Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ham-handed justice is not justice

Just more embarrassment for the State in this matter.

I do agree if there were any instances of child abuse they should be examined and prosecuted but it seems the State got a little over zealous and indiscriminate in this matter.

10 FLDS 'girls' in custody now deemed to be adults
By Lisa Sandberg and Terri Langford: Express-News

SAN ANGELO — Ten “girls” taken into custody by Texas Child Protective Services have convinced the agency they are really adults and more are expected to be similarly reclassified this week, weakening the agency's claim that dozens of underage girls were forced by a polygamist sect to have sex with older men.

On Tuesday, six more “girls” were deemed adults, including 27-year-old Leona Allred, whose lawyer insisted CPS knew from the beginning that her client was an adult.
“My client showed them the same documents they showed them from the beginning: a valid Arizona driver's license and a birth certificate,” Andrea Sloan said.

Two others, Merilyn Jeffs Keate and Sarah Cathleen Jessop Nielsen, were reclassified as adults Monday as five judges began sifting through the cases of all the children taken from the Yearning for Zion Ranch in West Texas.

Last week, the agency acknowledged that two “girls” who were among the more than 460 children they removed from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' ranch were really 18 and 22.

The revelations about the true ages of some sect members are coming to light during custody status hearings being held at the Tom Green County courthouse over the next three weeks.

But also Tuesday, two cases came up that revealed girls as young as 15 and 16 had been unified in spiritual marriages with older men.

One of those girls, now 19, was ruled an adult by the courts but not before she said in a conference call to the court that she could have been no older than 16 when her daughter was born on Aug. 19, 2005.

And in another courtroom, information gleaned from the records of a 17-year-old indicated she had to have been 15 when her first child was born.

CPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins denied any suggestion that the agency's massive case may be

on the verge of collapse, adding: “The numbers aren't important to us.”

What is important, he said, is that the children that were purportedly abused are now safe and protected. He said CPS was stymied by the conflicting and false information given by families, which made establishing ages nearly impossible.

He added that his agency never intentionally misled anyone when it said it believed it had more than two dozen females who were being sexually abused as minors.

Sloan and other lawyers for these disputed girls said Tuesday they believe CPS deliberately classified them as children so that their own investigators, together with Texas Department of Public Safety officers, could interview them without their attorney present.

Attorney Laura Shockley, who also represents disputed minors, said authorization for the interviews came from Tom Green County Assistant District Attorney Allison Palmer, the lead prosecutor.

A call to Palmer's office was not immediately returned on Tuesday. DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange said Tuesday she had no comment about the lawyers' allegations.
“CPS did not classify women as minors so that criminal investigators could interview them,” CPS' Crimmins said.

In other developments Tuesday, a former FLDS member who said he had been “excommunicated” by the group traveled more than 1,000 miles to Texas so he could support Esther Barlow, his former “spiritual wife,” in her legal quest to get the couple's five children returned to her.

“I can honestly say there's not a better mother than Esther,” said Barlow, who split from her four years ago and now lives with another wife and their 12 children in Utah.
Barlow also told the judge that if the state doesn't return the children to his ex-wife, he was willing to move his current family to Texas to take care of them.

Throughout the hearings, complaints were again heard about the broad requirements CPS has put to all the parents in the state's “family service plans,” a document that lists items to be completed before children in state custody can be returned to families.

CPS officials also acknowledged Tuesday that it's placed a blackout on Warren Jeffs, the polygamist sect's spiritual leader who was convicted as an accomplice to rape last year in Utah for arranging the marriage of a 14-year-old girl. His name cannot be uttered, a CPS attorney confirmed, nor can the leader's picture be circulated, not even in religious literature, added a CPS caseworker in another case.

At a custody case involving a younger brother of Jeffs, Seth Jeffs, a CPS attorney confirmed that family members were barred from mentioning the religious leader in visits with their children.
Leaving the courtroom, Seth Jeffs, who has 18 children, called the restrictions “not very pleasing,” but he said, “We'll do whatever it takes to get the children back.”

Marleigh Meisner, a CPS spokeswoman, clarified later that members of the Jeffs family can discuss the FLDS leader with their own children. But the agency will not allow Jeffs to be discussed with any of the other children.

“He is a convicted sex offender and we have an issue with Mr. Jeffs,” Meisner said.