‘A big burden lifted’: Ex-students who accused Agape school of abuse settle lawsuits

Kansas City Star [Kansas City MO]

March 13, 2023

By Judy L Thomas and Laura Bauer

Sixteen former Agape Boarding School students who sued for alleged abuse at the southwest Missouri school have settled their cases for undisclosed amounts.

The number represents about two-thirds of the two dozen lawsuits filed against Agape Baptist Church, the organization that operated the now-closed school near Stockton in Cedar County.

Court records show that the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their cases “with prejudice,” meaning the suits cannot be filed again. Four cases were dismissed in January and refiled in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri and four are pending in state court.

The newly settled cases, filed since February 2021 by former students from across the country, accused the school of negligence, infliction of emotional distress and battery by staff and fellow students. Some of the abuse, the suits alleged, involved sexual assault, torture, starvation and excruciating restraints of students.

“I’m super grateful to have it over with,” said Josh Bradney, of California, who attended the school from 2014 through 2016. “It’s a big burden lifted and a good step toward moving forward.”

Bradney, now 21, sued the school in February 2021 under the name John Doe II but later went public with his identity. The lawsuit alleged that he was subjected to physical, emotional and sexual abuse by students and a staff member.

The abuse, Bradney told The Star on Monday, “changed my life forever.”

“Now we can feel like we got some justice,” he said. “And we’re not going to stop fighting for the safety of kids.”

Agape attorney John Schultz declined to comment on the lawsuits or confirm whether any had been settled.

Randy Cowherd, who represents Bradney and other former Agape students, said that “we are certainly grateful that our clients’ cases were settled to their satisfaction.”

“We hope the settlements will result in some form of closure for them that will assist them in working through the impact of the abuses they suffered while at Agape.”

In addition to the lawsuits that were settled, Cowherd said, another case was resolved “without the necessity of filing a lawsuit.”

Ryan Frazier, whose firm filed about 20 lawsuits against Agape, declined to comment on the cases.

Authorities launched a criminal investigation into abuse allegations at Agape in early 2021, and five staffers — including the school’s medical coordinator — were charged later that year with low-level felonies of physically assaulting students.

The cases of four of those five staff members have recently been resolved. Three pleaded guilty to lesser misdemeanors and each got two years’ probation. The case of another staffer was dismissed after his alleged victim failed to show up to testify. The fifth has a hearing scheduled for March 13.

On Jan. 11, Agape’s former director, Bryan Clemensen, announced that the school would close on Jan 20. It became the fourth and final unlicensed Christian boarding school in Cedar County to shut down since September 2020.

The announcement came as Missouri’s new attorney general said he planned to continue the effort launched last fall to get a court injunction to close the school. Clemensen said the decision to close Agape was “voluntary” and “due to the lack of financial resources to continue caring for the boys.”