Utah authorities will look into claims by members of the Fundamentalist LDS Church that their children were wrongfully taken in a Texas raid of the church's ranch there in April — as long as the members are from Utah.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. made the offer in response to a letter from FLDS member Willie Jessop seeking the governor's help in the polygamist sect's ongoing child custody battle with Texas after hundreds of children were taken from the YFZ Ranch.
Huntsman spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley said the governor's general counsel contacted Jessop on Monday and asked that the Utah Department of Human Services be provided with a list of Utah residents involved in the church's child custody battle with Texas.
Jessop said he's working on a complete list to provide to the state.
"I have been in communication with the governor's office, and we are preparing a list of Utah residents who are caught up in this thing," said Jessop. "So far, I know of at least three families who brought their children (to Texas) and were visiting grandparents and got their children taken away."
Specific allegations related to the raid would be followed up by the Utah Division of Child and Family Services, just as the division follows up with individual claims of child abuse made in Utah, according to Department of Human Services spokeswoman Elizabeth Sollis.
First though, questions over jurisdiction and steps to confirm actual residency of those said to be Utahns would have to be dealt with, Sollis said. No one from the Utah DCFS office has been sent to Texas, and no immediate plans are in place to send anyone, she added.
Jessop sent a letter to Huntsman last Friday urging him to intervene because many of the FLDS members involved in the raid by Texas authorities are from Utah.
"This siege ended in Utah residents being held hostage by the Texas authorities," Jessop wrote, complaining of "atrocities" committed including the placement of FLDS children in foster homes throughout Texas.
"These children were not abused until ripped from their mother's arms and taken from their safe, comfortable homes — their fathers watching in anguish from a distance, held at bay by gunpoint and heavy artillery," Jessop said in the letter.
He also accused Texas authorities of ignoring parental rights and asked the governor to "put an end to the blatant criminal acts and civil rights violations," Jessop sent a similar letter to Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Texas authorities went to the ranch and said they found evidence of child abuse, including underage mothers, after receiving a call from someone claiming to be 16 years old, pregnant and in an abusive marriage.
That call is being investigated as a possible hoax, but a judge ordered the removal of all of the children on the ranch, and 464 children have been placed in foster care.