TX Appeals Court Invalidates Seizure of Children at Polygamist Compound

There are 48 happy mothers in Texas today:

A Texas appeals court ruled today that state child welfare authorities had no right to seize dozens of children living at the ranch of a polygamist religious sect, saying they were in no immediate danger of abuse.

The 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin ruled in favor of 48 mothers seeking the return of more than 130 children who had been living at a ranch near Eldorado, Tex., associated with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

The ruling is here. It directs the trial court to vacate the orders granting custody of the children to Protective Services. The court should act within 10 days. If the Department of Child and Protective Services appeals, it's not clear whether the children will be returned to their parents before the appeal is decided. [More...]

In its nine-page ruling, the 3rd Court of Appeals said the Department of Family and Protective Services had failed to prove that there was any danger to the physical health and safety of the children of 38 mothers, that there was any urgent or immediate need to take custody of the children or that it made any reasonable efforts to avoid the removal. Ten other mothers and their children were covered by a second opinion from the court today, Martinez said.

The ruling harshly criticized the department's rationale for acting in the case and refuted the evidence it presented. It said the only danger identified by the department to the prepubescent children was a "pervasive belief system" at the ranch that the department said groomed boys to be perpetrators of sexual abuse later in life and taught the girls to submit to sexual abuse after reaching puberty.

"There was no evidence that the male children, or the female children who had not reached puberty, were victims of sexual or other physical abuse or in danger of being victims of sexual or other physical abuse," the court said in its opinion.

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    so, the ones who are close to puberty (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Kathy on Thu May 22, 2008 at 07:06:42 PM EST
    are protected now, but what happens when they reach puberty, which this sect considers means they are of marriageable age?

    I'm just posing a question here--not really taking sides one way or another.  I just don't understand the puberty cut-off.  Either they are in jeopardy or they are not.  Is the ruling saying that until a girl has her first period, she's fine?  If that is the case, I think they need to more clearly define what happens after she reaches that stage.

    This is a real moral dilemma... (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by kdog on Thu May 22, 2008 at 07:21:04 PM EST
    even for a freedom loving anti-state whackjob like me.

    I think the best we can do is prosecute any creepy old f*ckers for statuatory rape, child abuse, etc.  Help people who wanna get the hell outta there get the hell outta there.  

    It's hard, but I know you just can't rip kids who haven't been harmed away from their parents.  If their parent or parents committed crimes, prove it and lock 'em up.


    You couldn't pay me enough to (5.00 / 3) (#13)
    by Valhalla on Thu May 22, 2008 at 07:55:29 PM EST
    walk a mile in any state social services' shoes.

    They walk a pretty fine and often-shifting line.  If they don't pull kids from potentially dangerous situations and something happens later, they catch hell.  There's often not sufficient time to do really thorough investigations when they must make that decision.  But if they err too far on the caution side, they catch hell anyway.

    I'm not saying this particular group wasn't a bunch of idiots, I'm saying... well I guess I'm just sayin'.


    Point taken... (none / 0) (#14)
    by kdog on Thu May 22, 2008 at 07:58:50 PM EST
    I'm an err on the side of freedom guy...but you can't argue it's not a damned if you do, damned if you don't job.

    But what is the definition of harmed? (5.00 / 2) (#16)
    by nycstray on Thu May 22, 2008 at 08:28:42 PM EST
    It said the only danger identified by the department to the prepubescent children was a "pervasive belief system" at the ranch that the department said groomed boys to be perpetrators of sexual abuse later in life and taught the girls to submit to sexual abuse after reaching puberty.

    That sounds like harm to me.


    Yes (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by Foxx on Thu May 22, 2008 at 09:01:41 PM EST
    The girls are captives. They are forced into sex and pregnancy. What choice do any of them have? It is unbelievable to me that there is no legal recourse to free them.

    I agree, I'm sorry to see them go back (none / 0) (#23)
    by Lisa on Thu May 22, 2008 at 09:20:33 PM EST
    I think the girls should not go back.  If the mothers want to join them in a safe place, fine.  But being a mother means protecting your daughter from harm.  The child's rights should trump the parent's.

    So you support fraud by the State? (none / 0) (#31)
    by NMvoiceofreason on Fri May 23, 2008 at 11:18:23 PM EST
    This was knowing, intentional fraud by the Texas DPS and the prosecutors.
    Per Rocky Mountain News: "Phone number in polygamist case linked to Colo. woman
    Rozita Swinton
    The document released today shows Swinton had an extensive record in Colorado Springs of posing as a troubled teen and making false claims. The affidavit connects Swinton to several reports that alerted Colorado Springs officials.

    The document links Swinton to calls made throughout October from a "Dana Anderson." The caller claimed to be a young woman being abused by her pastor at Colorado Springs' New Life Church, and later as a 13-year-old student at Liberty High School who said she was being drugged and sexually abused by her father.

