Chairman says Texas CPS workers mistreated FLDS

Published: Wednesday, May 14 2008 12:00 a.m. MDT

John Kight is determined to get the word out that Child Protective Services in Texas is out of control.
As chairman of an organization that provided mental health workers to assist FLDS children and mothers taken from the YFZ Ranch, he spoke with the Texas governor's office Tuesday and has already spoken with state legislators.
"We don't condone what they say went on out there (at the ranch), but we're just aghast at the methods they used to go out there and take the kids away from their mothers," Kight said. "We want him (Texas Gov. Rick Perry) to hear first hand what went on, ... how abusive CPS was and how they've trampled all over their rights."
Eleven employees of the Hill Country Community Mental Health-Mental Retardation Center recently provided written reports of their experiences at the request of the regional governing board. Each expressed frustration — and some anger — at how CPS treated the children.
After hearing about their experiences at the makeshift shelters last month in San Angelo, Kight said he and the board felt the need to do something.
"We can't just stand by and let this happen as Americans," he said. "Hopefully, (Gov. Perry) will take some sort of action to get these parents back with their kids."
Two workers reported witnessing some CPS workers being compassionate and friendly at the shelters. Most comments, however, described witnessing CPS workers mistreating the mothers and children, including lying to them, being rude, uncaring and abusing authority. Several said they were told by CPS workers that the mothers and children would be uncooperative and hostile, but instead found them to be friendly, pleasant and sincere.
"Some of these CPS workers were bent on humiliating and just being hateful," Kight said. "They get their minds made up that they have unlimited power to do what they want and it's not right."
When asked over the past few weeks about similar allegations, CPS officials have strongly denied such accusations. The FLDS women and children have been described as uncooperative and have purposefully provided misinformation to CPS employees. They say they tried to make the women and children as comfortable as possible in the shelters, but it was difficult to create an environment for so many people.
Texas officials say the new Hill Country Community MHMR accusations are serious, and CPS spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner confirmed that an investigation into the allegations is being conducted.
Here are some of the observations from the nine unsigned letters written by the mental health professionals:
• "At least five mothers reported that at night CPS circled their beds, held flashlights in their faces and then would sit inches away from them as they tried to sleep. Mothers reported they were scared CPS would take their children during the night, thus leaving them and their children exhausted."
• "I have worked in domestic violence/sexual abuse programming for over 20 years and have never seen women and children treated this poorly, not to mention their civil rights being disregarded in this manner. It makes us all wonder how safe anyone is who has children."
• "At one point I headed toward the public restroom and was immediately grabbed by the arm by a CPS worker who told me to use the port-a-potties outside the rock wall 'because we don't know what kind of diseases these people might have and we don't want to catch anything from them.' I was later told it had been determined that STDs were rampant among the women because of their promiscuous lifestyle. I did not believe that information since I knew none of the women had submitted to examination."
• "Unlike many of my colleagues, most of my interactions with CPS workers were pleasant and enlightening. Many of the ladies and gentlemen in San Angelo were genuinely confused as to why their agency was placing so much energy into the removal of these children. On a number of occasions, I saw CPS workers trying to build a healthy relationship with the children and mothers."
• "The picture had been painted of a large group of women and children that had been brainwashed and abused. To my surprise, when I entered the Fort Concho shelter the morning of April 9, I found a group of healthy, happy children and loving caring mothers."
• "For me, on a personal level, the most difficult aspect of the entire experience was the apparent lies being told to the mothers. I myself felt the inconsistency in information when we had been told that special needs children were to be allowed to stay with their mothers and, yet, by that afternoon, that was no longer the case. This left me in a strange position in which I felt compelled to voice the needs of these children and their mothers. This was met with less than enthusiastic response and after I spoke out for the children, I was asked to either leave the bus or be arrested."
• "Some who were previously sullen or reluctant to speak would brighten when they learned we were not CPS."
• "The children laughed easily and gave eye contact. They had none of the traditional withdrawal common in abused children."
• "On the last day of my stay at the coliseum (April 24), the mothers had been removed ... The children had cried bitterly on the removal of the mothers, and they were now with strangers. ... Children were grabbing toys from others and using the toys as play weapons against each other and their 'captors.' In my estimation they were acting out their fear and anger. One little boy of about 4 was frantically running from the CPS workers, avoiding capture in every way he could. Once caught, I held him firmly in my arms while he wept that he didn't want them to take his mother."
• "I did see some wonderful interactions with CPS and some of the children, as they read stories and played games. ... I also saw a woman I know personally (who) had been a prison principal now employed with CPS. She seemed to have retained an attitude that these people were inmates!"
• "CPS had as their primary focus the sexual abuse that was alleged, rather than the emotional abuse I felt they were creating."
• "CPS showed a disregard and disrespect for the mothers' culture in various ways. ... Tight, revealing clothes were worn daily by many of those in the pavilion, and bare arms, feet, and legs were standard, even though FLDS custom is to stay covered except for hands and face."
• "On the Thursday morning, April 24, I witnessed a young mother named Rosinith be required by CPS to board the bus back to the ranch, though her young child was in the hospital with 104 degree fever and even though the child's physician had personally requested the mother's presence at the hospital. This event haunts me still, and I cannot imagine such a heartless act."
