Timeline: The FLDS Case
Posted Oct 1, 2008 3:55 PM CDT
By Stephanie Francis Ward
A call comes in to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, from someone claiming to be a victim of physical and sexual abuse at the Yearning for Zion Ranch. The caller says her name is Sarah and she is 16 years old, with a 50-year-old husband named Dale Barlow.
Law enforcement officers enter the compound and begin removing children into protective custody. Mothers can go with their children, and the families are taken to Fort Concho, a former Army base in San Angelo.
Barbara Walther, a Tom Green County state district judge, authorizes that the children be placed in temporary custody of the state, after finding that the youths face a significant risk of harm at the ranch.
FLDS women say that say the living conditions at Fort Concho make their children sick, and ask Texas Gov. Rick Perry to investigate.
The state moves the children and their mothers to the San Angelo Coliseum.
The 14-day hearings, which under Texas law must give all parties a chance to present evidence in custody cases, start. The cases are consolidated into one hearing.
Judge Walther orders the children be held in protective custody and, with their parents, undergo DNA tests to establish family relationships.
It’s revealed that the original call from “Sarah” might be a hoax. An arrest warrant for Rozita Swinton, 33, is unsealed, and indicates that at least one of the calls that triggered the investigation was made from a telephone number linked to the Colorado woman.
All of the children have been removed from the coliseum, and placed in state foster care facilities. Children younger than 18 months are allowed to stay with their mothers at a San Antonio battered women’s shelter.
Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, on behalf of FLDS mothers who can’t afford private counsel, files a writ of mandamus petition in the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals.
Texas drops an arrest warrant for Dale Barlow. The state would not say why, and FLDS supporters say it shows weakness in the case.
Hearings to review individual service plans, outlining what FLDS parents need to do to regain custody, start. Five state district judges are assigned to hear cases involving more than 460 children.
The Texas 3rd Court of Appeals overturns Walther’s custody ruling, finding that there was not enough evidence of immediate danger to support removal of the children.
Texas Child Protective Services petitions the state supreme court for emergency relief, on the basis that the intermediary court overstepped its bounds. Also on this Friday, the state introduces as evidence photographs of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs. In one picture he appears to be romantically kissing a young girl, whom CPS claims is 12 years old.
The Texas Supreme Court affirms the appellate court opinion, ordering Walther to vacate her custody ruling. The opinion allows her to bar FLDS parents from removing their children from the state while the investigation continues. http://www.supreme.courts.state.tx.us/historical/2008/may/080391.htm
The state starts returning children to their parents. FLDS spokesperson Willie Jessop announces that the church will not sanction marriages involving females under the age of legal consent.
A grand jury convenes in Schleicher County, which includes the town of El Dorado, and opens its investigation into the FLDS.
The grand jury indicts Warren Jeffs and five others, alleging sexual assault and bigamy.
The state files paperwork to nonsuit 32 children, where there was no evidence of underage marriage and their parents agreed to a parenting plan. The state also seeks foster care placement for eight FLDS children, alleging that at least 11 girls in the sect were married to much older men. In some cases, the children’s relatives are involved in the July 22 grand jury indictments.
Judge Walther places six of the children in state custody, but only one, a 14-year-old alleged to be one of Warren Jeffs’ wives, will remain in foster care. The girl’s 11-year-old brother remains in his parents’ care.
The Schleicher County grand jury hands down three more indictments.
The number of nonsuited cases rises to 253. The number includes 26 disputed minors.