Quantcast

FLDS consider options to keep their children

ACLU questions protection of sect members' rights

Published: Thursday, July 2 2015 2:46 a.m. MDT

ELDORADO, Texas — Lawyers for the Fundamentalist LDS Church are planning to challenge the decisions that placed 416 children from the YFZ Ranch in state protective custody.
"We're going to contest those decisions in every possible way," Rod Parker, a Salt Lake attorney who is acting as a spokesman for the FLDS Church, said Sunday.
"It's a matter of getting their children back. For those parents and the children, too, it's their highest priority. They're going to do everything they can to get them back."
Texas authorities will begin collecting DNA samples of the children being sheltered at the San Angelo Coliseum today, in an effort to determine parentage. Child protective services workers have said they are encountering difficulty in determining who are some children's parents.
"It will take several days to collect all the samples," the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said in a statement on its Web site. "Once the samples are collected, (DFPS) will begin placing children in foster care."
Some FLDS mothers with nursing babies and toddlers may be unaware that they will be forced to leave their children behind once Texas officials gather the DNA samples from them.
"I don't know how many mothers have babies, but I would say there are dozens of mothers who are nursing little ones," said Monica Jessop, whose five children between the ages of 3 and 11 are in state custody. "I'm sure they don't know they will be separated."
Jessop said she and a group of other mothers tried on Sunday to visit their children housed at the San Angelo Coliseum and were turned away by law enforcement.
"They told us if we went on that property again we would be arrested," she said.
FLDS members said Texas authorities rejected their offers of personal clothing for the women and children staying at the coliseum and nearby Wells Fargo Pavilion.
An FLDS man said he tried to deliver a U-Haul full of the personal items nearly two weeks ago. "They returned everything," he told the Deseret News.
The FLDS people dress in conservative clothing and wear religious undergarments they make themselves.
The parents are expected to show up at the Schleicher County Courthouse square on Tuesday to give a DNA sample.
Jessop said the entire FLDS community is trying to do whatever it takes to get children returned to their families.
"We are very busy trying to find people who can help us. We are hoping our children can stay with other family members," she said Sunday. "We have had no guidance from Texas CPS on what we can do. We are trying to be ready and hope to find some relief. I know that something will open up. Heavenly Father will work his miracles. Heavenly Father will see us through. We depend on him."
On Sunday, it was quiet on the ranch called "Yearning for Zion" after a song penned by FLDS leader Warren Jeffs. Throughout the day, gawkers drove down the county road past the temple site, stopping to take photos.
An FLDS man told reporters gathered at the gates of the YFZ Ranch that the parents spent the day together, working through some issues.
"When does anybody heal when their children are taken from them?" he said. "They want their children back."
In a new development, the American Civil Liberties Union broke its silence about the issues surrounding the YFZ raid, raising questions about how the custody case was handled.
"While we acknowledge that Judge (Barbara) Walther's task may be unprecedented in Texas judicial history, we question whether the current proceedings adequately protect the fundamental rights of the mothers and children of the FLDS," said Terri Burke, the executive director of the ACLU of Texas, in a statement.
The ACLU said it deplores crimes against children and supports the government mandate to intervene when abuse is suspected, but raised questions about constitutional rights.
"As this situation continues to unfold, we are concerned that the constitutional rights that all Americans rely upon and cherish — that we are secure in our homes, that we may worship as we please and hold our places of worship sacred, and that we may be with our children absent evidence of imminent danger — have been threatened," Burke said in the statement.
Parker echoed those concerns, and said legal strategies are still being planned out. But he worried that with 416 children and hundreds of lawyers, "you may find 400 different strategies because of a lack of coordination." A flurry of legal motions to try to return the children to their parents could be filed in court as early as today.
The raid began April 3, when authorities acted on a series of calls to a family crisis center hotline in San Angelo made by a 16-year-old girl named "Sarah," who said she was pregnant and in an abusive marriage to an older man.
Numerous law enforcement agencies went into the YFZ Ranch en masse. Child protective services officials said that once there, they discovered numerous underage girls who appeared to be pregnant and other signs of abuse of children. That led to a judge's decision to order all 416 children removed from the FLDS compound.
Texas Rangers are investigating whether Sarah really exists, and have named a 33-year-old Colorado woman as a "person of interest" in their probe. Rozita Swinton was arrested on charges of making a hoax call to Colorado police claiming to be an abused child in distress. The Texas Department of Public Safety said it has asked state and federal prosecutors to review evidence they seized when Swinton was arrested, and review the case for possible charges in Texas.
Many FLDS members interviewed by the Deseret News insist the calls to the Texas hotline were a hoax.
"I am convinced it is a hoax and I believe that Texas authorities should have put a little more effort in checking it out before they went in and acted so precipitously in taking every child on the ranch," Parker said.
Regardless of that call, child protective services authorities said what they discovered upon entering the ranch led to the removal of the children. Parker suggested it was colored by the allegations from the phone calls.
"By then there was a certain mindset because of this call," he said. "The fact that they went out there and found what they found does not justify the removal of every child on the ranch."


Contributing: Nancy Perkins


E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company