Off The Record: On Religion, Politics & Equality
“Sorry we didn’t get a meaningful conviction,” is how my conversation with Blount County, Alabama District Attorney Tommy Rountree ended this morning.
We had been discussing the child abuse case against Jack Patterson, founder of Christian boarding school Reclamation Ranch, that I have been writing about and his office had been prosecuting.
Rountree told the Birmingham News at the time of Patterson’s arrest in 2008: “The search by law enforcement and the questioning of involved minors yielded corroboration of the original allegations of abuse and evidence of other instances of mistreatment.” There were also handcuffs, shackles and firearms found in the initial search of Reclamation Ranch.
I called to ask Mr. Rountree how an apparently clear-cut felony case could result in the paltry harassment plea agreement for Jack Patterson, finalized on March 1.
“Lack of evidence,” he said, “gone, the police mishandled it.” I asked him what on Earth happened, what kind of incompetence on the part of law enforcement lead to Jack Patterson walking.
Rountree said he has a “general overview” of the case. Chief Prosecutor, Larry Waites, however has in-depth knowledge. Rountree said Mr. Waites would be happy to give me a call next week to discuss it further.
Though Rountree admitted having only a bird’s-eye view of the case, he was certainly no stranger to Jack Patterson and the long line of child abusers he comes from. He supposed I might not be familiar with a Lester Roloff. I told him I was acutely aware the notorious evangelical Christian leader Roloff, and, Jack Patterson’s allegiance to him.
Rountree made no bones about his feelings toward Roloff, calling him “an evil man” and a “demon”
He went on to say had Roloff not died – in the crash of a plane he was piloting – he could have faced both federal and state charges in Texas. We talked more about Roloff’s history of abuse in Texas and the terrible legacy, carried out by his followers, of beating kids in the name of God that exists today.
After the 2008 arrest, the students of Reclamation Ranch were sent home, and Jack Patterson left the state. The boy’s home at Reclamation Ranch never reopened. Patterson still operates a girl’s school in neighboring Walker county, just shy of Rountree’s jurisdiction.
I asked where Patterson went.
Covering the phone, I could hear Mr. Rountree holler, “hey, where’d big Jack go? New Jersey?” He couldn’t confirm, but the office consensus was that “Big Jack” is seeking to re-open his home somewhere in the Garden State. New Jersey would make the fourth state Reclamation Ranch has called home, preceded by Indiana, Washington and Alabama. Rountree said an in-depth investigation of Patterson uncovered the previous moves were necessitated by similar allegations of abuse.
Though Rountree expressed regret in not getting a “meaningful conviction” in this case, he was thrilled to have run Jack Patterson out of town. I said to him that I understood that sentiment but Big Jack is now just someone else’s problem, and with a mere four states down, he has 46 left to go.