|Agency Officials Conclude Raid on Ranch Was Justified
Report Says Move Necessary to Halt Child Abuse
By R.G. Ratcliffe
December 23, 2008
AUSTIN — State child welfare officials on Tuesday defended their controversial raid on a West Texas polygamist compound, saying a dozen girls living on the ranch had been forced into underage marriages and that seven had given birth.
The officials said their investigation into the April raid at the Yearning for Zion Ranch and its aftermath had determined that another 262 children had been neglected. The parents, the officials said, had kept the children in a situation where child sexual abuse was occurring.
The report, by officials of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, said the raid was about child abuse, not religion.
But leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, many of whose followers lived at the ranch, accused the state agency of conducting an overzealous raid simply because the group believes in polygamous marriages. The leaders held that "spiritual marriages" of underage girls to middle-aged men were godly.
"The department has made many allegations that it's never been able to back up, in an effort to justify their barbaric actions," spokesman Willie Jessop said in an interview with The Associated Press. "They need to learn how to say we're sorry instead of trying to justify their actions."
Cost $12.4 million
The raid by the Protective Services department and other state agencies became one of the largest child-abuse investigations in U.S. history. Some 439 children were removed.
The state agency's report did not address several major issues arising from the raid, including a report the raid may have been prompted by a hoax telephone call. In addition, the raid and aftermath cost some $12.4 million, and most of the children seized in the raid have been returned to their parents.
The FLDS is a breakaway sect of the Mormon Church, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago.
The raid may have been prompted by a hoax telephone call to a San Angelo women's shelter from a Colorado woman. State officials wrote that state law requires Child Protective Services to investigate all allegations of abuse.
"A family violence shelter in San Angelo called the hotline after taking a call from someone who said she was a 16-year-old girl who had suffered sexual and physical abuse by her husband while at the ranch," the report states. "The report met the statutory definition of abuse; therefore, DFPS was required to act."
The report says investigators noted 91 families in which there was reason to believe one or both parents had abused or neglected a child in the family by agreeing to an underage marriage.
The agency ruled out 12 families and was unable to determine what may or may not have occurred in 39 others. The agency was unable to complete the investigation of one family and administratively closed the cases involving three families.
The agency reported that 12 girls, ranging in age from 12 to 15, were "victims of sexual abuse at the YFZ Ranch with the knowledge of their parents" by being placed in "spiritual marriages." The earliest of those marriages took place in 2004, and the most recent known marriage was in 2006.
Most of the children were returned to their parents in June after the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the agency had exceeded its authority in removing children who were not in immediate danger of being forced into marriages. One child remains in foster care.
Most of the 200 parents have signed agreements promising to protect their children from sexual abuse. A dozen men have been indicted in the investigation on charges ranging from sexual assault of a child to failure to report abuse, the report said.
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