Southwest Baptist dismisses 2 students after child beating video surfaces
A disturbing video recorded near Bolivar shows a Southwest Baptist University football player punching a young man in a group home for boys. That home is run by a group called Home Court Advantage that contracts with the state Children’s Division to provide residential treatment programs for children with special needs.
After a reporter starting asking state officials about the video, which was posted on Facebook and shared with reporters on Monday, Gov. Eric Greitens and other state officials held a news conference in Jefferson City late Monday afternoon. They said they’ve been aware of the video since last week and have special teams investigating its circumstances.
Southwest Baptist University officials said Monday that they were aware of the video and were cooperating with law enforcement. They said they also conducted their own investigation.
Shortly before 6 p.m. Monday, the university said it "dismissed two students in accordance with the university’s judicial process. The action was taken based on a preponderance of evidence for their involvement in an alleged assault that occurred in a Bolivar area residential care facility for children.
"After being made aware of the allegations, the university immediately reported the allegations to law enforcement.
"The actions demonstrated by these students are unacceptable to the SBU community and unacceptable to the ethics and morals of SBU. Our prayers are with all parties involved," the SBU statement ends.
The video shows a young man being thrown around and hit in a bathroom. SBU officials say earlier Monday that they took “immediate and appropriate action” after learning of the alleged off-campus student misconduct. The role of the second student that SBU dismissed hasn't been disclosed.
The Bolivar Police Department said it began investigating after the video came to its attention a couple of weeks ago. Detectives learned it happened outside Bolivar, so the investigation was passed on to the Polk County Sheriff's Department.
The sheriff did not return a reporter’s calls on Monday. Police say the attack happened at a Home Court Advantage facility. The organization operates four boys' group homes that treat boys with mental and developmental disabilities.
Home Court Advantage declined to comment and referred a reporter to the Missouri Children's Division. Tim Decker, the director of that division, was one of the officials at the news conference with Greitens.
A reporter contacted the alleged assailant in the video -- a football player. In a Facebook message, he said "the kid was threaten(ing) to kill the staff and was looking for a weapon." He also said, "It was my fault for even touch(ing) the kid but it was a quick reaction from my part."
SBU officials say they took action within their internal policies and procedures.
Greitens said the welfare and security of children is one of his highest priorities and called the video disturbing. He promised to bring the full weight of the justice system on whoever is responsible for what is shown in the video.
"I saw this video. It is deeply disturbing. Both as your governor and as a father, I can tell you, we will not stand for this. It is doubly disturbing, because it appears to have taken place in a facility that was responsible for the protection and care of some of our most vulnerable children," the governor said.
Decker said child welfare officials learned about the video late last week when someone called the state’s child abuse hotline. He provided no details about when the video was recorded, how many children were involved or what happened. He repeatedly said those details were all part of the investigation.
Decker said state investigators worked through the weekend to ensure all the kids at the home near Bolivar were safe and that the alleged abusers were removed.
The Home Court Advantage facility houses 64 children. Decker said the company has had contracts with the state for many years.
Decker said each child placed with Home Court Advantage and similar facilities around the state has an individual treatment plan based on his or her condition and circumstances. He said Family Court judges and lawyers appointed to represent each child are involved in the decisions with state workers about where children are placed when they’re removed from their homes.
Welfare officials urge anyone with information about the video to come forward or to call the Child Abuse Hotline at 800-392-3738.