ELDORADO, Texas (CNN) — An 18-year-old who gave birth in state custody after she was incorrectly seized in a raid on a polygamist sect ranch says the state kept her in foster care in an effort to seize her baby.
Pamela Jessop says the state knew how old she was when they raided her home.
Pamela Jessop said authorities knew how old she was when they raided her home on the Yearning for Zion Ranch, which is owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I gave ’em my name. I gave ’em my age,” Jessop said. “I was honest. Showed ’em my birth certificate and they acknowledged it, that I was 18.”
The ranch is owned by the FLDS, a Mormon offshoot that practices polygamy. State child protection workers say they have found evidence that girls as young as 13 were forced to marry older men and bear their children.
On Thursday, the Texas Court of Appeals ruled the state should not have removed the children of 38 FLDS mothers because it failed to prove that they were in “imminent danger.” It’s not clear if the decision will affect the children whose mothers were not involved in the case. More than 450 of the sect’s childeren are in state custody.
The state apparently agreed that Jessop was not a minor. A caseworker signed a statement saying Jessop gave her age as 18. Her birth certificate says so, along with a “bishop’s list” collected as evidence from the sect’s records.
There was also no denying she was weeks away from giving birth to her second child. And that, she believes, is why she wound up in foster care.
“They kept me all this time to get my little baby,” she said.
Despite the evidence, the state placed her on a list that said she was a minor.
Texas officials denied that Jessop showed them any documents demonstrating she was 18. They also said she was happy to remain in foster care because she was allowed to stay with her 1-year-old son.
For more than a month, the state said, Jessop never asked to leave.
She said, however, that she asked them why they were keeping her “a hundred times at least.”
When she went into labor, Jessop said what should have been one of the happiest days of her life turned into one of the worst.
“One of the most stressful, feeling like hawks were all around me, trying to snatch my baby the minute I shut my eyes or laid him down,” Jessop recalled.
She said foster care workers were in the delivery room with her. Shortly after his birth, the baby joined her in foster care.
Jessop’s attorney said she sees a pattern among FLDS clients, one in which the state ignores hard evidence and classifies adults as minors.
“They put them on that list so that they could continue to have them in custody so that they could either question them in connection with their investigation without attorneys present or, in the cases of women who are going to deliver their babies while in state custody, so they can get the babies,” said attorney Andrea Sloan.
The state said any disputed minor who proves she is an adult is released.
After Jessop gave birth, she went to court and a judge ruled she was an adult. She was released from state custody. State officials said the hearing was the first time they had seen her birth certificate.
Jessop’s two children remain in foster care, and she has been allowed to remain with the baby.
Jessop stands by her story, and her attorneys say they are considering a federal lawsuit against Texas officials for violating her civil rights.
“They’re dealing with our lives and they’ve treated us like animals,” Jessop said. “I can’t trust a single person now.”