    In February, a woman calling herself "Jennifer" called 911 from a prepaid Tacphone, claiming that her father had locked her in her basement for days, the document said.

    Officers linked the calls to Swinton in March.

    While Colorado Springs Police did not file for an arrest warrant until three days after hearing from Texas, Swinton was arrested April 16 in connection with the February call."

    I dont care what they are charged with, or who did what to whom in somebodies mind or fevered imagination. But when you start making stuff up, you should be disbarred and prosecuted.


    The discussion on Talk of the Nation... (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by jerry on Thu May 22, 2008 at 07:27:15 PM EST
    The CPS investigation has to be complete within 180 days.  So basically, there really is not a whole lot of danger for the girls nearing puberty at the moment, especially when they are under such scrutiny.  And for all it's other faults, there apparently is clearly no danger from the FLDS to the kids say, 5 and younger.

    Depending on the investigation, the kids at that time with a court ruling could be moved/taken into a foster parent situation, or presumably anything could occur.

    One interesting point made by the CPS representative to callers is the claim this has nothing to do with polygamy.  If this was a group of adult polygamists no one in the state would care.  This was about child abuse.


    Of all places, on Coast to Coast AM was a terrific (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by jerry on Thu May 22, 2008 at 07:36:24 PM EST
    interview with a former polygamist, Irene Spencer now in her seventies I think.

    Really interesting as she talked how and why she got out of the lifestyle, why she thinks its a terrible lifestyle, but also some of the good things she thought came from it, even now 20 years later.  For instance, she still does think of her former co-wives (?) as family and has fond feelings for most of them.

    But she says it's also not at all about sexual pleasure.  The only time the religion permits them to have sex is for the purpose of having children, and then they are also told they need to "aim" for having one child every year.

    She also claimed that in Utah and other places there are still many "hidden" polygamists.



    From the stories I've heard (none / 0) (#15)
    by gyrfalcon on Thu May 22, 2008 at 08:14:35 PM EST
    from former members of this particular group, they go way beyond "ordinary" polygamist groups.  They claim, for example, that infants are essentially waterboarded (by holding them with their heads under a faucet and then turning it on full force) to teach them fear from an early age and to teach the mothers to obey their husbands over their children.

    Don't know if that's true, but that's what they say.

    There are also plenty of former polygamist women who say there's more infighting and competition for the husband's favor than there is sisterhood in most families.


    What I know (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by Kathy on Thu May 22, 2008 at 08:35:31 PM EST
    is that based on past practices of this cult, they think that a girl who enters puberty is of marrying age, as in some nasty 60 year old can have sex with her.  Puberty could mean anywhere from 10-13.  The girls and boys are raised to think that this is the natural order of things.  So, based on this ruling, does that mean that the state can go in and take these girls when they reach puberty?

    This is Warren Jeff's cult.  During his court case, it was openly discussed and accepted by members of his cult that puberty meant a girl was mature enough for marriage.

    Is that imminent danger?  I just don't know.  It's very tricky, and difficult to look at it based on the cold, hard facts because children are involved and polygamy of this type is a practice that most of us find repugnant.


    This isn't over (none / 0) (#29)
    by gyrfalcon on Thu May 22, 2008 at 11:28:32 PM EST
    it's just a setback.  The court simply said, as I understand it, that the state couldn't just sweep up every child in the place of whatever age, but had to (cough) follow the rules and deal with the situation on a case-by-case basis.  Apparently, the situation with underage marriage is clear enough that the state can keep custody of the older children for a while yet under the "imminent danger" rule.

    Normally, the state can remove children preemptively when it thinks there's imminent danger to them, but then has I think 14 days to convince a court that the danger exists or the child goes back to the home.

    So yes, I believe the state could, theoretically, keep this as an open file and go get the children again unilaterally when they reach puberty.  BUT with most of these kids, they don't know for sure how old they are because the sect deliberately doesn't keep accurate birth records, and the kids themselves apparently don't know.

    I think what's likely to happen is that the state will try to bust up this whole organization with charges of polygamy and promoting polygamy and anything at all they can get evidence of.  Dunno how well they'll succeed, but since they're apparently allowed to keep custody of the older children at least for a while, they may be able to make progress in deprogramming them and find out from their perspective whether they're actually being abused or not.

    No matter what, it'll be long and drawn-out and controversial.

    This does seem to be a group with repugnant practices, but I'm also leery of the state alone being able to decide what's repugnant and what's not without evidence for actual law-breaking.  It's a dicey situation all the way around.


    48 happy mothers? (5.00 / 1) (#22)
    by Foxx on Thu May 22, 2008 at 09:05:28 PM EST
    Is it being a "mother" to raise your children in such an abusive situation? The "mothers" are themselves of course abused girls who were forced into "marriage," sex and pregnancy. And they are passing it on to their daughters.

