CPS reports mother violated court restrictions
The polygamous-sect matriarch whose husband led the YFZ Ranch in Schleicher County has been uncooperative with child-welfare caseworkers and broken court-imposed communication restrictions between her and her 14-year-old daughter, according to a report filed last week in state district court in Tom Green County.
Barbara Jessop, who the state alleges allowed her daughter to be married at age 12 to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints‘ self-styled prophet Warren Jeffs, lost custody of the girl last month after pleading the Fifth Amendment more than 50 times during a hearing.
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The report is a routine progress check as the custody case against the family moves toward its scheduled Sept. 25 hearing. It alleges Jessop and the girl had 21 unsupervised telephone conversations in one week despite an order from 51st District Judge Barbara Walther restricting communication to weekly monitored phone calls and weekly one-on-one visits.
“Both presented as though they had been adhering to the monitored phone contact only,” CPS caseworker Catherine Irons wrote in the report. “Many of the phone calls occurred in the middle of the night, and some lasted in duration for longer than 30 minutes.”
Gonzalo Rios, the San Angelo attorney who represented Jessop at the hearing in which Walther granted the state custody of the girl, was out of town and could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The report also details odd requests from Jessop that included offering to “trade” one of her other daughters for the girl in custody, so that the other girl would be placed in foster care instead.
Sect documents describe a triple wedding ceremony in which the girl, daughter of ranch leader Merril Jessop, married Jeffs while Jeffs’ 15-year-old daughter, also a prominent figure in the case, married one of Jessop’s adult sons.
That night – July 27, 2006 – has become the intense focus of the multiple investigations into the group, which is accused of fostering an atmosphere of underage marriage and sexual abuse at its Schleicher County compound.
A Schleicher County grand jury has returned 10 indictments, ranging from bigamy to sexual assault of a child, against at least five members of the sect, one of the charges based on sect papers documenting the alleged ceremony.
Meanwhile, the alleged marriage between the Jessop girl and Jeffs was a key reason why CPS sought to strip Barbara Jessop of custody.
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State asked to keep FLDS girl in custody
Child welfare officials plan to ask a Texas judge to keep a 14-year-old FLDS girl in custody because her parents continue to be uncooperative.
Merril Jessop, the girl’s father and bishop of the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado, remains in hiding, and Barbara Jessop, her mother, has circumvented visitation rules on several occasions, a newly filed court document says.
The Texas Department of Family and Protective services filed the report for a Sept. 25 status hearing before 51st District Judge Barbara Walther.
Walther ordered the state to take the girl, allegedly married at age 12 to sect leader Warren S. Jeffs, on Aug. 19. She is the only FLDS child in state custody and is in a foster home.
Merril Jessop’s family is at the center of ongoing child welfare and criminal investigations stemming from the April raid on the Yearning For Zion Ranch, home to members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The state took 439 children into custody but returned them to their parents in June after the Texas Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that Walther had insufficient evidence of abuse to justify removal of every child.
The count of children does not include 26 women the state initially believed were minors but later agreed are adults. Since June, the court has dismissed cases involving 269 children, leaving 170 children still under state oversight.
The state has provided marriage records, Jeffs’ journals and photographs seized from the ranch that document 10 alleged underage marriages involving Merril Jessop’s children, stepchildren or grandchildren.