Agape Boarding School doctor pleads not guilty to three felonies

·9 min read
Agape Boarding School, a Christian reform school in Cedar County, is under investigation by local authorities and the Missouri Attorney General's office.
Agape Boarding School, a Christian reform school in Cedar County, is under investigation by local authorities and the Missouri Attorney General's office.

Dr. David Smock, a physician charged late last month with 11 felony sex crimes against children in connection with his role as Agape Boarding School doctor, pleaded not guilty to the three charges originating from Greene County on Thursday.

Judge Ron Carrier set a preliminary hearing in the case for Feb. 3.

Meanwhile, Smock and his defense attorneys are still waiting to learn whether Carrier will let him out of jail on bond while Smock's trial is pending. After nearly 90 minutes of argument by prosecution and defense attorneys Thursday, the judge said he would take the bond matter under advisement and planned to issue a written ruling later.

New details about the case emerged during Thursday's hearing.

Smock's attorneys, Stacie Bilyeu and Craig Heidemann, argued that Smock had not been a fugitive from law enforcement before he was apprehended late last month by U.S. Marshals, but that he had been in contact with his attorneys and had planned to surrender himself to face charges in Missouri before contracting COVID-19 and being taken into custody in Boone County, Arkansas.

Greene County Assistant Prosecutor Megan Vincent countered that argument, saying there had not been a definite agreement with defense attorneys for Smock to appear in court at a certain time. "He was absolutely in no rush to come back (to Missouri)," Vincent said.

Bilyeu and Heidemann also raised serious concerns about the way evidence was gathered by law enforcement, filing a motion for the return of property seized from Smock and asking Judge Carrier to enjoin further searches.

One of Smock's attorneys, Craig Heidemann, argued that two containers of evidence contained materials subject to attorney-client privilege that should remain private, including text messages sent between Heidemann and Smock after Heidemann learned of the charges against Smock.

Vincent, the prosecutor, argued that her office was not aware whether protected materials were in the two containers belonging to Smock.

"I haven't been told any search results," Vincent told the court.

More: Agape Boarding School doctor to remain in Arkansas custody during COVID isolation

But Heidemann argued that as Smock was being taken into custody by U.S. Marshals, he was on a voice call with Smock. He said he immediately texted the defendant's phone to indicate their ongoing conversation via text message, which began after Heidemann learned of felony charges against Smock, was protected under attorney-client privilege.

Smock later told him that an unnamed marshal laughed at attorney-client privilege for the messages. "Your lawyer thinks he's smart," the marshal was said to have told Smock, in comments Heidemann made before the judge. "He put that in there. He thinks that's going to keep us from looking at it."

Heidemann also accused a Missouri state investigator of attempting a "custodial interrogation" while Smock was in Arkansas jail, which he described as "shocking to me."

Judge Carrier denied the motion to return the seized property. But he instructed prosecutors that they were not to access any evidence marked attorney-client privilege that was seized at the time of Smock's arrest, without court permission.

More: Former Agape Boarding School students say FBI is now examining abuse allegations

Bond argument: 'Pillar of the community' or flight risk?

Smock's attorneys argued that he should be let out on bond because he had no criminal record and scored very well on a pre-trial assessment for flight risk. His foster children have never made an abuse allegation against Smock, attorneys Bilyeu and Heidemann argued.

They called Smock a "pillar of the community" who has practiced medicine in Missouri for nearly two decades. Smock plans to live with an associate and his wife who had no children in the home while awaiting trial, should he be allowed bond, they told the judge.

They also accused law enforcement and the news media of portraying Smock unfairly with inflammatory information contained in probable cause statements.

Prosecutor Vincent argued that Smock fit the profile of a sex offender.

"It's not uncommon for defendants in these cases to not have a criminal history," she said. "They know how to keep a good strong face in the community."

Vincent later added, "He knows how to keep (sexual abuse) behind closed doors" and argued, "This isn't a one-time thing, this isn't a one-time victim."

Since the case became public, Vincent said, "more young boys have come forward and made similar claims" to the ones made by the young alleged victim at the center of the three felony charges filed in Greene County.

Smock is accused of committing the three Greene County felonies during a 2018 trip in which prosecutors and law enforcement say Smock brought an Agape student from Cedar County to clean up a rental property he owned in Springfield.

Smock is accused of sexually abusing the boy, then age 13, during that trip. Charges include second-degree statutory sodomy; third-degree child molestation of a child younger than 14; and enticement or attempted enticement of a child younger than 15.

Smock's attorney Bilyeu argued that prosecutors had "done a lot of work" to translate the alleged 2018 crime into three felony counts, rather than a single charge.

At another point in the proceedings, she and Heidemann answered the judge's questions on Smock's health problems, which included heart and digestive system issues.