    Do any of us really think this is ok? That nothing should be done about it?

    Isn't polygamy illegal?

    I am very upset about it as well (none / 0) (#25)
    by Lisa on Thu May 22, 2008 at 09:24:52 PM EST
    I do not want to see those girls go back there.

    It doesnt matter (none / 0) (#32)
    by NMvoiceofreason on Fri May 23, 2008 at 11:23:31 PM EST
    Who thinks people should live their lives one way or the other (I do believe you have the right to your opinion, however wrong it may be). What matter is that the powers of the State should not be invoked to fulfill the lies and fevered imaginings of the Vice President any more than they should for some over zealous Texas DPS trooper. Courts must deal with the evuidence, not the emotion, and the evidence here is all fraudulent. Nobody did anything. Nobody can prove anything. And if they can take their kids on imaginary evidence, someday real soon they will take whats left of your parental rights over your own kids. Be afraid of the State. Be VERY afraid.

    I don't understand the court's ruling. (5.00 / 1) (#27)
    by wurman on Thu May 22, 2008 at 10:29:26 PM EST
    Texas law is clear on situations of this type.  It is similar to many other states.

    If an adult in a household is doing "stuff" that may be abusive, illegal by statute, harmful by defined standards, or dangerous to the welfare of any minor, then Child Protective Services is required to remove all the minors from that environment.  All!  From nursing infant to 17.9 year old (age of majority varies among states), whether male or female, etc.

    It's really very simple, but many by-standers don't like it.  If questionable krapola is taking place, the only safe response by the social services agency is to get all of the potential victims out, instantly.  And this is embodied in Texas law.

    It is incomprensible to me that this court could arrive at such a ruling without specific hearings & investigations to determine that each of the households exempted by the court from the CPS interventions is, in fact & clearly, not involved in the generic descriptions of illegal sex with minors, physical child abuse, multiple non-marital sex partners in the presence of minors, etc., etc. It would have taken days of hearings to determine these things--just as the lower court systems are attempting to do, right now.

    If the youngsters being "sprung" from protective services & sent back into that environment are over 18 years of age, then it partially makes a very small degree of sense--but not much.  If the youngsters being sent back are minors, this is just plainly nutz.

    I tend to agree about the young kids.... (none / 0) (#1)
    by jerry on Thu May 22, 2008 at 06:25:42 PM EST
    A month or so ago, there was a discussion along this line on Talk of the Nation.  While I do think there should be investigations of child abuse of both underaged girls and "the lost boys" who are often kicked out to fend for themselves, I don't think there was any evidence that the young and prepubescent were in any danger.

    Reading in Salon about the Lost Boys, hearing from an MD that he thinks statistically there are 38 boys missing from the compound during the last seizure and hearing stories that there are hidden and unmarked graves and that many of the kids have no birth certificates, I support the investigation into the FLDS.

    But the young kids should have been left with their parent.

    I'm not a lawyer but (none / 0) (#2)
    by felizarte on Thu May 22, 2008 at 06:30:22 PM EST
    I think the Appeals Court is right.  The parents were not at all given any due process before they were deprived of their children.

    Parents are often not given due process (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by jerry on Thu May 22, 2008 at 06:50:43 PM EST
    Parents (or at least one parent) are often not given due process or not given equal protection by courts.  There is tons of abuse of family court procedures and rulings.  Don't get me started on that!  

    CPS is allowed to seize the kids without due process if they are in danger.  CPS has to note the reasons why and there does have to be a trial within some short period of time (I seem to recall it was 14 days in the Texas case.)  That's generally considered to be okay and a good thing.  But in this case, the young kids don't seem to be in any danger.


    Too true, and it can happen to any of you (none / 0) (#8)
    by Cream City on Thu May 22, 2008 at 07:13:23 PM EST
    as I found out.  A lawyer friend then explained to me that family court commissioners in my area are known as coming from the bottom 10 percent of the law school classes, the ones who can't get a job at a law firm.

    Ours spent more time deciding who would get the cat.


    From what was shown on TV News (none / 0) (#12)
    by felizarte on Thu May 22, 2008 at 07:45:02 PM EST
    It looked like a really traumatic experience for the mothers and the children.  I think that in this particular instance, 'Protective Services' did more harm than good:  Would those children have understood that they were not criminals?  Such an experience would certainly leave a scar. Ah, what cruelties are committed in the name of protection!.

    Excellent (none / 0) (#3)
    by digdugboy on Thu May 22, 2008 at 06:50:11 PM EST
    It's hard to imagine sometimes how frightening it must be to young children to be deprived of their sole source of emotional and physical security. That damage gets ignored in the calculus.

