The overnight media reports are beginning to bring into focus some very troubling aspects of Texas’ case against the FLDS mothers and fathers.  First, of course have to the be the reports that a 33 year old woman in Colorado Springs has been arrested for making prank telephone calls to police about false abuse claims. The Deseret News reports:

Police in Colorado Springs have arrested a woman for investigation of making a false report to authorities that may be connected to the Fundamentalist LDS Church’s raid on the YFZ Ranch in Texas.

The woman allegedly has a history of making calls while pretending to be a young girl.

Rozita Swinton, 33, was arrested on a warrant charging her with false reporting to authorities, a misdemeanor, the Colorado Springs Police Department confirmed in a brief statement issued late Thursday. Swinton was arrested at her home on Wednesday in connection with an incident that occurred in Colorado Springs in February, police said.

“The Texas Rangers were in Colorado Springs (Wednesday) as part of their investigation involving the compound in Texas. They left and have not filed any charges on Rozita Swinton as of this time,” Colorado Springs police said.

Colorado Springs police refused to release any other details, saying that the affidavit for the arrest warrant is sealed.

The woman, Rozita Swinton is now apparently free on $20,000 bail, while over 400 children are still separated from their mothers and fathers, and remain in Texas state custody.  Of course, authorities have not conclusively tied this woman into the original call that sparked the FLDS raid; however, Texas is interested enough in her arrest to have sent Texas Rangers to Colorado, who apparently participated in her arrest.

The Salt Lake Tribune has a similar report:

A 33-year-old Colorado woman was arrested Wednesday for allegedly making false reports to law enforcement authorities. Texas Rangers, in Colorado as part of their investigation involving the polygamous FLDS compound in Texas, took part in the arrest, according to the news release from the Colorado Springs Police Department.

The woman, Rozita Swinton, was arrested at her Colorado Springs home at 6:45 p.m. and has been transported to the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center, according to the news release. Police say the arrest is related to a February incident in Colorado Springs.

Colorado Springs police offered no other details on the arrest, but ABC News is reporting Swinton was arrested after calling authorities and claiming to be a girl locked in a basement who was being abused.

Texas authorities were alerted to Swinton after Flora Jessop, a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, told them she recently had been receiving calls from a girl claiming to be Sarah, the girl whose calls to authorities sparked the raid on the FLDS’ Texas ranch, according to ABC News.

CNN’s report is here.

The Denver Post reports here.

So, what does this mean?  Too early to tell.  Since Ms. Swinton hasn’t been arrested or even charged in the FLDS case there probably is no immediate impact for the Texas case; however, Texas–or better yet, even the FBI should certainly continue to investigate what involvement if any she has to the original call resulting in the Texas raid.

What about the trial itself?  What facts have we learned thus far?  This, to me, is the most troubling aspect of Texas’ case.

The Salt Lake Tribune’s lead story on Texas’ officials testimony yesterday:

SAN ANGELO, Texas – A child abuse investigator who led the initial foray into a polygamous sect’s west Texas ranch said Thursday that children are not safe there because their parents have a belief system that “turns boys into perpetrators and girls into sexual assault victims.”

Angie Voss, a supervisor with Texas Child Protective Services, spent six hours in an unprecedented custody hearing testifying about why the state took 416 children two weeks ago from the YFZ Ranch, owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Voss said one minor is pregnant and four have children. “There are young girls who feel the pinnacle of their existence is to get married whenever they are told and have as many children as they can have,” she said. Even infants and children in monogamous homes are not safe on the ranch, she said. “It’s not about religion. It’s about child abuse,” Voss said, drawing laughter from many of the 100 or so FLDS members in the audience.

A phalanx of attorneys from across Texas questioned how Voss could justify keeping the kids when she acknowledges they are healthy, loved and likely to be traumatized by the continuing separation.

“I don’t see how . . . on the evidence presented so far she [the judge] can do anything but send these kids back,” Kenneth Fuller, an attorney for six children, said outside the court.

I have to agree with Attorney Kenneth Fuller–and he is representing six children–not the mothers or the fathers.  If the best Texas can do is claim that some future bad acts, or conduct might occur, therefore all 400 plus children must remain in Texas custody and control–I think the Texas case has major substantive problems.  They want to keep these children from their mothers and fathers, and their homes because of a belief system.  Not  because of any physical or sexual abuse or conduct that has actually occurred–but because of a belief system.  This is beyond troubling.

