SAN ANTONIO – Texas child welfare authorities asked a judge on Tuesday to place eight children from a Texas polygamist sect's ranch back into foster care, saying their mothers refuse to limit their contact with men accused of being involved in underage marriages.
Child Protective Services filed petitions asking Texas District Judge Barbara Walther to place the six girls and two boys belonging to four different mothers back in foster care.
The children, ranging in age from 5 to 17, will be allowed to remain with their mothers until a hearing scheduled for Sept. 25, said CPS spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner. None currently lives at the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado.
CPS filed petitions detailing alleged involvement in underage marriages by the children's fathers or stepfathers, submitting sect marriage documents, notes from suspected underage brides, photos and journal entries from Warren Jeffs, the jailed leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Two of the girls are daughters of Lloyd Hammon Barlow, a doctor indicted last month on three misdemeanor counts of failing to report child abuse, according to court filings.
Five other sect members, including Jeffs, were charged with sexual assault last month, but their children are not among those in the CPS petitions. The other six children are related, by blood or marriage, to men who are not under indictment but are accused by child welfare authorities of participating in or blessing underage marriages.
An FLDS spokesman did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment Tuesday.
CPS has continued its investigation of the 440 children taken from the Eldorado ranch since the Texas Supreme Court ruled in late May that the children should not have been swept into foster care under a blanket petition and hearing. The court said evidence showed no more than a handful of girls were abused or were at risk of abuse.
Walther had initially ordered all the children taken from the FLDS parents placed in foster care after CPS argued the girls were being forced into underage marriages and sex, and the boys were being groomed to be adult perpetrators.
An appeals court and the state Supreme Court rejected the reasoning, but the rulings did not preclude CPS from continuing individual investigations or requiring the parents to undergo parenting classes, which Walther ordered.
CPS asked mothers of girls ages 10-17 to sign safety plans to protect children from sexual abuse. For children who lived in a home with a man who married underage girls or agreed to an arranged marriage of an underage daughter, the plans included a requirement to keep the children away from the man.
Four mothers have refused. CPS said they are:
— A wife of Barlow, who caseworker Paul Dyer said in an affidavit was married four times, including a marriage to a 16-year-old.
Barlow told an investigator he had delivered children to underage girls at the YFZ Ranch and elsewhere "many times" without reporting the deliveries to authorities, the affidavit said.
— A woman who has a 13-year-old daughter at home but allowed an older daughter to marry at 15 and who herself married an FLDS elder who presided over the marriage of a 12-year-old girl.
— A mother of two boys and a 14-year-old girl questioned by investigators about underage marriages.
The girl twisted her face in disgust when asked whether a 13-year-old who married a 40-year-old man and had a baby would be considered sexually abused.
"The marriages are pure," the girl told caseworker Ruby Gutierrez.
The girl, according to Gutierrez's affidavit, went on to say "that this can't be a crime because Heavenly Father is the one that tells (Jeffs) when a girl is ready to get married and that he is only following the word of Heavenly Father."
— A mother who had sent her 9- and 10-year-old daughters to live at the ranch but hadn't seen them in about three years.
The woman, an accountant who moved to San Antonio after the raid, refused to sign the safety plan, telling a caseworker she felt it was "an insult to common sense."
Messages left for the attorneys of the women and for FLDS spokesmen were not immediately returned Tuesday. The Associated Press is not identifying the women to avoid inadvertently identifying the children, who authorities say could be abuse victims.
In addition to filing for custody of the eight children, CPS requested that cases involving 32 other children be dropped after CPS found no evidence of underage marriages or the families agreed to take appropriate actions to protect the children. The remaining 400 cases are still under investigation.
Jeffs, already convicted in Utah as an accomplice to rape, awaits trial in Arizona on charges of being an accomplice to sexual contact with a minor — all stemming from alleged underage marriages within the sect.
Under Texas law, a girl younger than 17 cannot generally consent to sex with an adult.
The state's bigamy statute applies to legal marriages and to couples who purport to marry, a lower standard adopted in part to target unions like the spiritual marriages practiced by FLDS members.
The FLDS, which believes polygamy brings glory in heaven, is a breakaway sect of the mainstream Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which officially renounced polygamy more than a century ago and has sought to distance itself from the FLDS.