Arkansas prison board member declines to resign over civil lawsuit allegations

(Adobe images)

A member of Arkansas’ prison oversight board on Thursday rejected mounting pressure that he resign over allegations in a civil lawsuit that he covered up child sex abuse at a youth camp. 

Board of Corrections member Alonza Jiles in a statement said the allegations about him in the lawsuits against the Lord’s Ranch were false, and he said the calls for him to resign by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Attorney General Tim Griffin and several state lawmakers were part of the political fight with the board over control of state prisons.

“I have been asked repeatedly by the media and politicians to comment on the lawsuits involving the Lord’s Ranch in which I am named as a defendant,” Jiles said. “The allegations against me are false. I was not aware of, nor did I participate in any child abuse. I did not preside over a wedding of any minor at the Lord’s Ranch. I have kept silent about this on the advice of counsel and because these lawsuits are pending.”

Jiles’ comments came the same day Sanders called for his ouster.

“The accusations against Alonza Jiles are concerning and a distraction from his work and the work of the Board of Corrections,” Sanders said. “I am calling on Mr. Jiles to resign from his post and allow our state to fully focus on improving community safety and ending the revolving door in our prisons.”

Jiles was an administrator at the Lord’s Ranch, a youth camp and psychiatric treatment facility in Northeast Arkansas that opened in 1976 and closed in 2016 when owner Ted Suhl was convicted of bribing a state official to help increase Medicaid payments to his companies.

Abuse allegations came to light last year when a group of former residents at the ranch sued, claiming they were ‘habitually raped and sexually molested” as boys by the camp’s director of social services, Emmett Presley.

Suhl, Jiles and other camp leaders were aware of the abuse, but rather than taking action to stop it, they covered it up, according to the federal lawsuit.

The number of lawsuits against the ranch has now grown to five.

Public strife

The lawsuit and allegations against Jiles were reported in November, but some of those who have now called for his resignation said they only recently became aware of the claims. 

Alonza Jiles (Dept. of Corrections)

Public pressure on Jiles began a few weeks after former parole board chairman and Board of Corrections member Jamol Jones resigned after it became public that he was fired as a police officer after he lied to investigators before later admitting having sex with a minor.

The pressure on Jiles also comes during the ongoing dispute between Sanders and the prison board. What began as a battle over additional inmate space has morphed into a broader legal fight over who has the ultimate authority over Arkansas’ prisons. 

A judge for now has sided with the board, but the attorney general filed notice last week that he plans to appeal that ruling.

Jiles’ resignation would give Sanders the opportunity to appoint a new member to the board. Five of the board’s seven members were appointed by previous governors and have voted to oppose Sanders at several points, including on a motion in December to sue Sanders and former Corrections Secretary Joe Profiri.

Huckabee connection

Sanders has political ties to Suhl and Jiles through her father, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, who appointed both men to state boards.

Indeed, Sanders was on Suhl’s plane with her dad when it made an emergency landing in 2006. 

Huckabee and Suhl remained connected even after Huckabee left office, and then-President Donald Trump granted Suhl clemency in 2019 at Huckabee’s request.

Huckabee at the time said Suhl was the victim of a “zealous prosecution.”

Jiles was initially appointed to the Board of Corrections by Huckabee in 2006. After a hiatus, he was reappointed by former Gov. Asa Hutchinson in 2022 to a five-year term.

This story first appeared in Arkansas Advocate and is being republished through a Creative Commons License. See the original story here. Arkansas Advocate is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arkansas Advocate maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sonny Albarado for questions: [email protected]. Follow Arkansas Advocate on Facebook and Twitter.