‘300 hours’ of Agape Boarding School witness interviews to be reviewed before assault cases advance

·4 min read
Cedar County Court House in Stockton, Missouri, Jan. 26, 2022.
Cedar County Court House in Stockton, Missouri, Jan. 26, 2022.

Correction: An earlier version of this article included an incomplete reference to defense attorney Craig Heidemann and his law firm that been updated for accuracy.

Hundreds of hours of witness interviews related to accusations of child abuse linked to Agape Boarding School must be reviewed and redacted by prosecutors, then sent to defense attorneys, before cases against four defendants can advance through the court system, a Missouri judge determined during a brief hearing Wednesday morning.

Cedar County Judge Thomas Pyle continued preliminary hearings for defendants Scott Dumar, Trent Hartman, Everett Graves and Christopher McEloy until April 27.

The men are all facing one or more charges of third-degree assault, which ranks among the lowest level of felony charges. Cedar County Prosecutor Ty Gaither filed the charges Sept. 28, a move criticized by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who advocated for more serious, more numerous charges against Agape staff.

Dumar faces four counts. Listed as the “medical director” of the boarding school in Agape newsletters sent to students’ families, Dumar is accused of injuring at least one Agape student by scrubbing the student’s arm with rubbing alcohol and a scouring pad in incidents alleged to have happened between Aug. 28, 2020 and Feb. 26, 2021.

More: Greene County judge sets bond for David Smock, accused of 11 felony sex crimes linked to Agape Boarding School

More: Agape Boarding School doctor pleads not guilty to three felonies

More: Former Agape Boarding School students say FBI is now examining abuse allegations

Trent Hartman faces two counts of third-degree assault. He is accused of slamming a student’s arm into a piece of metal, causing a laceration, and of grabbing and squeezing a student’s arm, causing a bruise.

Everett Graves faces one count of third-degree assault. He is accused of hitting the back of a student's head, causing the student’s forehead to hit a wall.

Christopher McElroy faces one count of third-degree assault. He is accused of kicking a student and stepping on the student’s fingers while the student was performing push-ups.

Prosecutor Gaither, who has also faced criticism from former Agape students who identify as victims of severe physical, emotional and sexual abuse, told the court that the standard exchange of evidence in the four cases was not yet completed.

“We’re basically tied up in e-discovery,” Gaither told Judge Pyle after conferring with defense attorney Jake Spindler, a lawyer with the firm owned in part by Craig Heidemann, who is representing Agape defendants including Dumar, Graves and McElroy, along with Dr. David Smock. Smock, who served as Agape school physician, faces 11 charges of felony child sex crimes from Cedar County and Greene County.

Gaither told the court his office had 300 hours of interview recordings collected from 130 witnesses interviewed by authorities. He said preparing the material for exchange of evidence with the defense is proving to be a lengthy task.

“It took me weeks” to review the interviews in question, Gaither said.

“We are redacting them as required by us,” Gaither also told Judge Pyle.

From Sept. 2019: ‘A huge slap in the face’: Former Agape Boarding School students worry about prosecution of abuse allegations

As the judge explained to one of the defendants, some aspects of the evidence are “confidential” and must be redacted before the complete collection of interviews can be handed over to the defense as the cases are tried.

After learning that his next required court appearance was pushed back by three months, Hartman — an Agape staffer representing himself in his case rather than hiring an attorney — asked the judge, “What happens if I’m unavailable?”

Hartman, who had earlier told the judge he did not wish to apply for services from a public defender at this time, added, “I might have to move out of state.”

Judge Pyle explained to Hartman that he would be required to appear in court, but that it might be possible to arrange for a phone appearance for Hartman on April 27.

“I am willing to work with you,” said the judge, "but you do have to come back.”

“Stay in touch with your lawyers,” Judge Pyle instructed the defendants as the hearing concluded.

Shortly before they left the courtroom, Judge Pyle’s bailiff instructed McElroy and Graves to be fingerprinted by the Cedar County Sherriff’s Office.

Another Agape defendant, Seth Duncan, has a court hearing scheduled March 16. He faces five counts of third-degree assault.

Duncan is accused of throwing a student across a gym floor and shoving the student down stairs; picking up a student and slamming him to a gym floor, cutting the student’s hand; slamming a student’s head into a wall; slamming a student into a floor causing a chin laceration; and grabbing a student by the neck, slamming him to the floor and choking him.

Reach News-Leader reporter Gregory Holman by emailing gholman@gannett.com. Please consider subscribing to support vital local journalism.

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Agape witness interviews to be reviewed before assault cases advance

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting