Teen-ager says manure 'discipline' stories were exaggerated

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

WAYNESVILLE, Mo. -- A former church school student who was ordered to wade into a manure pit as punishment minimized the event Tuesday and acknowledged exaggerating to a sheriff about how often it happened.

Now 16 and identified in court papers only as R.K., he was the first Heartland Christian Academy student to testify in the trial of school staffer Charles Robert Patchin, who faces three charges of felony child abuse.

The teen, who now lives in Michigan, said under defense questioning that he told Lewis County Sheriff David Parrish last year that he was sent into manure pits at Heartland's dairy farm three times.

On the stand, R.K. acknowledged that he was ordered into the pit just once. He testified that the March 2001 experience made him sick to his stomach, that he was chest-deep in manure and that the smell so saturated his clothes that he later discarded them.

Punishment questioned

The defense questioning was intended to undermine the seriousness of the manure pit incidents, which prosecutors say amounted to "cruel and inhuman" punishment. The teen said he exaggerated the number of incidents in hopes of leaving the school.

"It became a big deal because this was your chance to get out of Heartland -- is that fair?" asked defense attorney Robert Haar.

"Yes," the teen replied.

Later, Haar asked: "Do you think this manure thing was a big deal?"

"No," said R.K.

Haar said the manure pit punishment was intended to teach misbehaving youngsters that school was preferable to dirty farm chores.

Patchin, 34, of Newark, Mo., is the grandson of Heartland founder Charles N. Sharpe, a millionaire insurance company owner from Kansas City who says God called him to establish Heartland to help troubled young people. Patchin is on Heartland's board of directors and supervised its boys' dormitory.

Heartland's dairy operation included about 3,000 cattle, with manure so abundant that front-end loaders, conveyor belts and dump trucks were used to handle it, a former employee testified Tuesday.

Wading waist-deep

Tad Griffin, 22, of Memphis, Mo., said he twice saw three or four boys wading, some waist-deep, in a concrete-lined pit of liquid manure as adults looked on. He said some the boys stood beneath conveyor belts as animal waste showered onto them.

Griffin said he told his Heartland supervisor about the manure pit incidents, but "nothing was done."

Then he called a child abuse hotline. That led to an investigation and the charges against Patchin and other Heartland staff members.

ers who prosecutors plan to put on trial later.

Griffin worked at Heartland from November 1999 through July 2001, when he quit. In a defense move to cast doubt on his credibility, Griffin acknowledged that he is on probation in Missouri.

Court documents obtained by The Associated Press from Grundy County, Mo., showed that Griffin pleaded guilty on Dec. 16, 1999, to a single count of manufacturing an explosive device and that he received five years' probation on Feb. 17, 2000.

The documents said that in May 1999, Griffin made "an explosive weapon consisting of PVC pipes filled with Pyrodex," a material used in firearms ammunition.

The documents didn't state the intended use of the explosive.

In his testimony, Griffin said he never saw Patchin at the manure pits when the boys were present.

But DeCoster said Patchin directed two other employees, and at one point was present himself, when Heartland students entered the pits.

"This was punishment, pure and simple, by being forced to stand in liquid manure" for at least 20 minutes at a time, DeCoster said.

The boys, he added, "weren't even wearing boots."

But Haar said the students, new to Heartland and unaccustomed to its stern discipline, saw the allegations "as an opportunity to get out of Heartland."

Haar said the discipline was discontinued.

"It may have been unpleasant, but it did not harm or injure the boys in any way," he said.

The trial is being held in Pulaski County in south-central Missouri because the defense wanted another judge.

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