Church members stymie authorities

Attempt to take kids into custody blocked for now

Atlanta Journal-Constitution/May 4, 2001
By Alan Judd

Two dozen members of the House of Prayer won a tense standoff Thursday evening with authorities who tried to seize seven more children after an investigation of abuse at the northwest Atlanta church. But their victory may not last long. State social workers today will ask a judge to order that the seven children be immediately taken into custody. And on Monday, they'll seek court orders allowing them to take 12 more children from two other families, including those of the pastor, the Rev. Arthur Allen Jr.

"The decision has been made to remove all those children," said Andy Boisseau, a spokesman for the state Division of Family and Children Services. By Monday, the state expects to have taken 61 children into custody from eight families at the 130-member church. It is apparently the largest-scale child-abuse investigation in Georgia history.

The case escalated Thursday when DFCS received a call from school officials who suspected that a 7-year-old boy from the church recently had been abused. Caleb Ogletree had not been to school all week, said Renee Huie, another DFCS spokeswoman. When he turned up Thursday, Huie said, he had scrapes on his face, arms, legs and chest.

Social workers took the boy from his school to Grady Memorial Hospital, where a doctor found what appeared to be a burn mark on his chest, Huie said. The boy's mother and grandmother told officials that the boy had suffered the injuries in a bicycle accident Saturday. "There is no burn mark," his mother, Kim Ogletree, said later.

But the doctor told social workers that the chest wound "was not consistent with what the mother and grandmother told them had occurred," Huie said. Officials took the boy into protective custody and took him to a foster home, Huie said. At that point, she said, "we knew we would have to go ahead and take his siblings."

About 8 p.m., four DFCS workers and four Atlanta police officers drove up the long driveway of the Ogletrees' house, a block from their church on Hollywood Road. The DFCS workers had a document ordering Kim Ogletree and her husband, Charles, one of 11 church members charged with cruelty to children, to turn over their seven remaining children, ages 1 to 14.

But the couple refused, telling the officials they needed a warrant to enter the house. As the social workers and the police officers conferred on their next move, the Ogletrees kept their children inside --- and about two dozen men from their church joined the couple in their driveway. Calmly but firmly, they blocked the path to the back door.

Shortly, their 68-year-old pastor joined them. "If they want to break the door down, it's up to them," Allen told the Ogletrees. "Make them produce a warrant or break the door down." "Our church and our pastor have been targeted from the beginning --- unjustly," Kim Ogletree said. "We haven't done anything wrong. The injustice has been done to us."

The standoff continued for slightly more than an hour, as the crowd of church members steadily grew. As night fell, the police officers told the DFCS workers they wouldn't enter the house without a warrant, and the officials drove away. But DFCS officials said they'll be back.

They will seek a court order to remove the Ogletrees' children today, Boisseau said. On Monday, they will ask a judge to order police to remove six children from Allen's home and six more from church members Michael and Bronical Oglesby.

"The judge will make a decision based on their willingness to keep the children safe from whippings in the church," Huie said. In March, parents of the first 41 children taken from the church refused to make similar promises. They let a Juvenile Court judge send their children to foster care for at least a year. The judge described the congregation as a "cult."

It's a charge that Allen strongly denies. But after officials left the Ogletrees' house Thursday evening, he said the efforts to remove so many children would cause many people to take up arms.

"That's why people at Ruby Ridge and different ones start shooting and start killing," Allen said, referring to a violent 1992 standoff between FBI agents and white supremacists in Idaho. "If our faith weren't in the power of God, it would be in firepower."

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