Thursday, May 22, 2008

Texas may lose their fight over FLDS children, and it will be an expensive loss.

I've in the past been quite critical of some of the aspects of the FLDS church, in particular their practices of forcing teenage girls into marriage (such as I blogged on here) and kicking out teenage boys (as I blogged on here.)

I've also made it clear that my problems with them have to do with child abuse in particular, not polygamy in general (what sexual relations consenting adults have with each other, and in what numbers, is not a matter which interests me, nor is it a matter which should warrant the interest of the state.)

However, following the recent raid in Texas, I wrote a post in which I expressed concern about civil rights violations by the state of Texas in their decision to remove hundreds of children from the FLDS compound, with no specific evidence that any of them in particular had been abused. The determining factor, in fact, was their religious identity and nothing other than that. It is true that several of the teenage girls were pregnant, but without being too blunt about it I suspect that if you go to any community in America you will find that a significant number of teenage girls are pregnant. My eldest daughter was pregnant when she was fifteen. I'm not suggesting that this is a good thing, but it's not grounds to remove a child from their home in the absence of any specific evidence of rape, incest or another crime causing the pregnancy (and as noted, they had none about specific children who they removed.)

Since then, Texas' case has been unraveling and they have been embarrassed by a steady stream of bad news about their case. The first came when it turned out that the phone calls that Texas authorities had received, claiming to be from an abused teenager named, 'Sarah' inside the compound, actually turned out to be a hoax after they were traced to a woman named Rozita Swinton in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Her motivation was apparently a progressive, but misplaced mindset. These phone calls had provided the original justification for the raid and the warrant to go in, in the first place. What is especially troubling is that it is not all that hard to reverse trace a phone call and verify the caller's location (in fact this was obviously done but the information was apparently not examined until after the raid.) This leads to two scenarios, both troubling: either that Texas authorities were looking for a pretext for a raid and jumped so fast that they didn't bother to check a basic fact like this, or even more troubling that they knew the calls were phony and went ahead anyway.

Texas authorities then claimed that they had reason to believe that a man named Dale Evans Barlow had abused some of the children at the ranch. Only problem is that there is no evidence that Dale Evans Barlow was ever at the ranch. In fact during the time period in question, Dale Evans Barlow was checking in weekly with his Utah probation officer. It is conceivable but a bit far fetched to suppose that every week he met his probation officer, drove for about 36 hours to the Texas compound, stayed there a couple of days to abuse some girls, then drove 36 hours back to Utah and met with his probation officer, and then repeated this pattern every week. Texas Rangers did travel to interview Dale Barlow on April 12, but left without making an arrest, and they have no evidence at all that he ever did travel to Texas during the time when he is alleged to have committed the crime (though no one can even name who made the allegation in the first place, unless perhaps it was made by Rozita Swinton while she was pretending to be 'Sarah.')

Then we have the case of Pamela Jessop. Pamela Jessop was a pregnant teenager who was removed from the compound. She maintains that at the time told them that she is eighteen (legally an adult) and showed them her birth certificate to prove it. Records seized at the scene by the Texas authorities confirmed that her age was eighteen, so they knew how old she was. They forcibly kept her in custody anyway so that when she gave birth they were in a position to give her a choice of either returning to the compound without her newborn child (she also has a one year old) or to stay there with the newborn. Jessop has hired some attorneys and they are considering filing a Federal lawsuit against the state of Texas.

Which leads us to what happened earlier this week. State authorities returned to the compound, claiming that they believed there were more children inside. They were denied admittance despite having a search warrant.

Understandably after what happened last month, the FLDS at the ranch are not very welcoming of another search warrant. More to the point though this feels a lot like a 'CYA' situation. When a case starts to fall apart, and especially if it is a case that could result in expensive lawsuits, sometimes authorities will dig in and desperately start trying to find any evidence they can, no matter how flimsy, in order to manufacture a case when the original charges don't pan out.

So then today the Texas Court of Appeals ruled that the mass removal of the children of 38 mothers was wrong because the state failed to prove that the children were in 'imminent danger.' Though the court stopped short of ordering all of the children returned immediately (allowing Texas to maintain them in foster care until they decide whether to appeal to the Texas Supreme Court,) the Court of Appeals made it very clear that the raid and continuing detention of the children is, in the opinion of the court, not justified by facts or evidence and may be a gross violation of civil rights occurring on a massive scale.

What Texas did earlier this week, apparently realizing that the Appeals Court cas was likely to go against them in trying to launch a second raid was an act of desperation. They realize now that they overreached in seizing hundreds of children with no specific evidence that any one of them is in danger, and now they are starting to realize that Pamela Jessop's likely lawsuit is only the first of hundreds that could be filed-- likely costing the state of Texas hundreds of millions, or even billions of dollars. So this is likely to be a very expensive and painful lesson for Texas to learn about respecting civil rights.

I'd also like to point out how the 'hang 'em high, cowboy' attitude of Texas contrasts to the strategy that is being employed cooperatively by Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard (a Democrat) and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff (a Republican.) Goddard and Shurtleff have cooperated to seize and place the assets of the FLDS Church under the direction of an outside board of directors where they will be used for the benefit of the community and all its members, have put FLDS leader Warren Jeffs behind bars and recently held a joint meeting in St. George in which polygamists from Colorado City and Hildale were able to openly discuss their concerns and the concerns in their community. By focusing on enforcing the law against the leaders who pushed their flock into violating it but not punishing the members of the church, Goddard and Shurtleff have created an atmosphere of at least limited communication and understanding that it is safe to say after this episode law enforcement officials in Texas will never have. And with today's court decision, it doesn't look like they will have anything else to work with either.


shrimplate said...

At least the women and children removed from the compound weren't sent off in boxcars.

The whole thing is disturbing. I hope some good eventually comes from it.

Zach said...

I agree that the issue of the children being removed is troubling.

I also believe that how many people consenting adults choose to commit their lives to is as litte of the State's business as what gender those people are.

BUT, I also think we need to consider that, religiously based or not, the members of this sect knew that their lifestyle was illegal. If you know something is illegal, you shouldn't complain about the consequences.

Of course, I do think it is wrong to punish the childrenfor the actions of their parents.

Eli Blake said...


The Texas Supreme Court has upheld the Appeals Court. The original trial judge however is refusing to send the kids back until their parents sign agreements to, among other things, take parenting classes. We will see how this plays out.