Legal motions are being filed in several Texas courts challenging the decisions to put 465 people from the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch in state protective custody.
Meanwhile, Texas Child Protective Services officials conceded Tuesday that a young mother they initially believed was a minor is legally an adult.
"We received information credible information and we now believe this woman who was believed to be a minor in question, is in fact, an adult," Texas CPS spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said after a court hearing in San Angelo.
The mother will remain in state custody alongside her baby boy, who was born in San Marcos on April 29. A hearing on the issue has been continued until Friday. A spokesman for the FLDS Church said the woman in the case, identified as Pamela Jeffs, is 18.
A spokesman for the FLDS Church accused Texas authorities of disregarding legal documentation to keep the babies in custody.
"The state wanted to make sure that they got possession of those babies," said Rod Parker. "If they'd have let mom go, they are afraid the baby will get away from them."
On Monday, another young woman gave birth to a boy in Austin. Louisa Jessop's husband is challenging the decision to keep them in state custody, and a judge held off on ordering them moved to a new shelter in San Antonio. A hearing is scheduled in an Austin court on Thursday.
In the meantime, the child and his mother remain in foster care.
"The mother and 26 others are in the 'disputed minors' category, which applies to YFZ Ranch residents who CPS believes are minors, or who have provided different ages and other conflicting information to CPS at different times," Texas DFPS said in a statement posted on its Web site.
The FLDS insist that Jessop (who they say is 22) and other young women are adults. Texas CPS believes they are underage. The government agency said it is reviewing information about the women deemed "disputed minors."
"If CPS determines that any are adults, appropriate action will be taken," the agency said.
A massive series of hearings to determine the placement and status of all of the children in state protective custody is scheduled next week before five different judges in San Angelo.
Lawyers for a Fundamentalist LDS couple went to court Tuesday to get an emergency restraining order blocking Texas authorities from separating a mother from her child.
Joseph Steed Jessop Jr. turns 1 on Thursday and it is expected he will be separated from his mother, Lori.
"A CPS worker has told her that after the infant, Joseph Steed Jessop Jr., turns one year old, which will be on May 15, 2008, he, too, will be taken away from her," Corpus Christi attorney Rene Haas wrote in a motion filed Tuesday in a San Antonio.
CPS officials declined to offer an immediate response. The judge granted their request for a temporary restraining order, and ordered that the baby's father, Joseph Steed Jessop Sr., be told where his other children, Ziana Glo Jessop, 4, and Joseph Edson Jessop, 2, are being kept. Haas wrote in court papers that the couple last saw all their children on May 9.
The judge granted them daily supervised visits until another hearing can be held on May 23.
In another legal motion filed in San Antonio on Tuesday, three fathers filed a petition claiming their children are being illegally restrained in the custody of Texas CPS.
The motion said that Texas law enforcement knew the phone call that prompted the raid was likely a hoax.
"Nevertheless, Amy Marie Dockstader, Natalie Joanne Keate, Britton Bauer Keate, Jameson Rand Keate and Marreta Keate were removed from the community and the relators' custody," the fathers' attorney, Gerald Goldstein, wrote.
In separate sections, fathers James Dockstader, Rulon Keate and LeLand Keate describe the raid and how their children and wives were taken from them. Dockstader's attorneys described him praying outside the FLDS temple as law enforcement went inside, Keate's wife accompanied their children onto buses as they were removed en masse from the ranch.
The fathers say there is no evidence their children were abused and they have been denied their rights to hearings and due process.
"This court should order the return of their children and individualized hearings if, and only if, an adequate showing can be made that such hearings are necessary with respect to their families and child," Goldstein wrote.
The raid on the YFZ Ranch began April 3 when authorities responded to a call from someone claiming to be a 16-year-old girl, pregnant and in an abusive polygamous marriage to a 49-year-old man. When law enforcement and child welfare workers responded, they said they saw signs of other abuse including other pregnant minors.
That prompted a judge to order the removal of all of the children from the FLDS compound. They are now in foster care facilities across Texas. Authorities have said the FLDS culture poses a danger to children, with girls being groomed to become child brides and boys being groomed to be predators."To prove that it has a compelling interest in holding these children, CPS must prove that they will suffer actual harm," Goldstein responded. "Speculation does not suffice."
E-mail: [email protected]