.” There Suhl allegedly told him, "I have the power to send you to jail."

The lawsuit alleges ten legal violations ranging from negligence, Title IX violations, battery and human trafficking.

The suit says the school “possessed an overwhelming amount of actual knowledge concerning innumerable incidents of child rape continuously and routinely committed by the facility's Director of Social Services, Emmett Presley, over a period of more than ten years.”

The lawsuit was filed by Romanucci & Blandin and the Gillispie Law Firm. They specialize in suing organizations accused of sexual abuse. Last year they filed suit on behalf of eight people who were interred at the facility throughout the 90’s and early 2000s. This second lawsuit is on behalf of another eight defendants.

Medicaid funding was suspended from the Lord's Ranch in 2014 amid a string of scandals involving finances at the facility. This was around the time the owner, Ted Suhl, was convicted of bribery and sentenced to seven years in prison. His sentence was eventually commuted by former President Donald Trump.

Ted Suhl’s attorney Michael Scotti has said previously that he denies the allegations. "The Suhl Family categorically denies each and every allegation of wrongful conduct alleged in the Complaint," Scotti said in a statement.

He says he will work in court to disprove the allegations.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.