Locals claim Branson drug rehab program contributes to crime problems

Branson, MO. -- Branson-based organization Communities Of Recovery Experience, or CORE, has a mission to help bring people out of drug addiction. However, some community members and even law enforcement say the program is contributing to the local crime and drug problem.

One former CORE participant says the program helped change her life. Tiffany Brown became addicted to meth soon after graduation from Branson High School.

"My addiction led me into a domestic violent relationship where I got stabbed, I lived homeless," Brown said.

Years later, Brown is now in long-term recovery. She and her husband have five children under on roof. She has graduated from college and is doing well. It's people like Brown who leaders of CORE say they want to help.

"We are facing an epidemic," Executive Director Cary McKee said.

McKee says drug addiction is only getting worse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017, more than 70,000 people in the U.S. died from drug overdoses.

"It surpassed automobile accident deaths, which was number one," McKee said.

Jan Jones, Bob Huels, Sherry Grisham are members of a group called "Citizens for a Safer Branson." Jones lives by one of the about a dozen homes rented or owned by CORE in Taney County. CORE participants live at the homes while enrolled in the rehab program.

"I don't think if it was local people, even in my neighborhood, that I'd have a problem with a neighborhood home to help those people," Jones said.

According to numbers from Taney County probation and parole, 56 people currently reside in CORE houses. Fifty of them are on probation or parole. Out of those 50, only three are from Taney County, two are from Christian, one from Ozark, three from Greene, and two from Barry. The remaining 39 are from other counties throughout Missouri.

"We have numerous people from out of the area that are brought into the CORE. They're convicted felons, all living in the CORE houses together, so it creates a problem for us," Taney County Sheriff Jimmie Russell said.

Sheriff Russell admits, his department frequently responds to calls about people involved with CORE.

"We deal with people being arrested on new crimes here in the area," Russell said.

CORE leaders say they do not recruit participants. However, McKee says they are welcomed if they seek help from CORE.

"In America, we will go wherever we need to go to get our needs met. If you want to go shopping , you may go to Tanger Mall in Branson or you may go to the mall in Kansas City," McKee explained. "If you have a need for recovery services, you may find yourself in Branson Missouri."

Information obtained from the Taney County Sheriff's office shows that some people linked to CORE have been charged with committing violent crimes in the Ozarks.

"It ranges from arresting them on probation violations, parole violations all the way up to homicide," Sheriff Russell said.

According to those records, Robert Hyslop, the man who is charged with kidnapping and sexually assaulting College of the Ozarks students in October, was listed as living at a CORE-owned home when it happened.

"How did we fail those kids? Those are innocent kids. That bothers me a lot because I have a daughter," Grisham said.

The documents also show that Michael Glidewell, the man convicted of involuntary manslaughter after driving a cement truck drunk and killing a 34-year-old Branson Man, was also residing at a CORE house at the time of that deadly crash.

While McKee says he cannot discuss individual cases, he says each person is vetted before being accepted into the program.
"We do a stringent background check on them. If there is a criminal record with violent crime or sex crime, they are not admitted into our program whatsoever," McKee said.

KY3/KSPR looked into those two men's backgrounds. Glidewell had been arrested for drunk driving just five days before the deadly crash. The prosecutor said at that time that Glidewell had at least three prior alcohol-related driving convictions. As for Hyslop, public records show, aside from drug and alcohol charges, he was also accused of sexual misconduct in 2015.
However, it's not only while people are in CORE that some claim they're causing problems.

"We deal with a lot of them that fall out of the program, aren't able to complete it, become homeless and just stay around the area," Sheriff Russell said.

CORE does offer former participants bus tickets home and some drive.

"Unfortunately, we can't require that they do either of those," McKee said.

While members of Citizens for A Safer Branson agree that CORE was intended for good. They question if it's successful.

According to CORE, about 20 percent of participants remain sober one year or more within being in the program.

"Yeah, we are a one year program and they may not have met that. That's the time we celebrate. But, a lot of people come maybe for a brief stay. They go back to their family, wife, spouse, kids. And return to society as a positive contributor," McKee said.

"Where does that put our community as we keep bringing more and more of those people here? And we see it. Those are the people we see on our streets," Jones said.

However, Brown says without CORE and its faith-based principals, she wouldn't be where she is today.

"We went to church and that's where I got it, because you meet these people and they're so broken and then to be so broken and be lifted out of that. To feel whole again. Oh my gosh. There's so much love and heart in those places," Brown said.

She says, CORE isn't the problem, it's part of the solution to a bigger issue.

"It's frustrating. I feel a lot of times the people in the community are saying well look at what they're doing, look at what they're doing. That's the same as me sitting here judging someone overseas fighting the war on the front lines," Brown said.

Meanwhile, members of Citizens for A Safer Branson say they are standing up for their community and speaking out with criticisms they've kept quiet for years.

"I talk with a tremendous amount of business owners who are the same way, they're worried about it. But, they're the same way. 'How do I come out in public and talk about this and not sound like an uncaring person?'" Huels said.

"We have to band together and let people know that we want them to do something, they have to help fix the problem for us," Grisham said.

CORE has been in Branson for nearly 25 years. It was originally called Church Army. McKee says they have ongoing conversations with community stake-holders about how to improve their program and welcome input from anyone with concerns.