Fight for 8 FLDS children renewed

State is asking a judge to return 6 girls, 2 boys to foster care

Houston Chronicle/August 6, 2008

San Angelo - Texas Child Protective Services moved Tuesday to return eight polygamist sect children to foster care, the first such action since the Texas Supreme Court ordered these children and more than 400 others returned to their parents in May.

The six girls and two boys, ages 5 to 17, are in four Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints households that either refuse to condemn underage marriages in writing or are actively involved with the practice, according to CPS affidavits filed in San Angelo.

Asked if the eight children are in danger, Charles Childress, a CPS attorney from Austin who filed the agency's motions, would only say: "That's what the judge is being asked to decide."

A Sept. 25 hearing before state District Judge Barbara Walther has been scheduled.

The four petitions for state conservatorship, or custody, of the six girls and two boys were filed after CPS caseworkers say they could not get the parents of the eight to sign what is known as a safety plan.

The plan requires parents' promise to keep the child safe from harm and meet certain CPS requirements such as providing the child's parentage and medical documents.

On its face, Tuesday's filing for custody is no different than hundreds of others filed in Texas courts each year when parents retreat from the CPS bargaining table.

But it is the supporting documents, including caseworker affidavits, letters and diaries from FLDS members, including sect president Warren Jeffs, that offer a rare peek inside the state's sexual abuse investigation that started March 28 with a purported phone call from inside the sect's West Texas ranch to a women's shelter in San Angelo.

That call, now considered a hoax, sparked the largest child abuse investigation in the nation and locked the child welfare agency in a battle with FLDS, the largest breakaway Mormon sect in the country.

Flurry of child marriages

Among the evidence CPS workers filed are documents that show a flurry of underage marriages involving at least 10 girls in 2005 and 2006. Of those, two were 12 years old, two were 14, five were 15 and one was 16.

Interviews with the some of the eight children by CPS workers showed that they believed there was nothing wrong with underage marriage.

A 14-year-old who was "spiritually married" three weeks after her 12th birthday to Jeffs, the 52-year-old FLDS president, gave a CPS worker a "disgusted look," when the worker asked her if a 40-year-old man impregnating a 13-year-old girl was sexual abuse.

"(The girl) stated that it isn't what CPS is making it to be," CPS caseworker Ruby Gutierrez wrote in her affidavit. "She said that the marriages are pure. Further, (the girl) stated that this can't be a crime because Heavenly Father is the one that tells Warren (Jeffs) when a girl is ready to get married and that he is only following the word of Heavenly Father."

The eight children include two daughters of Dr. Lloyd Hammon Barlow and Alice Faye Barlow, one of the physician's four wives.

Barlow was indicted on July 22 on a charge of failure to report sex abuse. In an interview last May with The Salt Lake Tribune, the doctor insisted that sexual abuse did not occur at the FLDS' Yearning For Zion Ranch near Eldorado.

In an affidavit written by CPS caseworker Paul Dyer that was filed with the court Tuesday, Barlow said he had delivered many babies to minor girls.

"Dr. Barlow was asked if he had ever delivered children to girls under the age of 18 on the ranch and he said many times both on this ranch and in other places," Dyer wrote.

Elders handle abuse cases

Barlow also informed CPS that domestic violence is something handled internally by the FLDS.

"(A caseworker) asked Dr. Barlow what a young woman's recourse was should she be a victim of domestic violence," Dyer wrote. "Dr. Barlow stated that the church elders would handle the situation first."

Three of the children who may be removed belong to Jeffs' second-in-command, Frederick Merril Jessop, and his wife, Barbara. One of them was the girl married to Jeffs at age 12.

Last month, Jeffs and four followers: Raymond Merril Jessop, 36; Allan Eugene Keate, 56; Michael George Emack, 57; and Merril Leroy Jessop, 33, were indicted on sexual assault of a child charges.

Jeffs is in custody in Arizona where he is awaiting trial for his hand in arranging underage marriages. The other five surrendered a week ago.

Separated from mother

One of the children, a 10-year-old girl, told caseworkers how she had been moved from her mother's home in Utah to her uncle Merril Jessop's house. It was at least three years - until after the government raid - before the girl finally saw her mother again.

"(The girl) said that she misses her mother very much and when she asked her uncle Merril Jessop about where her mother is living he has told her it was none of her business so she has just gotten to the point that she had stopped asking," a caseworker wrote.

The girl told CPS when she grows up she wants to "be a good mother and have as many children as the Heavenly Father wants her to have."

She also told CPS officials that Merril Jessop "would make the decision as to when she would get married, at what age, and who she would marry."

Calls to FLDS spokesmen Willie Jessop and Rod Parker were not immediately returned.

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