FLDS Attack Report by Texas Child Welfare Authorities

By Ben Winslow
Deseret News

December 27, 2008,5143,705273453,00.html

Members of the Fundamentalist LDS Church are attacking a report by Texas child welfare authorities, saying it is "as false and fraudulent as the original hoax telephone call that triggered the raid" on the YFZ Ranch.

In a statement sent to the Deseret News on Saturday, FLDS member and spokesman Willie Jessop criticized the Texas Child Protective Services report, which claims to have found that a dozen girls from the Utah-based polygamous sect were confirmed victims of sexual abuse and neglect because they were married at ages ranging from 12 to 15.

"There were 43 girls removed from the ranch from the ages of 12 to 17 which means that more than one out of every four pubescent girls on the ranch was in an underage marriage," Texas authorities wrote in the report made public this past week.

The report also cited 262 cases of child neglect because their parents "failed to remove them from a situation in which the child would be exposed to sexual abuse committed against another child within their families or households."

"What hypocrisy in a state that leads the nation in teen pregnancies!" Jessop wrote in response. "The report then proceeds to imply that their so-called 'neglect' is also abuse by the cleverly worded statement, 'Of the 146 families investigated, 62 percent had a confirmed finding of abuse and neglect involving one or more children in the family.'

"Later in the report, CPS admits that 96 percent of the YFZ children have now been 'determined to be safe in their households to the point that there is not a need for court oversight.' There never was a need for court oversight in the first place!"

Texas CPS stands by its report, agency spokesman Patrick Crimmins told the Deseret News on Saturday.

"The Eldorado investigation was very thorough, and the report on that investigation is clear," Crimmins wrote in an e-mail.

In April, Texas CPS workers and law enforcement went to the YFZ Ranch outside Eldorado to investigate a crisis hotline phone call believed to be from a pregnant 16-year-old trapped in an abusive, polygamous marriage to an older man. She was never found, and the call is believed to be a hoax, but authorities said they found other abuse at the ranch, prompting a judge to order the removal of hundreds of children in what became the nation's largest-ever child-custody case.

The 439 children were ultimately returned two months later when two Texas courts ruled the state acted improperly and the children were not at immediate risk of abuse.

Only 15 children remain under court supervision. One is in foster care, a 14-year-old girl believed to have been married at age 12 to FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.

Addressing the raid and its aftermath, Jessop said that now that most of the children have been "nonsuited," it might be assumed that the children are safe with their families and community.

"But what are they to return to?" he wrote. "Their temple has been desecrated. Irreplaceable documents and artifacts of earlier church prophets have been confiscated, when they contained nothing even implying criminal conduct."

The YFZ Ranch, with its community gardens that sustained the FLDS people there, lost an entire growing season and they have been reduced to poverty, Jessop wrote. Diaries, wedding pictures, baby pictures and other personal property were seized by law enforcement officers without the prospect of being returned, he said. Girls were interrogated about relationships and babies they didn't have, Jessop said.

A dozen men, including Jeffs, have been indicted on charges connected to underage marriages ranging from sexual assault of a child, bigamy, failure to report child abuse and performing a marriage ceremony prohibited by law. Some of the men are due back in court next month.

Jessop accused CPS of being a tool for government officials seeking to drive the FLDS out of Texas, referring to an interview Texas Rep. Harvey Hildebran gave to the Deseret News in June, when he said of child bride legislation: "I wanted to make it unappealing to them. I hoped they wouldn't stay."

"They have never proven ANY allegations," Jessop wrote. "And 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."


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