Editorial: Lessons Learned in Raid on YFZ Ranch

San Angelo Standard-Times
March 29, 2009

As we near the one-year anniversary of the raid on the YFZ Ranch near Eldorado, it is appropriate to look back at lessons learned in this historic case.

On April 3, 2008, Child Protective Service and law enforcement authorities raided the polygamist compound of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. They were acting on a phone call alleging abuse at the ranch - a tip that authorities have since determined was a hoax.

Over the next few days, officials removed 439 children from the ranch to ensure that no children were being abused. Ultimately, state appellate courts returned most of the children to their parents.

Although the call turned out to be a fake, the evidence uncovered there was not - and the state did the right thing by taking action.

Even so, the ultimate goal of any CPS case is to keep families together if possible, and the FLDS parents were correct in their relentless pursuit of getting their children back. In doing so, they highlighted another important point in this and any other CPS-related case: The state must prove that it has evidence to keep children separated from their families.

CPS says it found hundreds of cases of abuse and neglect at the ranch, including 12 girls married at age 15 or younger to adult men. In all, 12 FLDS members have been indicted by a Schleicher County grand jury on charges stemming from alleged sexual abuse of children. Only one child remains in state custody and all others have been dropped from the case at the state's request.

The raid put the public spotlight on the super-secretive FLDS, whose previously secluded lifestyle and practices have now spurred debate throughout the nation.

We support the creation of a select legislative subcommittee, which is reviewing the raid to determine whether state laws regarding child removal should be changed.

One solution could be to allow CPS or other authorities to remove adults from an alleged abuse situation. In the FLDS case, such authority could have kept the children in their familiar surroundings instead of sending them to foster homes scattered throughout the state.

FLDS officials have criticized the manner in which authorities converged on their ranch. But the religious sect lived in seclusion in Schleicher County, so it was not surprising that law enforcement officials were unsure what to expect when they arrived at the ranch. This uncertainty prompted them to heavily arm themselves out of an abundance of caution.

One year later, we continue to believe that authorities acted appropriately by going to the ranch with the intent of investigating and preventing abuses to children. Not acting on the phone call could have meant the abuse would continue.

Certainly, FLDS members are free to worship as they please, but no one can use religion as an excuse to violate state law and public decency.

If the FLDS raid, subsequent investigation and court action mean young girls will not be sexually abused in the future, it was well worth the time, effort and money.


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