Romanucci & Blandin, LLC, and the Gillispie Law Firm have filed a lawsuit on behalf of eight plaintiffs against The Lord’s Ranch, its many related entities, including Maxus, Inc. and Trinity Behavioral Health, owner and former Executive Director Ted. E. Suhl, and other former senior administrators and staff, alleging the plaintiffs were repeatedly subjected to horrific sexual, psychological, and physical abuse as children while residing at this Christian-based religious camp and therapeutic facility located in Warm Springs, Arkansas. These eight plaintiffs allege they were all sexually abused by their counselor at the Lord’s Ranch, Emmett A. Presley, MSW, ACSW, LCSW, DCSW, who was one of the most notorious child abusers at the facility, using his position of power and authority to prey upon countless patients. Presley served as the former Director of Social Services, responsible for, among other things, overseeing all the psychological treatment and therapy provided to the children at the facility. Plaintiffs allege that Presley’s sexual abuse of children was reported to numerous administrators and staff, including Ted E. Suhl, who either feigned concern or, in some circumstances, punished the residents who reported abuse.
Like the vast majority of the residents at The Lord’s Ranch, these eight Plaintiffs were all sent to this remote area of Arkansas from other states, with seven of these eight Plaintiffs arriving at the Lord’s Ranch from Illinois and one from Texas.
The Lord’s Ranch was open from 1976-2016, and closed in 2016 when owner and wealthy businessman Ted Suhl was convicted of bribery and fraud for gaming the Medicare system of more than $125 million in state Medicaid funds for the camp. His father, Bud Suhl, had started the camp. Ted Suhl served time in prison following his 2016 conviction. President Donald Trump commuted Mr. Suhl’s sentence in 2019.
For decades until its closure in around 2016, The Lord’s Ranch presented itself to the public, parents, and governmental officials, courts, and administrators within school districts and child services agencies across the country as being a wonderful place with unparalleled programs to help adolescents in need of psychological, emotional, behavioral, or spiritual treatment. The camp took in children ranging from 7-17 years of age, many of whom had been abused or neglected as children, had troubled families, emotional and behavioral issues, or criminal pasts. On its website and promotional materials, The Lord’s Ranch justified its expensive cost by highlighting the high quality of its therapeutic and medical staff; the moral Christian education it provided; the warm, loving feeling that residents received from the family-owned and run facility which treated residents like family; the uniquely beautiful, peaceful, and safe environment “nestled in the beautiful surroundings of the Ozark foothills;” and a place conducive for emotional and spiritual healing. In that regard, The Lord’s Ranch boasted that its facilities spanned over “1,100 acres of green rolling hills, small shimmering lakes, flowering trees and horse pastures,” that “promise tranquility, a restful atmosphere, peace and the beauty of nature.” In this Complaint, as plaintiffs allege, the reality was completely the opposite.
The civil complaint was filed November 6, 2023 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Eastern Division. All plaintiffs are identified as John Does to protect their identities. The plaintiffs are represented by Partner Martin D. Gould of Romanucci & Blandin, LLC in Chicago and Partner Joshua D. Gillispie of Gillispie Law Firm in Arkansas.
This civil litigation is a way to get to the truth at what happened to so many young people at Lord’s Ranch and to hold accountable the owners, leaders and staff who knew or should have known about the allegations of sexual abuse, or who took part in or covered up abuse.
The legal team deeply respects the bravery of these clients, all former residents at The Lord’s Ranch, for their insight and willingness to take on this issue, raise awareness, validate survivors and begin to expose the ugly truth regarding what they say happened.
The legal team applauds Arkansas lawmakers for taking child sexual abuse seriously and recently opening a window to make civil litigation and accountability possible for childhood sexual abuse. However, it is important for all Plaintiffs and potential Plaintiffs to be aware there is time sensitivity to this window, and all legal claims need to be filed by January 2024.
Anyone with any information, who worked at the Lord’s Ranch or who was a resident there is encouraged to come forward as a witness to what happened.
One of the John Doe Plaintiffs talked about his allegations in a statement, “The several years I spent at the Lord’s Ranch were the worst, most horrific experiences I can remember. I was subjected to sexual, physical, and mental abuse too many times to account for, some of the worst memories still bring back the old experiences as if they are current in my present life. As a young boy, I was targeted by my pedophile psychiatrist based upon my history of sexual abuse experiences as a child and these experiences were used as a tool by him to sexually victimize me further. He used my trust as a weapon against me and destroyed my mind with manipulation and mental warfare.”
“This is a uniquely egregious case involving allegations of widespread, premeditated child sexual abuse of the ‘perfect’ victims. For decades, we believe Dr. Emmett Presley used his education and training as a therapist, and his position of trust and authority to openly prey upon and sexually abuse countless vulnerable children at The Lord’s Ranch – his own patients – with complete and total impunity. He knew many had been abused and neglected in the past and were sent to The Lord’s Ranch to receive much-needed healing. Instead of healing, these children were allegedly mentally broken down by predators so they would become more compliant victims. These children were trapped in this remote, unfamiliar, and violent place far from home, and left to find a way to survive while being at the complete mercy of sadistic staff. We believe this case involving survivors of abuse by Presley is just the tip of the iceberg, and while we claim Presley was one of the most notorious predators at the facility, there were many others who will be revealed soon through this case,” said Martin D. Gould, Partner at Romanucci & Blandin, representing more than 30 former residents.
“When brave children reported abuse to the administrators and staff at The Lord’s Ranch, including owner Ted E. Suhl, these adults who were entrusted by parents and governmental agencies to take care of and protect these children feigned concern and did nothing, permitting the child abuse to continue – or worse, we believe they took immediate and aggressive actions to cover-up the abuse, intimidating and punishing victims into silence. When victims found ways to report the alleged abuse to family members, the Lord’s Ranch staff sought to discredit the children, calling them liars. This conduct is reprehensible, and those who we believe knew about child abuse and failed to take action should be held accountable as well. We intend to do so to the full extent allowed in this civil case,” said Joshua Gillispie of the Gillispie Law Firm.