May 21, 2008
Not so minor after all

So the main justification for the raid on the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints polygamist compound was allegations of underage girls being married illegally and getting pregnant. Problem is, more and more of these "girls" are actually adults.

Ten "girls" taken into custody by Texas Child Protective Services have convinced the agency they are really adults and more are expected to be similarly reclassified this week, weakening the agency's claim that dozens of underage girls were forced by a polygamist sect to have sex with older men.

On Tuesday, six more "girls" were deemed adults, including 27-year-old Leona Allred, whose lawyer insisted CPS knew from the beginning that her client was an adult.

"My client showed them the same documents they showed them from the beginning: a valid Arizona driver's license and a birth certificate," said Andrea Sloan.

Twenty-seven? Seriously? I don't know how much faith one can have in CPS' efforts here if they can't tell the difference between a 27-year-old and a 17-year-old.

Two others, Merilyn Jeffs Keate and Sarah Cathleen Jessop Nielsen, were reclassified as adults Monday as five judges began sifting through the cases of all the children taken from the Yearning For Zion Ranch in West Texas.

Last week, the agency acknowledged that two "girls" who were among the more than 460 children they removed from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' ranch were really 18 and 22.

The revelations about the true ages of some sect members are coming to light during custody status hearings being held at the Tom County courthouse over the next three weeks.

Grits observes that at the rate things are going, the FLDS compound will have had a lower rate of underage pregnancy than the state of Texas as a whole. Not exactly the image we've been getting from the authorities so far, is it?

My last post on this generated a couple of dissenting comments, so let me clarify a couple of points. The FLDS folks' lifestyle is not of particular interest to me, at least for the purposes of observing and critiquing what is happening to them. I agree that polygamy based on fundamentalist religious beliefs can and does lead to abusive situations for both girls and boys. It's certainly possible that the FLDS folks have these issues, and where they do exist, they should be dealt with. My problems with what has happened to these folks have to do primarily with the way the government has conducted itself. We know the initial call to CPS was a hoax, and we know that CPS should have known this as well. We know that a lot of the initial media reports about the scope of the alleged abuse - including, as we see here, the number of actually underaged girls - were exaggerated or wrong. We know that CPS has acted questionably by both serving as an advocate for children who are being questioned by police while simultaneously being an agent for the police.

All of these things should raise big red flags for anyone who cares about protecting the rights of the accused. One's personal feelings for who the accused are and what they are accused of doing shouldn't come into it. If the government isn't playing by the rules for them, it won't feel the need to play by the rules for anyone else. That's what matters to me, and so I feel it's important to hold them accountable for it. I don't see that as being in conflict with a desire to see justice for any abused children done; indeed, if the authorities may be tainting evidence by not following accepted procedures, it's very much in concert with such a desire. That's not so much to ask, is it?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 21, 2008 to Crime and Punishment
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