The Deseret News reports similar factual testimony:

SAN ANGELO, Texas — A child protective services supervisor acknowledged Thursday that the majority of children taken during a raid on an FLDS ranch showed no signs of physical or sexual abuse but should still remain in state custody because they are “at risk.”

“They will continue to grow up in an environment where young women have sex with older men, and young boys grow into adult men and have sex with young children,” said Angie Voss, with the Department of Family and Protective Services.

Her testimony was the pivotal highlight during Thursday’s 10-hour custody hearing that will continue today and may spill over into Saturday.

Voss, under cross-examination by attorney Amy Hennington, defended the agency’s contention that the adolescent boys and young babies should not return to the ranch because young boys are groomed to be predators and young girls are destined to be sexual assault victims.

“They are living under this umbrella belief that having a child at a young age is a blessing — any child in that environment would not be safe,” Voss said.

She said women may have had children when they were minors, some as young as age 13. At least five girls who are younger than 18 are now pregnant or have children, Voss said.

So, the vast majority of these children show no signs of abuse–despite the pre hearing media hysteria to the contrary–yet Texas believes they are better off in Texas CPS custody or the Texas foster care system.  Wow!

The cross examination (greatest engine for the discovery of truth) continued:

Hennington, hired to represent some of the fathers, pointed out that babies would not become sexually active for years and that the agency, in essence, is taking action on what could happen 10 to 12 years down the road.

“So based on the supposition that this may happen one day in the future, 400 children should not be with their families?”

Voss replied, “Yes ma’am.”

Another attorney grilled Voss late in the evening on the options that could have been considered short of taking the children from their homes.

“What did you consider other than the death penalty? That is the equivalent of removing them from their homes. Tell me one reasonable thing you did to avoid taking the kids out of their homes,” said Kim Fuller, an attorney representing five children.

He also asked what harm she thought might result if there had been a hearing prior to their removal.

“I think we have just discovered the tip of the iceberg. There is abuse, there is neglect at the ranch. It is too soon to return any children back to parents,” she said.

This testimony is just mind boggling.  Texas should keep the children because what might happen in the future.   I’ve linked to the Texas Family Law statutes, allowing removal of children from their homes and I did not see anything that remotely allowing removal based on the facts we are from this court testimony.  Rather, Texas must show “there is an immediate danger to the physical health or safety of the child or the child has been a victim of neglect or sexual abuse and that continuation in the home would be contrary to the child’s welfare.”

There seems to be a disconnect from this testimony and what the law actually requires.   The other testimony I found intriguing was about the minor children and sexual abuse.  From these reports as well as this one from the Salt Lake Tribune, Texas is focusing on a very small number of children, who may or may not be younger than what Texas law allows for marriage:

Earlier today, initial testimony focused on a sect membership roster and other records taken from a safe in the office of Richard Barlow at the ranch.

One document details the names, ages, and family relationships of sect members representing more than 30 families. Questioning a Texas Department of Public Safety sergeant who participated in a search of the ranch, attorneys representing the state focused in on 10 women between the ages of 16 and 19 listed as married to older men. Five were listed as having children.

On cross-examination, attorneys from legal aid groups representing FLDS women pressed the sergeant to admit many women were not listed as underage wives. The sergeant testified the list is also unclear on mother-child relationships.

So far, none of these women would be under the legal marriage age in Texas.  It is unclear how old they might have been when they were originally married, or how old they were when they had their own children–assuming they have their own.  This is a far cry from the media sensationalism of routine child brides and forced sexual abuse.

If I’m presenting the Texas case to the judge, I want my most persuasive and damaging testimony against the FLDS community presented up front–first thing–hold nothing back.  If Texas has done that–if this is their most damaging, best evidence they have to keep these children from their mothers, fathers, then I think they will fail to meet their burden.  In the United States of America, and even in Texas, you don’t get to punish people for their belief system.  Certainly the relevant Texas statutes do not appear to contemplate such a possiblity.

Other Coverage worthy of note:

Grits For Breakfast (more on the Colorado arrest connection)

Previous FLDS Raid Posts