• "I do not believe in polygamy and I see that as a proof that the men in this sect see women as property. ... However, I also know the research on long-term consequences of removing children from loving parents. I do not believe that the emotional abuse of all 460+ children must be weighed in the equation."
• "It was frightening to watch women and children being herded and separated like cattle with no regard for human rights or the needs of the group or individuals. ... If this had happened in another country, our government would have tried to prevent it! Old films of concentration camps came to mind."
• "These lovely women and children were gracious and kind always. They tried to cooperate with every request, even when terrified that they were going to be separated from their children. The mothers are incredibly loving and patient with the children."
• "On the awful day that they separated the mothers and children the level of cruelty and lack of respect for human rights was overwhelming. Crying, begging children were ripped away from their devastated mothers and the mothers were put on buses to either return to the ranch or to go to shelters. Most went to shelters because they were told they would be able to see their children if they did not return to the ranch. This, of course, was another lie. ... The floor was literally slick with tears in places. A baby was left in a stroller without food and water for 24 hours and ended up in the hospital. A 4-year-old boy was so terrified that he snuck away and hid and was only found after the coliseum (had) been emptied the next day."
• "I witnessed a small boy, maybe 3 years old, walking along the rows of cots with a little pillow saying, 'I need someone to rock me, I just want to be rocked, I want to find a rocking chair.' Two CPS workers were following him and writing in their notebooks but not speaking to him or comforting him. Sally and I started toward him but his 8-year-old brother came and picked him up saying, 'I will take care of him.' ... That little boy will always be in my mind. How can a beautiful healthy child be taken from a healthy, loving home and forced into a situation like that, right here in America, right here in Texas?"
• "My observation of the mothers' interaction with their children was one of love, warmth and kindness. Not once did I hear an unkind word, yelling or negative response to a child's behavior. I really feel these women could teach us all a lot about positive parenting."
• "As I was talking to a mother, her child spilled water down his front; he stood up on the cot so that she could wipe him off. A CPS worker strode over and told the mother, 'You need to set him down, NOW.' The woman nodded and continued to wipe his shirt. The CPS worker then said, 'If you don't sit him down NOW, I will set him down for you.' At this point I mentioned to the worker that she was simply wiping him off, had a hold of him, and would sit him down as soon as this was done. The CPS worker glared at me and walked off. The mother whispered to me that 'this is the way they always treat us, as if we don't know how to care for our own children. They won't even let our babies sleep with us.'"
• "One of the women ... asked me if I knew of any underage mothers in (my) community. I told her yes. She asked me if I knew of any domestic violence or sexual abuse that had been reported in my community and I replied yes. 'Why then,' she asked, 'did no one hear of that community having all of the children taken from all of the mothers?' All I could respond was, 'That's a good question.'"
• "We were told to observe only and not to help. We were told we were surrounded by (Department of Public Safety) and there were snipers on the buildings for our protection."
• "Separated from older children (12 and up) and for days not even allowed to wave at them across the open field — told they would never see them again if they continued to wave — threatened with jail for waving at them."
• "The more uncomfortable they were the more CPS thought they would talk."
• "Never in all my life, and I am one of the older ladies, have I been so ashamed of being a Texan and seeing what and how our government agencies treat people. ... This must stop somewhere and somehow. This invasion of their property and the disruption of their lives could happen to anyone anytime if all power and authority is given to CPS."
• "The entire experience at Ft. Concho and the coliseum was surreal; at times it felt like these women and children were prisoners. I heard some people wonder out loud if this was Nazi Germany. The thought had struck me, too. Is this what it was like for the people in concentration camps in Germany? The women and children from Eldorado were basically lied to and deceived on several occasions. I often felt helpless; I also felt in awe of the grace, and self-confidence in which the women behaved. My culture, my society could learn from these women and children; they have my utmost respect."
• "My task ... was to comfort and offer support to the children ... separated from their mothers. Most of the children stayed united with each other. The older children comforted the younger children when they began to cry and ask for their mothers. The older female children took on the role of mothers. They hugged and consoled the smaller children. It was touching to watch the intense bond these children had, regardless of the fact that they were not all blood siblings, but difficult at the same time. I found it extremely difficult to do my task of consoling and offer comfort when I was an emotional wreck myself."
• "At one point, when the children were all separated, one male child who was about 9 years old, broke away from the rest of the children who were all hurtled together, being comforted by each other, and walked up to a police officer. I heard him say, 'You're the police, help us. Help me get my mother back. She has done nothing wrong.' The police officer could only respond by saying, 'I can't do that.'"
• "I am from a small Texas town with a population less than all the people that were forced from their homes ... I kept thinking to myself this is no different than if someone, which in most small towns there are, had gotten pregnant as a minor by an adult and rather than investigate and deal with that situation they arrested the entire town and treated them like criminals."
• "The women would sing songs to comfort themselves and their children. Some I had heard and had sung in my Methodist upbringing. Then they would gather and pray as well. Many of the CPS workers said they prayed in code, but I understood what they said and it was the same code I used to pray."

E-mail: bwest@desnews.com

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