FORT WORTH, Texas – Even as children continue to stream back home to the Yearning for Zion Ranch near El Dorado, Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran predicted Tuesday that numerous criminal charges will eventually be returned against followers of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS).
“I believe when all of the criminal charges come forward it is going to be very hard to practice their beliefs within the state of Texas,” Doran said. “I believe there are numerous criminal investigations going, and a number of charges will eventually come out of those investigations.”
A grand jury was convened Monday in Schleicher County, but Doran said that panel is only dealing with local issues and is not taking up cases related to child abuse allegations at the sect’s compound. He said the Texas Rangers, who are the lead agency in the investigation, are moving deliberately.
“I see warrants coming but the timing of that is up to the Texas Rangers and the district attorney,” Doran said. “I’m not party to that. We didn’t have the manpower to conduct this investigation, so we’ve been in a support role, trying to provide communications with the ranch and provide law enforcement protection to our county.”
Doran defended the April 3 raid that led to the seizure of all of the children from the ranch, even though the call that spurred the raid may have been a hoax. A Colorado woman, who was arrested for making prank calls, has been declared a person of interest by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
“A lot of people don’t understand these calls kept coming during the operation,” Doran said. “When the children were moved to Fort Concho (in San Angelo), the calls continued with details like it rained and toys were being given to the children. So there was a lot of information that led people to believe the calls were true. But on the flip side, there is a person of interest – this hoax caller; and if the Texas Rangers decide this person did something wrong, then that person will be charged.”
Doran still believes removing the children was the correct decision and said that many residents in El Dorado feel the same way.
“A lot of people on a local level are very upset about it,” Doran said. “They’re very concerned about the women and children.”
He believes the threat by FLDS elder Willie Jessop to register 300 voters is retaliation against him, but he does not believe it will work. Doran is up for re-election this fall.
“I think there is strong concern around town about that,” Doran said. “I think the buzz is people around town are ready to stand up against them at the ballot box.”
Doran said he has not seen Merrill Jessop, the presumed leader of the YFZ Ranch, since he saw him during the raid.
“My understanding is he’s out of state,” Doran said. “That apparently is what he has told some people. I think there’s been a rotation of the leadership at the ranch. We’re not seeing the faces out there that we’re used to seeing.”