A juvenile court judge temporarily removed eight children of polygamist John Daniel Kingston from their mother’s home Tuesday after hearing new allegations of abuse and “games” the couple has played with a child welfare worker.
Only one of the couple’s 11 children – a girl born in July – remains with Heidi Mattingly Foster as the state continues to make its case that the couple are unfit parents. Third District Juvenile Court Judge Andrew Valdez removed two older girls from the home earlier this year after a dispute over getting their ears pierced triggered a wider investigation of the family.
During Tuesday’s emergency hearing, representatives for the Guardian Ad Litem’s Office and attorney general asked Valdez to remove the other children for their own safety, saying Mattingly Foster has physically and emotionally abused them. The children’s ages are 15, 12, 11, 9, 7, 5, 4 and 2.
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Assistant Attorney General Carolyn Nichols said the couple’s 2-year-old son had a black eye two weeks ago, and his mother gave differing accounts of where the injury occurred. She finally provided the name of a day care provider, Margaret Larson Owen, who also has 11 children with Kingston.
Mattingly Foster said after the hearing that the boy fell off a slide and that Owen filled out an injury report as required by state regulations.
Nichols said other children have been slapped and, contrary to a previous order, the couple’s 15-year-old son attends Ensign Learning Center, a Kingston-run school, rather than West High.
Kingston, 49, and Mattingly Foster, 32, belong to the polygamous Kingston clan, known as “The Order.” The group is said to have about 1,200 members in the Salt Lake Valley and operates a $150-million business empire that includes a mine, ranches, pawn shops, grocery stores, private schools, vending machine businesses and restaurant supply stores.
Kingston, a brother of clan leader Paul Kingston, has an estimated 14 spiritual wives and about 120 children; he pleaded no contest in 1999 to belt-whipping one of his children by another woman.
“The more information I get about these women who have children with Mr. Kingston, the more I think we’re running a child mill here,” Valdez said Tuesday, adding that if it were a “puppy mill” it would have been shut down a long time ago.
Nichols said Curtis Giles, the child welfare worker assigned to the Kingston children, has been continually thwarted when trying to check on their well-being. On one occasion when Giles tried to check on the children at Ensign Learning Center, the school alerted Kingston, who showed up with a tape recorder; the school’s principal, Hyrum Kingston, turned Giles away two other times, saying statewide tests were in progress.
Valdez pointedly told Kingston and his attorney, Daniel Irvin, that no school policy “supersedes a court order.”
Nichols also said Mattingly Foster refused to let a Child Protective Services worker interview the children after the state received the black-eye report unless Rachel Kingston, one of John Daniel Kingston’s other “wives,” was present.
Irvin said Kingston has fully complied with Valdez’s past orders, limiting his interaction with his children to weekly supervised visits.
Russ Pietryga, a public defender now representing Mattingly Foster, said she is trying to be more cooperative and told Valdez the “problem can be solved in a less intrusive way than removing the children.”
But Valdez said he had warned Mattingly Foster in previous court hearings that failure to cooperate with the state would lead to the children being removed from her home.
“We are going to pull these kids and see if you wake up, Ms. Mattingly, and find out if you’re fully committed to having these children returned to you,” Valdez said as he placed the children in protective custody.
The children, who waited in another office in the courthouse during the hearing, were taken into state custody immediately. The seven youngest were placed in a shelter for abused children; the oldest boy, considered a flight risk, was taken to a secure facility.
In 1996, Mattingly Foster’s children were removed from her home following a welfare investigation; in all, the state has investigated her four times over the past decade, finding inappropriately supervised children and unsafe living conditions. Each time, she received homemaking and counseling aid.
Valdez will hold a shelter hearing on Friday to decide whether to return the children home or leave them in state custody – a hearing the couple said would vindicate them and result in the children being returned home.
“We have 11 children and love every one of them,” Kingston said after the court hearing. “It will be devastating to those children and is not in the best interest of those children to be removed from their home.”
The couple issued a media statement that said: The state’s “purpose is take the children from all polygamist parents and break up their families. They have no concern for our civil rights or what’s best for the children.”
“We really do expect that when we present our evidence on Friday they will be back,” Kingston told The Salt Lake Tribune.
Sidebar: Kingston: What happened before, What’s next
What happened before:
In February, a dispute over ear piercing led two teenage daughters of polygamist John Daniel Kingston and Heidi Mattingly Foster to seek refuge with relatives. Those relatives sought temporary custody of the girls, which triggered a wider investigation on allegations of ongoing abuse and neglect.
In June, 3rd District Juvenile Court Judge Andrew Valdez placed the two girls, ages 13 and 16, in protective custody – one with an uncle and his wife, the other in foster care.
In August, Valdez ordered Kingston to provided $3,100 a month in child support and rent to Mattingly Foster, and required the couple and nine children still in the home to undergo psychological evaluations.
Valdez will hold a shelter hearing on Friday to decide whether eight of John Daniel Kingston and Heidi Mattingly Foster’s children, who range in age from 2 to 15, will stay in state custody or be returned home. Mattingly Foster was allowed to keep a 3-month-old girl at home.
On Nov. 3, Valdez will review the psychological evaluations and other reports and decide what, if any, services the family should receive and any conditions for reuniting the children with their parents.