2 Oct 2008

FLDS mom seeks sanctions against agency in Texas

Deseret News - October 2, 2008

by Ben Winslow

SAN ANGELO, Texas — The mother of a 2-year-old girl taken in the raid on the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch is seeking sanctions against the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services for what she calls the agency's "wrongful misconduct" in the nation's largest child custody case.

"At all relevant times prior to the filing of this lawsuit, DFPS was not aware of any facts and did not have any facts within its knowledge which indicated, in the slightest degree, that (Naomi Johnson) had perpetrated or had allowed anyone else to perpetrate any physical or emotional abuse towards the child," Johnson's attorney, Robert Gibson Jr., wrote in court papers filed here.

Johnson seeks to have the case against her and her daughter dismissed, as well as have attorneys fees paid and money for damages. A hearing has been scheduled here for Nov. 19.

Attacking Child Protective Services' case that the children were removed en masse from the polygamous sect's Eldorado property because they were in immediate danger of abuse, Gibson said the agency still hasn't made its case for his client's 2-year-old.

"DFPS and its attorneys knew or should have known that at the time they filed this suit that such an allegation was frivolous, unreasonable and without foundation and that it continues to this date to be frivolous, unreasonable and without foundation," he wrote.

Gibson claims the sole purpose of CPS' action was to destroy "disfavored religious beliefs, to turn a profit and to disseminate false allegations of abuse to other agencies."

"DFPS' continued maintenance of this suit is simply an effort to save face and to attempt to mitigate its tremendous liability exposure," he wrote.

CPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins declined to comment on the motion, but the agency is expected to respond in a court filing of its own. Gibson did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Approximately 439 children were taken into state protective custody when Texas child welfare workers and law enforcement responded to the Yearning For Zion Ranch on a report of abuse. Once there, authorities said they saw other signs of abuse, prompting a judge to order the removal of all the children.

Two months later, they were returned to their families after an appeals court in Austin and the Texas Supreme Court ruled the state acted improperly and that the children were not in immediate danger for abuse.

As the massive child custody case drags on, CPS has dropped hundreds of children from court oversight. Boxes have begun piling up at the Tom Green County courthouse, filled with files of children from the Utah-based polygamous church being "nonsuited."

To date, 304 people have been dropped. One girl, a 14-year-old believed to have been married at age 12 to FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, has been returned to foster care. A grand jury probing crimes within the polygamous sect has indicted nine people on charges ranging from sexual assault to bigamy to failure to report child abuse.

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