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FLDS Children Menaced Again

August 6, 2008 permalink

Texas is once again trying to get custody of FLDS children. A pending petition to remove eight children from their parents will be heard before Judge Barbara Walther on September 25. The petition is to enforce a shotgun divorce — the mothers resisted a "safety plan" that required kicking the fathers out of the lives of the children.

Child protectors are fond of saying that children get a court hearing before removal from their parents (except in cases of imminent danger). They conceal their habit of checking the imminent danger box in every case. In hundreds of parents interviewed, and thousands of cases examined on the internet and in news archives, this is the first hearing prior to child removal. It takes a supreme court ruling to get child protectors to comply with the law on the scheduling of hearings.



Texas wants 8 FLDS kids back in foster care

Willie Jessop
Willie Jessop (Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune)

Texas authorities have asked a judge to return eight children from a polygamous sect to foster care after their mothers refused to sign safety plans limiting contact with men involved in underage marriages.

Texas Child Protective Services filed a motion Tuesday to have six girls and two boys, aged 5 to 17, placed back in state custody. A hearing has been set for Sept. 25 by 51st District Judge Barbara Walther.

The children were among those the state removed from the Yearning For Zion Ranch in April amid allegations of sexual and physical abuse. In June, Walther returned about 440 children to their parents, members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, as ordered by two higher courts. CPS also asked the court to close cases involving 32 children.

However, other child welfare and criminal investigations continue. Last month, a Schleicher County grand jury indicted six FLDS men, including jailed sect leader Warren S. Jeffs, on sexual assault and related charges. The grand jury next will meet on Aug. 22.

In the new legal action, CPS alleges the children's parents refuse to agree to measures to protect them. Affidavits, diary excerpts and letters detail a history of underage marriages in some families and chronicle instances of physical abuse or neglect.

The state wants to remove two sons and a daughter of Barbara Steed and Merril Jessop, alleging they have permitted illegal marriages of underage daughters or between adult sons and minor girls. Merril Jessop is a church bishop who oversaw the YFZ Ranch in Eldorado.

The couple's daughter was married at age 12 to Jeffs at the ranch on July 27, 2006.

That same day, two of Merril Jessop's sons - Merril Leroy Jessop, 33, and Raymond Jessop, 36 - were married to 15-year-old girls, one of whom is Jeffs' daughter. The grand jury indicted the brothers last month and they remain in jail. Merril Leroy Jessop is charged with felony bigamy and sexual assault, and Raymond Jessop with sexual assault.

The state also wants to resume custody of a 13-year-old daughter of Amy E. Johnson, who is alleged to have allowed a 15-year-old daughter to marry an adult man in 2005. Merril Jessop and Wendell Loy Nielsen, a church elder and Johnson's current husband, witnessed the ceremony, the state alleges.

Another motion covers two daughters of Ellen G. Young, Barbara's sister, and Nephi Barlow. Young was married in 2004 to Merril Jessop, the state alleges. The girls lived with their aunt at the ranch for three years while their mother worked in Nevada, according to the documents.

Two other girls are daughters of Alice F. Barlow and Lloyd Hammon Barlow, 38, a physician indicted last month on three counts of failure to report child abuse. A court document alleges that one of Barlow's four plural wives was 16 when they married; it also says Barlow told investigators in April he had overseen births to underage girls at the ranch and other places "many times."

The state is specifically asking mothers of girls ages 10 to 17 to sign the safety plans to keep them from underage marriage or sexual abuse, said CPS spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner.

The mothers of the eight children listed in the motion refused to do so, she said.

FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop called the state's demand that the women sign the safety plan or face losing their children "barbaric."

"Why should these mothers forfeit their rights when they haven't had their day in court, and there is no evidence their children are in immediate danger?" he asked.

Attorney Stephanie Goodman, who represents Amy Johnson, said she advised her client against signing a plan that "will only be used against [her] in the future.

"My client is verbally and physically implementing the safety plan and CPS has the right to ensure by unannounced visits that she is keeping and providing her child a safe and stable environment," Goodman said.

Meisner said cases being dismissed involve families where there is either no evidence of underage marriages or children whose parents have agreed to appropriate steps to protect them from abuse.

She said in "more than half of the YFZ children, no match was found among the 26 fathers who provided DNA samples."

Source: Salt Lake Tribune