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CPS is Camera-Shy
August 20, 2008 permalink
Fourteen-year-old Merrianne Jessop (named in other news stories) was ordered returned to foster care by judge Barbara Walther. When social workers found that the media was waiting to record the seizure of the girl, they backed off, threatening the family. They found a way to get the girl without media scrutiny.
This case illustrates two points:
Texas ducks media, takes custody of girl
CONVERSE, Texas — An agreement to hand off a teenage girl to Texas child protective services became a cat-and-mouse game with reporters and photographers Tuesday evening.
The girl initially was to be handed over by her mother, Barbara Jessop, to CPS workers at 7 p.m. at their home in Converse near San Antonio.
That plan was quickly changed by CPS and CASA representatives when they heard the media would be there to document the event, said FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop.
"Barbara was told that if the media was there and took photos, there would be consequences," Jessop said. "The government threatened her with retaliation against her family if the media was there."
Jessop said the threat included pursuing custody of Jessop's 11-year-old son, who the judge had just agreed should remain in his mother's custody.
When reporters and photographers arrived at Jessop's home shortly before the scheduled 7 p.m. hand-off, other FLDS women living nearby said the pair were already gone. None of the women, teenage girls and younger children said they saw the girl leave with her mother.
A message left with Barbara Jessop's attorney was not immediately returned.
"The last time the media exposed how CPS was treating the FLDS people, the government took away everyone's cell phones," said Willie Jessop. "This time, they threatened Barbara with taking away her son.
"None of this was justified the first time they did it and it's not justified now," he said.
CPS spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner was unaware of any threats. "If that's true, I haven't heard about it," she said. Meisner confirmed the girl was in state custody and was taken to a foster home.
Source: Deseret News
Addendum: A family friend made a video of the transfer, and the Salt Lake Tribune has viewed it. Here is their report.
FLDS mother recalls emotional separation when Texas took daughter
By Brooke Adams, The Salt Lake Tribune, Article Last Updated: 08/21/2008 08:45:12 PM MDT
Posted: 8:43 PM- SAN ANTONIO, Texas - When an FLDS mother called to tell her 14-year-old daughter a judge had ordered her back into state custody, the girl cried steadily over seven hours.
"Just me? Only me?" she asked her mother before dissolving into tears.
Barbara Jessop is breaking her silence to describe the traumatic Tuesday separation from her daughter. The teen - allegedly married to sect leader Warren S. Jeffs in 2006 - is the only FLDS child now in state care.
A videotape of her transfer in a state building parking lot shows the girl crying and holding her mother as Child Protective Services workers stand nearby.
Her family has become a focal point of child welfare and criminal investigations stemming from the spring raid on the Yearning For Zion Ranch, home to members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Two older brothers were among six FLDS men, including Jeffs, indicted last month on sexual assault and other charges.
Court documents detail alleged marriages involving other family daughters who were minors and ceremonies overseen by Merril Jessop, the girl's father and ranch overseer.
A state attorney successfully argued Tuesday that Barbara Jessop, 55, had failed to show she would protect the 14-year-old, citing in part allegations of past physical abuse and her refusal to answer basic questions in court - including giving her children's names.
The state's ongoing criminal investigation made her silence necessary, her attorney said.
Jessop says she stands by her decision to exert her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refusing to testify about her family.
"As a free American citizen I chose to partake of the rights of the Constitution under the Bill of Rights and remain silent," she said.
Jessop was in San Angelo for Tuesday's court hearing. She made the three-hour drive to the family's apartment in Converse with less than an hour to spare before her daughter was taken by CPS workers at 7 p.m.
The video, taken by a relative, shows the girl clinging to her mother, sobbing, in a vehicle parked outside a state building. Two CPS workers hovered beyond the open passenger door and a handful of Texas Rangers were nearby.
"Mother, mother, please don't let me go," she cried. "Mother, mother, don't let them take me. They're not nice."
The girl balked when a caseworker said she needed to get out of the vehicle.
"I'm not getting out until you tell my mother where I'm going," she said. And then: "How can I leave my mother? How long will this be?"
Her mother and sisters eventually hugged her goodbye inside the building as two brothers looked on.
"I told her to hang in there, the Lord will help her through it and we'll be praying for her," said brother Samuel, 17, who spent two months in state care at a boys' ranch this spring. "The thought of leaving her there with nobody she knew was about all I could handle."
His sister's return to foster care is more difficult to take, he said, because the first time the children "were together. She's not. She's by herself."
Tom Green District Judge Barbara Walther declined the state's request to also return the girl's 11-year-old brother to foster care.
On Wednesday, the boy said: "I would have went [into state care] for her."
CPS has said the girl was placed in an "individual foster home."
Since returning 440 children from the polygamous sect to their parents in June, the state has tacked in two directions - dropping cases involving 100 children while zeroing in on others.
In court this week, a CPS investigator and a child advocate described numerous failed attempts to meet with Barbara Jessop over the past several months.
The mother on Wednesday blamed confusion about the process, miscommunication and conflicting schedules. She said that after other mothers began receiving information about safety plans and required parenting classes, she unsuccessfully requested the same information.
"It was very difficult to get an answer on what I could do to get this resolved," she said.
When she learned in mid-July the state again wanted custody of the 14-year-old and her brother, she said it was "stunning."
"This was just like a shock out of nowhere," said Barbara Jessop, who shared the news with the children to make them aware they might be "taken away."
From that point on, her daughter was "more emotional and concerned always," Barbara Jessop said.
"She needed to know every second where mother was," said Millie, 26, her sister.
Added Nancy, another sister: "She said, 'They are thinking of taking me away from my mother.' She said, 'I cannot live without my mother.' "
Barbara Jessop was allowed a monitored telephone call Thursday with her daughter, who "couldn't talk through her crying. I told her we need to be strong and that we were doing all we could to turn it around and come get her," she said.
Source: Salt Lake Tribune
Addendum: You can see parts of the video at an FLDS website.