Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I have fleshed out some more coherent ideas about the raid on the famous YFZ ranch in Texas. I am frankly ashamed of myself for not being more clear and more emphatic before that I believe the raid was unconstitutional. You simply cannot authorize a search of how ever many buildings and homes based on one phone call made by an unidentified person. I understand that this is a difficult community to investigate for many reasons: the large, interconnected families that all have the same names; their reticence about talking to the outside world, especially authority figures they may fear will prosecute them for polygamy; who knows what other cultural divides may make communication difficult. But, still, there are birth records. Tax returns, welfare and medicaid applications. There has to be some way to investigate one person's claim of abuse in this community short of searching every single building and removing every person under 18 from the ranch. They do have some contact with the outside world, employers, teachers, the clerks at stores they frequent, etc.

It's really outrageous that there doesn't seem to be more public outrage about the raid. I wonder if the general public is a bit more accepting of searches in a post-911 world. That seems a bit simplistic as an explanation, but I do believe, in general, people are becoming more and more willing to tolerate what I would consider to be unconstitutional searches. (I posted on that topic a few weeks ago.) I also think public distaste for the FLDS makes the public far more tolerant of a raid on the community. They dress weird and talk weird and believe weird things. Stories about the FLDS communiy in Colorado City, Arizona and Hilldale, Utah have been reported on various newscasts over the years. (Most of the people now living at the YFZ ranch came from those twin towns.) Flora Jessop, who escaped from that area years ago, has been interviewed many times, publicizing her stories of abuse. Carolyn Jessop wrote a book about her difficulty in leaving the community. Warren Jeffs, the prophet of the FLDS, has been pursued by several law enforcement agencies and has now been convicted of rape in one state. So perhaps people just think this nutty community needs to be investigated for rampant abuse and don't care too much about the technicalities of how that investigation occurs. After all, we don't live that way, so it's not like the state could investigate us in such a sweeping fashion.

I think public opinion about the raid might swing in the FLDS' favor if more people became aware that the phone call that started it all appears to have been a hoax. Flora Jessop received several phone calls from the alleged "Sarah" but seemed to figure out the caller's story didn't add up. Nonetheless, she reported the call to authorities in case there was some truth. A woman in Colorado has now been charged with a crime of false reporting that seems to support the idea that Flora's caller was making up her story. So a real question now is, if the police who heard from Flora about this caller (and I'm not clear on whether any police or other groups also received calls from "Sarah") had any idea that it could be a hoax. The interview I saw with Flora made me believe she also reported her suspicions about the caller when she reported the call.

Now, if the police who sought out the search warrant knew or had reason to suspect that the caller was a hoax, there would be a HUGE problem with the warrant, even beyond the lack of particularity in identifying which buildings to search. That is an issue that I hope the media really pursues, to figure out if police officers were deceptive in applying for the warrant.

So, to sum up, I have serious concerns that the search was unconstitutional in its breadth and because of a lack of credible evidence to support a finding of probable cause. I am also concerned that the public's distaste for this particular community makes the state's overreaching palatable. The way they've seriously bungled dealing with all the kids adds insult to injury. If you're going to remove that many kids at once, you have some serious obligation to figure out the logistics BEFORE you actually have over 400 kids to house and feed. You have to know you're going to need lawyers for everyone, exhibits for all parties, and enough courtroom space for everyone. Don't just jump right in without some planning!

Beyond the question of the raid itself, there are some greater issues posed by the FLDS that I have been worrying over for several years. (This particular group has been of interest to me for a while.) My previous post on this subject was more related to my conflicting emotional and legal responses to how the greater community should deal with this smaller enclave in general. I have now finished reading Carolyn Jessop's book "Escape" and have finally read some in depth reports about the raid. I will save for a different post my thoughts about more general issues surrounding the FLDS.

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