Texas governor defends agency's treatment of children from compound

Published: Thursday, May 15 2008 12:00 a.m. MDT

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Rick Perry voiced strong support for Child Protective Services officials Wednesday even as a social services official in the state's Hill Country expressed more outrage over the treatment of 464 children removed by the state from a West Texas polygamist compound.

Perry's spokeswoman Krista Piferrer said the governor has full confidence in the agency. The governor applauded agency officials for promising an internal investigation into the concerns raised by Hill Country Mental Health Mental Retardation officials when the children from the Fundamentalist LDS Church were housed at San Angelo shelters.

"The governor is very proud of the work being done by CPS," Piferrer said. "CPS has handled a very complex situation both professionally and compassionately."

Perry's comments are his first about the FLDS raid in more than a month.

But John Kight, chairman of Hill Country Community MHMR board, said he has been rebuffed in his attempts to talk with Perry but he is still trying to arrange a meeting. He said MHMR caregivers reported "appalling behavior" that included flashlights being shined in eyes of mothers at night and CPS caseworkers repeatedly telling lies to the women.

The governor's spokeswoman said the complaints were released to the news media before state officials were notified.

"Considering that DFPS (the Texas Department of Family Protective Services) had to ask for those reports after reading about them in the newspaper might suggest that he (Kight) might have his own agenda," Piferrer said.

Kight continued to blast the state agency's handling of the massive child abuse case and suggested officials had no justification for removing all of the children from YFZ (Yearning for Zion) Ranch near Eldorado.

"My agenda is to get the truth out. They went in there thinking this was great and it's turning out to be a nightmare," Kight said. " ... I don't know if the governor is deciding to cover his tracks or what, but to say CPS is acting professionally is ridiculous. It's all going to come out whether the governor likes it or not."

Kight, a retired Kendall County, Texas, commissioner who lives near the San Antonio suburb of Boerne, said he has contacted "nationally known" civil rights lawyers about the situation and will be meeting with them next week.

CPS spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said Wednesday that officials are continuing to investigate the complaints but declined to further comment.

The criticism by a Texas-based agency is an exception. Most Texas officials have voiced support for the state's actions or remained silent.

In Utah, it is different story, where criticism of the raid has been mounting.

Utah's attorney general, Mark Shurtleff, told the Deseret News newspaper last week that he wasn't sure if Texas really needed to take all of the children.

"As far as all the kids, I don't know. What else could they do?" Shurtleff said to the Salt Lake City newspaper. "My gut feeling is they shouldn't have. They've gone too far."

And at a town hall meeting on polygamy last week in St. George, about 45 miles from the twin FLDS towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, Terry Goddard, the Arizona attorney general also complained about Texas's reluctance to ask for assistance.

"We stand ready to help, and there are a number of ways we can do that," Goddard said at the meeting. "Right now, Texas is claiming they're an independent republic and we need to establish diplomatic relations with them."

Both attorneys general also said at the town hall meeting that the raid may have been unavoidable given the FLDS' actions and that having an isolated compound is quite different than what officials have dealt with in polygamous communities in Utah and Arizona.

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