SAN ANGELO, Texas All of the FLDS children are back with their families. Most of the media have gone home, too.
The conversations heard around this city, which has been at the center of controversy for more than two months, seem to have steered away from the raid at the YFZ Ranch and the many allegations of activities there.
"We're just enjoying the quiet lull until the next phase begins, which is the criminal cases," a court clerk here declared.
Investigators have been working behind the scenes, continuing to pore over an estimated 1,000 boxes of evidence and other items taken from the Fundamentalist LDS Church's 1,700-acre ranch in early April.
Most courtroom observers, including attorneys, seem confident some sort of criminal charges will be filed within the next few weeks. For weeks, Child Protective Services has talked about underage brides, sexual abuse and physical abuse. There's even been talk about potential bigamy charges.
The Texas Attorney General's Office has taken over the criminal investigations. But it's hard to get much out of them but vague comments.
"We'll continue to work with both local and state law enforcement in any alleged crimes that may have occurred," Jerry Strickland, the communications director for the Texas Attorney General, told the Deseret News Friday.
"The evidence will dictate the direction of the investigation."
CPS is also continuing to investigate, even though the children are no longer in state custody.
"We'll continue to conduct interviews and gather information to determine if abuse or neglect has occurred," spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said. "If there is no abuse, we'll close the case."
DNA test results from the parents of the children taken from the ranch are being reviewed by CPS as part of that investigation. If the results are going to be used as part of a criminal investigation, a court will have to approve that request.
Strickland declined to say whether investigators will make such a request.
CPS caseworkers will visit each of the homes where the children are living, Meisner said. When the
children were returned, Judge Barbara Walther set conditions, including allowing CPS access for unannounced home visits. During such visits, parents agreed to allow child welfare workers to interview and examine the children in the home or at "any other reasonable location."
How often those visits occur will be determined by the individual needs of the family, Meisner said.
The parents are also required to take "standard parenting classes," according to the order.
"They're basic parenting classes we use to teach parents the best way to keep their children safe," she said. "If we find particular issues going on in a family's life, there will be some focus on their individual needs. That will be assessed later on as we work with the families."
Many FLDS parents are renting homes in cities throughout Texas, rather than return to the YFZ Ranch. One family told the Deseret News they didn't want any additional scrutiny from CPS that may occur if they moved back there.
Parents were required to provide addresses and phone numbers of their homes, but Meisner couldn't say how many parents listed the ranch as home. She said CPS has no preference about where the families live. But attorneys for the agency had repeatedly argued over the past several weeks that the ranch was an unsafe environment for the children and was a single-household community that fostered a pattern of abuse.
"We don't have a preference one way or another. We just need to know where the families are living so that we can continue to provide services to the families and have access to the children and families until we complete our investigation," Meisner said.
Earlier this week, church spokesman Willie Jessop said about 20 percent of the families had returned there and more planned to do so.
Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he accepted personal blame if Texas "stepped across some legal line" in seizing the FLDS children. But he defended the state's action in comments to the Dallas Morning News.
"I still think that the state of Texas has an obligation to young women who are forced into marriage and underage sex to protect them. That's my bottom line on this," he told the newspaper during a visit to France.
The governor said he hopes prosecutors "continue to send the message" to the FLDS Church that child sex abuse won't be tolerated. "If you don't want to be prosecuted for those activities, then maybe Texas is not the place you need to consider calling home," Perry said.
"If responsibility needs to be taken for (appellate and Supreme Court decisions) saying that we stepped across some legal line, I'll certainly take that responsibility," the Texas governor said during a business conference in La Baule, France. "I am substantially less interested in these fine legal lines that we're discussing than I am about these children's welfare, that's where my focus is. That's where CPS' focus is."
Jessop told the News there was little evidence of any abuse on the ranch. In calling for criminal prosecutions, he said Perry was showing the same stubbornness as President Bush on the Iraq war."Rather than acknowledging we're in there on bad intelligence, we keep fighting the fight," Jessop told the Dallas newspaper. "I don't know if that's a Texas thing or what that is. But he's in that same mentality let's continue to justify why we're there rather than acknowledging it wasn't true."
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