18 Sep 2008

State asked to keep FLDS girl in custody

Salt Lake Tribune - September 18, 2008

by Brooke Adams

Child welfare officials plan to ask a Texas judge to keep a 14-year-old FLDS girl in custody because her parents continue to be uncooperative.
Merril Jessop, the girl's father and bishop of the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado, remains in hiding, and Barbara Jessop, her mother, has circumvented visitation rules on several occasions, a newly filed court document says.
It says that Barbara Jessop asked the state to let the girl's younger brother or friends be allowed to join her in custody. She also asked that another daughter be allowed to trade places with the 14-year-old.
The Texas Department of Family and Protective services filed the report for a Sept. 25 status hearing before 51st District Judge Barbara Walther.
Walther ordered the state to take the girl, allegedly married at age 12 to sect leader Warren S. Jeffs, on Aug. 19. She is the only FLDS child in state custody and is in a foster home.
Jeffs was convicted last year in Utah of facilitating rape and is awaiting trial in Arizona on similar charges. He has been indicted on a first-degree felony in Texas for his 2006 marriage to the girl.
Walther's ruling came at the end of a two-day hearing in which Barbara Jessop refused to answer numerous questions about her family or give assurances she would keep her daughter safe. Barbara Jessop later said she
stood by her decision to invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, but said the ruling was a shock.
Asked Wednesday how her daughter is doing, Barbara Jessop called her a "real trouper" but declined to comment further.
Merril Jessop's family is at the center of ongoing child welfare and criminal investigations stemming from the April raid on the Yearning For Zion Ranch, home to members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The state took 439 children into custody but returned them to their parents in June after the Texas Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that Walther had insufficient evidence of abuse to justify removal of every child.
The count of children does not include 26 women the state initially believed were minors but later agreed are adults. Since June, the court has dismissed cases involving 269 children, leaving 170 children still under state oversight.
The state has provided marriage records, Jeffs' journals and photographs seized from the ranch that document 10 alleged underage marriages involving Merril Jessop's children, stepchildren or grandchildren.
Two sons - Raymond Jessop and M. Leroy Jessop - are among the six men indicted this summer on sexual assault and bigamy charges.
The progress report says Barbara Jessop has declined to provide any information about her husband. As part of her daughter's service plan, the state wants her to complete a psychological evaluation, parenting classes, a social study and individual counseling.
The department set up weekly supervised telephone and in-person visits between Barbara Jessop and her daughter. It discovered, however, that in a single week shortly after the girl was taken into custody, the two had engaged in 21 unsupervised phone calls.
"Many of the phone calls occurred in the middle of the night and some lasted in duration for longer than thirty minutes," the report states.
A videotape made by family members as the girl was returned to custody shows she was extremely distraught at being separated from her mother.
The state also says that it approved a request that two siblings be allowed to accompany Barbara Jessop to a visit with her daughter. But three other siblings showed up instead. Such problems contribute to the girl's "frustration around being in foster care and could have been avoided had Ms. Jessop complied with the original directive," the report states. Still, the state says its goal is to reunify the girl and her family by April.
According to her caseworker, the girl is doing well in her foster home and fills her time with studies, counseling and cooking.

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