Fight for 8 FLDS children renewed
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.
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.”