Family Law

State Takes Custody of 416 Children in Raid on Polygamist Ranch


Updated: In what is apparently the largest child abuse case in state history, officials in Texas have taken custody of 416 children from a Texas ranch run by followers of Warren Jeffs, the imprisoned leader of a fringe Mormon group that advocates polygamy.

“Officials have completed removing all 416 children from the ranch and have won custody of all of them,” the Associated Press reports.

As discussed in an earlier ABAJournal.com post, their investigation was sparked by a complaint from a 16-year-old who apparently, like other children living at the compound, may have been a victim of a sex crime due to an underage marriage with an older man.

She had a child by her 50-year-old husband last year, when she was 15, according to AP. At last report, however, the 16-year-old had not yet been found by authorities. A more recent Associated Press article says she complained to a local family violence shelter in western Texas that her husband beat and raped her, according to court filings.

“Investigators determined that there is a widespread pattern and practice of the [Yearn for Zion] Ranch in which young, minor female residents are conditioned to expect and accept sexual activity with adult men at the ranch upon being spiritually married to them,” states an affidavit by Lynn McFadden of the Department of Family and Protective Services. A number of teens at the ranch appeared to be pregnant, AP reports.

Extensive details of the ongoing investigation are provided by the Star-Telegram, a Fort Worth, Texas, newspaper.

Since this post was written, a subsequent ABAJournal.com post has updated it further, providing details about the 16-year-old’s complaint and a church complaint to a state court that the search of its grounds was at least in part unconstitutional.

Additional coverage:

TODAY: “Woman describes ‘escape’ from polygamy”

Updated at 6 p.m. April 9 to link to more recent ABAJournal.com coverage.

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