Monday, April 21, 2008

FLDS moms ask court to let them stay with nursing children

FLDS moms ask court to let them stay with nursing children
By Ben Winslow
Deseret News
Published: Monday, April 21, 2008 1:49 p.m. MDT

SAN ANGELO, Texas — A group of mothers from the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch have filed court papers, demanding their rights to pray in private and stay with their nursing children.

The motion for a temporary restraining order was filed in 51st District Court today by attorneys for Charlotte Johnson, Suzanne Johnson, Sarah Johnson, Angela Harker and other mothers of children taken from the YFZ Ranch near Eldorado.

"Some of respondent mothers are currently parenting children under the age of 2 years of age and are still breastfeeding," the motion said.

The motion demands that the women and children be allowed to pray in private without having a Texas Department of Family and Protective Services worker overseeing them.

"Without exception, respondent mothers have reported that the department will not let them pray without being monitored by the department," attorney Andrea Sloan wrote, asking the judge to allow the women and children 30 minutes in the morning and again at night to pray in private.

Attorneys are also pushing to keep a group of nursing mothers from being separated from their children, pending the results of DNA testing under way in San Angelo.

The women's attorneys said that when cell phones were taken from the women, they lost the ability to communicate effectively with their clients. The cell phones were taken the day after members of the FLDS Church inside the Fort Concho shelter spoke out to the Deseret News, complaining of cramped conditions.

The women provided the Deseret News with photographs taken by a cell phone to show the conditions. Shortly afterward, they were all moved to the San Angelo Coliseum, where some of the children have remained. Many of the women have been sent back to the YFZ Ranch.

A hearing on the motion is scheduled to be heard this afternoon.

Authorities began collecting DNA samples Monday morning from children taken from the ranch, the Texas Attorney General's Office said.

The children were to be given a cheek swab, then photographed and fingerprinted. They have each been assigned a number to identify them and the sample they gave.

"We began the process this morning and anticipate working on this throughout the week," said Janece Rolfe, a spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general. "It will be about 30 days to receive results, maybe a little longer."

Judge Barbara Walther signed court papers this morning ordering the DNA samples.

"The Court finds that an unknown number of males of reproductive age reside, or have resided, at the ranch during the probable time of conception of one or more of the children the subject of this suit," her order says. "The court further finds that an unknown number of females of child bearing age reside, or have resided at the ranch and could be the mother of one or more children the subject of this suit."

The order lists the hundreds of names of parents and children that are known at the YFZ Ranch, including FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, who it lists as being in "prison."

The parents on the YFZ Ranch are expected to show up at the Schleicher County Memorial Building in Eldorado on Tuesday to give a DNA sample. At the makeshift shelter at the San Angelo Coliseum and the Cal Farley Boy's Ranch, where the FLDS children have been staying since they were taken into state custody, children were giving samples.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said it is still having trouble identifying individual children and who their parents are.

"We're still not getting names," said child protective services spokesman Greg Cunningham. "We don't know who are siblings, mothers, fathers."

The raid on the YFZ Ranch was prompted by a phone call to a San Angelo family crisis center from a 16-year-old girl who claimed she was abused, pregnant and married to a 50-year-old man. Authorities have not been able to identify her, but said that when they went onto the ranch to investigate the complaint they found signs of other children being abused.

That led to the judge's order removing all 416 children from the ranch. Last week, Walther ordered that all children will remain in state custody.

Once the DNA samples are gathered, Cunningham said they will move forward with placing the children in foster care.

"We've got some of the placements lined up, but we're still waiting for some guidance from the court," he said.

Child protective services said the children will be kept in groups, including teenage mothers with their children and siblings grouped together. The children would likely not be going to a typical foster home, Cunningham said.

"It's a home-type setting. A majority of them would go to a residential facility," he said. "There are several different options out there."

Authorities refused to discuss how the children would be transitioned from the San Angelo Coliseum to foster care because of security reasons.

Outside the coliseum today, the police presence has been heavy. Texas state troopers, Tom Green County sheriff's deputies, San Angelo police and unmarked patrol cars have all been seen circling the large parking lot surrounding the building.

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