Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Child maltreatment investigation into Justin and Marsha Harris found 'unsubstantiated'

Posted By on Wed, Jun 17, 2015 at 5:15 PM

Jennifer Wells, the attorney for Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork) and his wife, Marsha, has provided the Times with documentation of the child maltreatment investigation referenced yesterday in a press release that announced the legislator would not seek re-election.

The investigation was performed by the Crimes Against Children Division, an arm of the Arkansas State Police. When the state child abuse hotline receives a call alleging child maltreatment — and when that call is determined to be credible enough to warrant investigation — the case is assigned either to CACD or the Department of Human Services. CACD typically takes cases in which the allegations of maltreatment could potentially rise to the level of a crime.

Justin and Marsha Harris were investigated this spring for alleged "extreme or repeated cruelty," and those allegations were found to be unsubstantiated, according to a notice provided to both parties dated June 5, 2015. Here's the full text:

The Arkansas State Police Crimes Against Children Division received an allegation of suspected child maltreatment involving you. The incident was reported on (date) 03/11/2015.

Pursuant to Arkansas Code Ann. 12-18-703, this is your notice that because the allegations were not supported by a preponderance of evidence, the allegation has been determined unsubstantiated, and your name will not be placed in the Child Maltreatment Central Registry.

The type of alleged maltreatment was extreme or repeated cruelty.

I noted the probable existence of such a CACD investigation in my last major story about the Harrises. CACD itself can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any child maltreatment investigation, nor give any details about how it was conducted — all such information is entirely confidential. However, the Harrises and their attorney are free to release the information themselves. An image of the one-page document is below.

Here's what the Harrises' press release yesterday had to say about the CACD investigation:

Justin and Marsha Harris are also pleased to confirm that the Crimes Against Children Division of the Arkansas State Police and DHS recently concluded a second investigation finding all allegations to be unsubstantiated. This investigation — which the Arkansas Times reported in a May 28, 2015 cover story — included claims that the Harris’s former adopted daughters were subjected to “exorcisms,” were locked in their rooms for lengthy periods, and were not given toys to play with. In crafting the story, this Times article cited a teenager's brief tenure as a babysitter to the Harris family and several anonymous sources. The Harrises regret that these new false allegations required state investigators to re-interview the girls.

As the person who "crafted" the story, let me comment a little on my sources. First, I stand by everything I've written about the Harris adoption and its aftermath. I do think it's important to separate what I'm certain is true from what I strongly believe is true, so I'll elaborate a bit on what I've been told by Chelsey Goldsborough (the babysitter for the family) and the "several anonymous sources," meaning the nine current and former employees at the Harrises' preschool, Growing God's Kingdom, who I spoke to over the last couple of months.

While I'm confident Goldsborough's account is true, I can't corroborate it without speaking to others who had extensive interaction with the children inside the Harris home in 2012-2013. That's unlikely to happen. Outside of members of the Harris family, the babysitter's account is the only one I'm aware of that describes firsthand what life was like inside the home — with one exception.

When the older girl, who we call "Mary," was interviewed back in 2014 by CACD about abuse at the hands of Eric Francis, she also made comments about the Harris home that seem consistent with Goldsborough's descriptions. I included some of those details in my original story about the Harris re-homing in early March.

Here's the pertinent section from the 2014 CACD interview with Mary, which is included in the prosecutor file in the Francis case:

click to enlarge child_testimony.jpg

Does the testimony of one adult person (yes, who was a teenager at the time) and one young child constitute an airtight case, proving maltreatment occurred? It does not. Does it amount to "a preponderance of evidence," the legal standard for child maltreatment findings, when weighed against other testimony from the Harrises? Likely not. Also, it's been over 18 months since the girls lived in the Harris home, so physical evidence probably would be hard to come by. CACD investigators would likely have to rely on little other than interviews to draw their conclusions.

Again, I cannot be 100 percent certain Goldsborough's account is accurate. But I do feel 100 percent certain about the truth of the allegations of the Harrises believing the girls were demonically possessed, because I've heard it over and over again from preschool workers who interacted with the children and the Harrises, especially Marsha. Those accounts were detailed in my last major story on the Harrises, in which workers describe observing Marsha Harris "praying out demons" from misbehaving children and making statements about her adopted daughters being possessed. Unless a remarkable conspiracy is afoot, those statements are the truth.

Finally, I should note that the allegations of "cruelty" towards the adopted girls is one of only several points raised in my last story. Among other pertinent questions regarding the Harris adoption: Did Justin Harris use his position within the legislature to influence DHS before, during or after the adoption? Did administrators at DHS intervene on his behalf?

For the record, here are the one-page CACD notices themselves. They're identical except for the names "Justin Harris" and "Marsha Harris":

click to enlarge harris_cacd_investigation_second.jpg
click to enlarge harris_cacd_investigation_second_1.jpg

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