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Raid again? Texas CPS defends '08 actions

SAN ANGELO, Texas — If another call came in summoning Child Protective Services to the gates of the YFZ Ranch, the agency wouldn't hesitate to respond.

"We certainly would take advantage of our vast experience in this particular case if we were to get another report," said CPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins. "There's no way to predict how exactly we would react."

In the face of criticism, the agency is defending how it handled the investigation into allegations of abuse on the Fundamentalist LDS Church's sprawling Texas ranch.

"We wanted to find out if those children had been abused and neglected and do whatever we needed to do to protect them from being harmed in the future," Crimmins said. "We believe we've done that."

At the Texas State Legislature, the raid will come under some scrutiny when a legislative committee holds a hearing on "lessons learned."

"We will be there," said FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop.

Several pieces of legislation have been proposed related to the raid.

"We learned we weren't equipped for the situation. Our agency had limited policy and laws that didn't envision this happening. There were mistakes made and many made because the agency didn't have the authority or options to manage it more effectively," said Rep. Harvey Hildebran, R-Kerrville, whose district oversees Schleicher County and the YFZ Ranch.

Hildebran's bill calls for the removal of suspected perpetrators of abuse instead of the children, something he envisions having wider applications beyond the YFZ Ranch. He also plans to revise the bill to give CPS "additional options and be really clear on what they're supposed to do in certain circumstances."

Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, who chairs the Texas House Human Services Committee, has also filed legislation requiring CPS to come up with a plan for any future interventions involving large groups. However, staffers in his office said it is merely a "shell bill," should legislation need to be proposed coming out of the hearing.

Only one child remains under court oversight in what was once the nation's largest child custody case. The agency has spent about $12.6 million, the bulk of that in caring for the hundreds of children and their mothers in makeshift shelters at Fort Concho and the San Angelo Coliseum.

The director of the independent organization appointed by the courts to act in a child's best interests suggests CPS caved too quickly. The Court Appointed Specialty Advocates accuses CPS brass of bowing to pressure and dismissing the cases en masse.

"If (local CPS) had been doing this case, it would have been done completely different," CASA executive director Debra Brown told the San Angelo Standard-Times. "But it went to Austin, to the bureaucrats. The whole about-face was kind of weird."

CPS denies it. Hildebran defends the agency's intent but said there were problems that led to holes in the state's case.

Hildebran drafted legislation in 2005 raising the marriage age in Texas in response to the FLDS moving in from Utah and Arizona. He told the Deseret News he is considering revisiting that legislation to raise the marriage age again — to 17.

"This is about protecting children," he said. "I've got two daughters. … I don't like this sort of stuff. I'm opposed to it."

The FLDS Church pledged in June to no longer perform any underage marriages. Separate from the child custody case, criminal prosecutions connected to alleged underage marriages continue.

The Texas Attorney General's Office and the Schleicher County sheriff did not return messages seeking comment. A federal grand jury is also believed to have been convened to investigate the FLDS Church.

Asked if he believed CPS and law enforcement may eventually have to return to the ranch, Hildebran paused.

"I fear that we might, but I don't know that," he said. "I don't know them enough to take their word for it. I'm hopeful."

See for more stories and photos on the year anniversary of the raid of the YFZ Ranch.