"We do have real concerns that Dr. Smock would not get the care he needed, should he be incarcerated," Bilyeu said.

More: Prosecutor letter to Missouri governor opens new chapter in feud over Agape Boarding School charges

Dr. David Smock's Case background

Smock, required by Missouri law as a physician to report abuse to authorities, also faces eight other charges in Cedar County. The Cedar County charges were filed late last month by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Vernon County Prosecutor Brandi L. McInroy, who is serving as special prosecutor for Cedar County.

As the News-Leader reported earlier, Schmitt has had a public feud with Cedar County Prosecutor Ty Gaither over the number and severity of charges that should be filed against people linked to Agape over accusations of abuse.

In late September, Gaither charged just five individuals linked to Agape — one of them Smock's son-in-law — with 13 low-level felonies. The Kansas City Star reported Dec. 29 that Gaither said he "knew" Smock and had visited a walk-in clinic Smock owns in nearby Stockton.

In Cedar County, Smock is accused of eight felonies: sexual misconduct involving a child under 15, four counts of statutory sodomy or attempted statutory sodomy with deviate sexual intercourse involving a person less than 14 years old, second-degree statutory sodomy, fourth-degree child molestation and first-degree stalking. The Cedar County charges cover allegations of crimes said to have taken place between summer 2018 and spring 2021.

More: ‘A huge slap in the face’: Former Agape Boarding School students worry about prosecution of abuse allegations

In court on Thursday, Greene County Assistant Prosecutor Vincent said, "The Cedar County case envelopes most of the rest of the abuse, and I say 'most' because we know that (Smock) traveled across state lines with this victim and abused them in different states, including other states where he has his clinic."

David Smock
David Smock

Should Smock be found guilty of the Cedar County charges, he could face potential life prison terms for the four counts of statutory sodomy or attempted statutory sodomy, as well as terms of up to four years in prison for the other charges. The Greene County charges are also serious, including a child enticement count with a maximum punishment of 30 years in prison.

Smock was apprehended Dec. 28 by U.S. Marshals in Boone County, Arkansas. Around that time, he tested positive for COVID-19. Courts deliberated whether he should next face a bond hearing in Greene County or Cedar County after he exited isolation.

Agape Boarding School seeks to distance itself from Smock

For more than a year, the Independent Baptist-aligned Agape boys' school has come under scrutiny from the public, law enforcement and Missouri lawmakers. This came after numerous boarding school students went public with accusations of severe physical, emotional and sexual abuse at the Baptist boarding school.

Since Smock's arrest, Agape Boarding School officials have tried to distance themselves from Smock, whose home in Jerico Springs is located about 20 minutes by car from the school campus. Smock also owns Stockton Lake Walk-In Clinic nearby.

Earlier in January, the school released a statement to Springfield-based television station KOLR: "Stockton Lake Walk-In Clinic was not the only medical facility utilized by Agape, and Dr. Smock never held a title, role, or designation of Agape’s primary medical resource or provided any medical oversight to Agape."

This claim appears false: A newsletter for families of Agape students dated March/April 2020 obtained by the News-Leader quotes Agape staffer Scott Dumar saying, "The school is medically overseen by Dr. David Smock, M.D."

Two former students, neither of whom are linked to the 11 felony charges filed recently against Smock, told the News-Leader in separate recent interviews that Smock treated them when they were students on Agape's live-in campus.

One, a 27-year-old Michigan man who filed a civil suit against the school last year, said Thursday that Smock had signed off on his medical paperwork while he was a student.

"He did a couple of my exams at the school," the man, dubbed "R.B." in court papers, said Thursday. "And there is a signature in my file, on my medical reports, from Dr. Smock at the school."

More: Agape Boarding School doctor wanted on felony sex crime charges arrested in Arkansas

Another man, a 19-year-old based in California who is separately suing Agape in civil court, previously told the News-Leader that Smock "would just put his hand on my thigh and like, slowly go toward my underwear and stop right there."

The man, identified in court papers as "John Doe II," said he was 12 years old the first time he experienced what he now regards as inappropriate touching from Smock. The behavior continued until he left the school at 14, he said.

R.B., the Michigan 27-year-old, has said Agape and its physician typically weaned new students off of standard behavior medications for conditions like depression or ADHD when they arrived at the school.

R.B. also said that Agape staff who took students to Smock's walk-in clinic were not truthful about the reasons their young charges needed to see a doctor.

When students were "restrained" for unruly behavior on campus by staff and suffered an injury, he said, "they took us to his office, and it was always reported as a sports injury or something-else injury," R.B. said Dec. 27.

Reach News-Leader reporter Gregory Holman by emailing gholman@gannett.com. Please consider subscribing to support vital local journalism.

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Agape Boarding School doctor pleads not guilty to three felony charges