Beliefnet News

The Dallas Morning News – August 5, 2008
SAN ANGELO, Texas – Texas’ Child Protective Services, forced two months ago to return to their families hundreds of children it had swept from a polygamist sect’s West Texas ranch, went to court Tuesday to ask that eight of them be put back into state custody.
In affidavits, CPS investigators said the action is necessary because the eight children’s mothers won’t agree to keep them away from men who entered “spiritual marriages” with underage girls or let their underage daughters be married to older men.
CPS doesn’t say there has been sexual abuse or neglect of the six girls and two boys, ages 5 to 17, it wants to remove, though it says three of them are in a household that used harsh disciplinary methods and allowed a 12-year-old daughter to be “spiritually married” to years ago to prophet Warren Jeffs, now 52. The household was headed by bishop Merril Jessop and his wife Barbara.
It says, though, the youngsters are likely to be harmed if a court doesn’t let the state intervene because the four mothers refuse to sign “safety plans” in which they voluntarily pledge to keep children away from certain men.
“The department has not been able to work sufficiently with the parents,” said CPS lawyer Charles Childress moments after filing the motions. “Mostly, it’s about failure to cooperate.”
Childress, asked if the eight children are in danger, said, “That’s what the judge is being asked to decide.”
CPS lists in the court filings sect men it says are prominent in the eight children’s lives – either as birth fathers or close relatives or former husbands of their mothers. The men have practiced or condoned underage marriage, CPS says.
The four motions to remove the eight children could be heard separately by state District Judge Barbara Walther of San Angelo. An initial hearing was set for Sept. 25.
CPS is not saying there’s an immediate emergency – as it did in early April, when it removed from the Yearning for Zion ranch in Eldorado what it thought were 464 children. Twenty-six turned out to be 18 or older. Two more children were born while sect members were in state custody.
Safety plans are common in cases in which CPS thinks children are at risk of maltreatment. But the eight children’s mothers, who belong to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, have refused to agree to plans proposed by CPS.
The plans would require there be no contact between children and certain men. CPS insists that must happen if the girls in question are to be protected from sexual abuse and the boys, from being groomed to take underage wives.
An affidavit by CPS investigator Kerrie Blair said the 41-year-old mother of two girls, ages 9 and 10, “has been deceptive with CPS by stating she has never been married” when sect records show she was married to bishop Jessop in 2004.
The woman “abandoned her two daughters for three years and by her own admission did not know who the children were residing with,” Blair said.
An affidavit by CPS investigator Paul Dyer said two of the girls, ages 5 and 15, need protection. Their parents were listed in court papers as Dr. Lloyd Barlow, one of six sect men indicted last month, and a 36-year-old woman.
Dyer said Barlow had married a 16-year-old girl seven years ago. The physician said during an interview with the CPS investigator, when asked what a young woman could do if she was a victim of domestic violence, “the church elders would handle the situation first.”
Tuesday’s action puts CPS and the sect back on a collision path. State protective services workers are demanding that sect parents agree to outside scrutiny and accountability, while sect leaders are almost certain to keep denouncing what they call unwarranted invasions of privacy, sustained by religious bigotry.
The action suggests CPS has finally sorted out who are the parents of most of the sect’s children, which mothers will cooperate and which men are suspected of entering or promoting underage marriages.
In ordinary CPS investigations, workers are quickly able to establish who belongs to a family, if parents will cooperate and identities of possible perpetrators. But the FLDS probe has been anything but standard.
After receiving a March 28 tip about young girls being forced into spiritual marriages, CPS raided the ranch about a week later. Inside, it was surprised to discover about 440 youths – far more than expected. CPS investigators began to interview teen girls and found evidence of possible child sexual abuse.
CPS, using its standard presumption that any children in a household deemed abusive should be removed at least temporarily, took all of the children and many of their mothers to makeshift shelters and, later, foster care. However, an Austin-based state appellate court and the Texas Supreme Court strongly rebuked CPS for the mass removal, saying the agency provided only scanty evidence of child maltreatment. In early June, CPS was forced to return all of the children to their families.
Last month, a criminal investigation led by state Attorney General Greg Abbott yielded indictments against jailed sect prophet Warren Jeffs, Barlow and four other sect men. Jeffs and four men were charged with first-degree felony sexual assault of a child, a crime punishable by five years to life in prison. Barlow’s indictment indicates that he has delivered the babies of underage sect mothers. He was charged with failing to report child abuse.
Those cases have not yet been prosecuted.
(c) 2008, The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Mclatchy-Tribune News Service.

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