CEDAR COUNTY, Mo. – The race for prosecuting attorney in one Missouri region is catching interest beyond the borders of Cedar County.
The incumbent prosecutor of eight years, Ty Gaither, has come under fire for how he handled Agape Boarding School abusers. Now he’s up for re-election, and an unexpected write-in opponent is taking his chances at the polls next Tuesday.
Local attorney Peter Lee decided to run around Labor Day, after losing a run as a judge in the Cedar County August primary election.
“I was a candidate for judge in the primary and so as I’m going door to door I’m getting twice as many questions about the prosecutor and what can I do about the prosecutor than actually [questions about] why should I be judge,” said Lee.
Both Lee and incumbent Gaither are Republicans. Although topics like jail reform, mental health resources, and police funding were all topics at last week’s debate held in Cedar County, the issue of Agape Boarding School’s prosecution – or lack thereof – for alleged abuse is at the forefront of voters’ minds ahead of the midterms.
Gaither canceled an interview with Ozarks First after telling our reporting staff that he didn’t want to talk about Agape.
The Missouri Attorney General filed a petition to shut down Agape Boarding School this September, but a judge allowed it to stay open under the conditions that it would be monitored. The AG has criticized Gaither for filing just a handful of charges against staff at the school when the highway patrol recommended more severe felony charges and ten times the amount of charges.
Video given to us by Gaither’s write-in opponent shows at a debate last week, Gaither stands by his decisions, saying Agape staff were often disciplining kids, not assaulting them.
“Parents have a right to discipline their children and those who stand in place of parents have a right to punish…to discipline their children,” Gaither said.
Lee said he believes the example of discipline mentioned at the debate crosses a line.
“The example that was given was one of the practices alleged to be used out there is taking the elbow and just grinding it into the soft tissue and the muscle of young men,” said Lee. “That does not resemble any legitimate disciplinary tactic that I’ve read about or heard about.”
Agape advertises as a Christian school that helps turn around troubled boys. Current and former students widely allege physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.
“You’re not shutting down churches in my county,” said Gaither.
Ozarks First asked Lee what his stance is when it comes to shutting down the boarding school. He also stopped short of calling for a complete shutdown.
“My position has always been protecting individuals from abuse,” said Lee. “Shutting an organization down is not necessarily something that I’m looking to do.”
Gaither beat Republican Michael Tighe in the primary by 96 votes. There are 9,672 registered voters in Cedar County. The primary race drew 37% of voters to the polls.