FORT SMITH -- A federal judge Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit by eight sexual assault victims in Clarence Garretson's foster home who claimed Arkansas Department of Human Services case workers knew about Garretson's record of assaulting children but put them in the home anyway.
U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks ruled the statute of limitations had expired for the eight to take their claims to federal court against the five current or former Department of Human Services case workers and a supervisor.
Eight of the children were placed in foster care with Garretson and his wife, Lisa, in Van Buren from 1998 to 2004. They ranged in age from 9 to 17 when they were abused, but all were adults by the time the lawsuit was filed last June.
A ninth child included as a plaintiff was the daughter of one of the victims. While she was assaulted by Garretson, she had not been placed in the home by the Department of Human Services and Brooks dismissed her complaint for lack of a claim against the agency.
Department of Human Services spokesman Amy Webb said Tuesday that she had not seen Brooks' ruling and had no comment.
The eight assault victims filed their lawsuit a month after Garretson, 66, was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to five counts of interstate transportation of a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.
Brooks stated in his ruling that Arkansas law permits civil complaints to be filed in cases of minor sexual assault up to three years after a person becomes an adult. He noted that all of the people who claimed they had been assaulted as children were at least nine years past that time mark.
Exceptions can be made to extend the statute of limitations, Brooks wrote. The three-year limit can begin running when the victim discovers he or she had been abused as a minor.
But he rejected the claim in the lawsuit that all of the adult plaintiffs did not begin to understand the inappropriate nature of their relations with Garretson until after his arrest and guilty plea and were not in a position to bring the lawsuit until then.
"Clearly, the state agency failed these individuals and the plaintiffs' caseworkers who had knowledge of their mistreatment or failed to investigate further must live with that fact," Brooks wrote. "With all that said, however, when the statute of limitations expires on a victim's civil claim -- even if that claim is meritorious -- there is, generally speaking, no recourse to be had. Such is the case here."
The case for which Garretson was sentenced to prison involved a 10-year-old child he took with him on a trucking run from Arkansas to California in July 2014.
The child was the daughter of one of his victims in the lawsuit who the suit said was impregnated by a relative of Garretson. The woman continued to live with Garretson after her daughter was born.
In May 2016, the girl told her mother and police that Garretson had raped her when she was on the trip. Often he would park near casinos, rape the girl and then go into the casino, according to court documents. The information about the casinos helped the government build its case against Garretson.
State Desk on 01/17/2018
Print Headline: Judge dismisses suit in sex assault; statute of limitations expired