|Polygamous Sect Blasts Texas Report
By Brooke Adams
The Salt Lake Tribune
December 27, 2008
Four days after Texas officials released a report defending its raid on a polygamous sect's ranch, the sect has fired back with its own statement calling the event an unjustified "fishing expedition" aimed at driving them out of the state.
The seven-page statement says the raid on the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado left hundreds of children and adults traumatized, desecrated the sect's temple and reduced a self-sustaining community to poverty.
Now, the state has further damaged the community by releasing findings without giving the sect the right to respond in court and failing to offer an apology to more than a dozen families it determined had not abused or neglected their children, a sect spokesman said.
FLDS statement (pdf)
"These families have literally given everything in an attempt to save their children," said Willie Jessop, who issued the statement on behalf of the sect. "There has to be a reimbursement to an American family that has been proven to have done nothing wrong but was put through this trauma."
Jessop released the statement Saturday to media and also planned to deliver it to state officials, he said.
Patrick Crimmins, spokesman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, said the state's "investigation was very thorough. The report on the investigation is clear and we stand by it."
The YFZ Ranch is home to members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Authorities raided the ranch on April 3, five days after a domestic violence shelter received calls about an abused teenager. The calls are now believed to be a hoax tied to a woman in Colorado with a history of making false reports.
On Tuesday, Texas child welfare officials released a 21-page report that said its $12.5 million investigation at the ranch led to evidence that 12 girls were "spiritually" married between the ages of 12 and 15. Of those, seven have at least one child.
Child Protective Services removed 439 children from their families but was ordered by the Texas Supreme Court to return them to their parents after two months in state custody. Of those, 262 were considered neglected because their parents allowed contact with those engaged in or sanctioning underage marriages, the report said.
In 12 families, the state concluded there was no abuse or neglect; cases involving three families were closed because no investigation was needed. In another 39 families, CPS was not able to determine whether abuse or neglect occurred or to rule it out, according to the report.
The Texas report said 96 percent of those children are now considered safe and their lawsuits have been dismissed. Still pending are cases involving 15 children, including one 14-year-old girl who was returned to state custody in August. A Schleicher County grand jury has indicted 12 men on charges related to underage marriage and bigamy, and a criminal investigation is ongoing, according to the Texas Attorney General's Office.
Jessop said the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services was trying to be "prosecutor, judge and jury" in drawing conclusions in its report.
"We've never had our day in court to address what they're alleging," Jessop said of the report's findings on underage marriages.
Of the neglect allegation, the release said, "What hypocrisy in a state that leads the nation in teen pregnancies!"
The sect called the state's report an attempt to justify its "barbaric actions" and divert attention from the "irreparable damage inflicted on innocent children and the expenditure of millions of taxpayer dollars.
"Constitutional rights were trampled upon as though they didn't apply to the FLDS" and women and children were "treated as prisoners of war" at shelters, where they were fed food that made them sick. While there, some "innocent girls were brutally interrogated for hours.
"At Fort Concho, a young lady was locked in a room for hours and told that she never would see her family and friends again unless she admitted to things that she knew nothing of," it said. Jessop said about 70 percent of those who were living at the ranch have returned to their homes." But "irreplaceable" documents and artifacts of earlier church prophets and "priceless" family photos, genealogy records and journals that were seized have not been returned.
The community was unable to fully work its gardens and orchards, "a very critical situation for a people who, contrary to the common mis-perception, had not a single person on welfare."
The community owes just over $544,000 in property taxes, but its "resources have been wasted and their source of livelihood cut off," the release said.
It describes the raid as a "convenient tool for government officials seeking to implement their own vindictive agenda of driving the FLDS out of the state by holding as hostages the most prized possession of any family, their children." It includes statements from Texas Gov. Rick Perry, state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran and Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran about their hope that Texas would seem an "unappealing" home for the sect.
Jessop said the sect believes there should be a "reconstruction and accountability" to families whose children were unjustifiably removed from their homes and for unproven allegations.
"We strongly urge the people of Texas, and of this nation as a whole, to hold these officials accountable for their gross misrepresentations and abuse," the release said.
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