A civil lawsuit filed this week in federal court in Fort Smith says officials at the state Human Services Department knew about allegations of abuse of foster children by Van Buren truck driver Charlie Garretson but failed to act.

Benji Hardy reports on the lawsuit for the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network.

Last week, Garretson was sentenced to life in prison for raping foster children, often abused on interstate truck trips. Authorities believe at least 14 children were abused after being placed in the Garretson home over a six-year span. The lawsuit includes his wife, Lisa, who was not charged in the case, in the recitation of those alleged to have been negligent.

The lawsuit was filed by seven sexual assault victims, including one who testified in the criminal case.


“Arkansas DHS put me and many others in the hands of a monster,” she said at the hearing. U.S. District Judge P.K. Holmes, who presided over the hearing, commented that the case constituted an “extreme failure on the part of the Department of Human Services” and said of Lisa Garretson, “if she didn’t know what was going on, she should have known.” Holmes was also assigned the civil suit filed Monday.

The plaintiffs’ allegations of DHS negligence go further. Their suit alleges that DHS approved the Garretsons to be foster parents despite DHS substantiating a report one year earlier that Clarence Garretson had sexually assaulted two children at knifepoint.

The suit also includes information that the child whose 2016 complaint of rape triggered an FBI investigation into Garretson was the daughter of a woman who became pregnant while she was living as a foster child in Garretson’s household from 2000 to 2004.

The suit names two former DHS directors and six other DHS employees, including a former county director.

The complaint alleges that the DHS caseworkers and the county director “obtained actual knowledge” that at least one of the children in the Garretson home was sexually assaulted, but took no action.