    There's a fair (though smaller) number (none / 0) (#5)
    by tokin librul on Thu May 22, 2008 at 06:53:18 PM EST
    of happy poppas, too, ya reckon?

    It certainly was a frightening... (none / 0) (#6)
    by kdog on Thu May 22, 2008 at 06:59:29 PM EST
    show of force on the part of the state, which by the way is too often negligent to the children in its care.

    This group certainly is creepy as hell and should be investigated, but taking peoples children away is not something to take lightly or hysterically.

    It seems to me (none / 0) (#17)
    by Steve M on Thu May 22, 2008 at 08:33:55 PM EST
    that collective punishment was the real problem here.

    If there's a proper finding that a specific child is being endangered by his or her parents, that's one thing.  But making judgments en masse about how a community does things doesn't seem like an appropriate standard of proof.

    This is a no win situation (none / 0) (#19)
    by txpolitico67 on Thu May 22, 2008 at 08:55:14 PM EST
    If the state did nothing about those kids it would have looked bad.  The state went in and it still looks bad.

    If that one teen-aged girl had not come forward the abuse would still be going on.  Being a non-believer, anyone can dress it up anyway they like it, but having sex with someone as young as 12 or 13 to procreate, and the male is 40 on up, IS abusive.  There's a power structure that these people are afraid to move away from.

    My mother lives right across the street from one of the Catholic Charities homes for orphans on Burchill Road in Fort Worth (in case anyone is interested in googling).  The media coverage when they arrived was blistering.  However, my Mom told me that the kids seemed happy and that they play and run around all over the playground there.  One of them got out because her ball went into her yard.  My mother gave the child back her ball and she said that the little girl looked SO care-free.  My mom had 8 kids and was a teacher for 12 years, so I think she knows when a kid is in a better situation.

    The state's actions may be questionable, but being safe is better than being sorry.  Sadly here in TX, CPS has been EXTREMELY lackluster and a lot of little ones have died because of extremely poor follow up.  For those not in TX, I feel that the reaction by the state was more of a PR situation than anything else.

    Somewhat o/t but I never saw any of the pro-lifers that i see boycotting Planned Parenthood on Henderson St showing up to offer help to these kids.

    CPS in CA is required to act in the (5.00 / 1) (#20)
    by oculus on Thu May 22, 2008 at 08:58:32 PM EST
    best interests of the child.  Sometimes that agency is the only protection the child has.

    As you said being safe is better than being sorry (none / 0) (#24)
    by Lisa on Thu May 22, 2008 at 09:24:20 PM EST
    when it comes to a defenseless child.

    I suppose since it is a child (none / 0) (#26)
    by Kathy on Thu May 22, 2008 at 10:19:28 PM EST
    (or children) then you could argue about taking pre-emptive measures to protect them.  I mean, the cult has publicly stated that a girl is marriageable by puberty.  You could argue that means that any girl is in danger.

    Unfortunately, it's not illegal to raise your child believing crazy crap.  Yet again, with any cult, it's always about the men having as much sex as possible and the women taking it.

    I know a lot about cults, but I am hard pressed to think of one that doesn't have women subjugated as part of their "religion."  Heaven's Gate is the only one that didn't advocate the men getting laid all the time.


    I don't (none / 0) (#28)
    by txpolitico67 on Thu May 22, 2008 at 10:38:37 PM EST
    care if they indoctrinate them to worship a loaf of bread.  The problem to me is the abuse...whatever the abuse was/is.  Kids can be told to do or believe whatever and if it makes them batsh1t crazy oh well.

    But no one in their right mind can say that sex with post-pubescent girls is right...cult/religion/organization be damned.


    I've had sex (none / 0) (#33)
    by NMvoiceofreason on Fri May 23, 2008 at 11:30:44 PM EST
    with post pubescent girls all my life (You dont provide any range regarding how far post).

    Jeralyn is one, and very cute too.

    Pre-pubescent girls are another matter entirely.

    But there IS NO EVIDENCE anything happened here. Any obtained after the raid is fruit of the poisonous tree and inadmissable.

    That doesnt mean it isnt morally reprehensible or disgusting. But thanks to the over zealous DPS, and prosecutors who will proceed with fraudulent evidence, nothing but a waste of taxpayer dollars will occur here.

    Move along now. Nothing to see here.


    This Sect Commits Abuses (none / 0) (#30)
    by Niffari on Fri May 23, 2008 at 05:07:40 AM EST
    That's the underlying fact of Yearning for Zion FLDS. It is common pactice to "marry" children to older men which is violation of state law. Unfortunately, the state doesn't have the weapons it really needs which are complaining witnesses and documentation proving age of children and their mothers. We all know that the abuses are and will continue to occur. Proving it is another thing entirely.