Heavily armed sect raid pleased officials
By Nancy Perkins and Amy Joi O'Donoghue
The Deseret Morning News
SAN ANGELO, Texas — Texas authorities entered the YFZ Ranch April 3 armed with a search warrant, automatic weapons, SWAT teams, helicopters, dozens of law enforcement vehicles -- including an armored personnel carrier — and were met with no resistance from the more than 600 residents of the polygamous community.
"They first got under the gate under false pretenses," said Isaac, a 33-year-old FLDS man who did not want to be identified because he has several children who are now under state custody. "They had police cars box in the whole property."
Tela Mange, spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said the operation went well.
"Everyone was really pleased with how well things went," she said. "There were no shots fired, no incidents. We credit that to the time the sheriff (Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran) and the Texas Ranger captain spent developing a relationship with the leadership at the ranch."
Officials said the raid was prompted by a cell phone call from a 16-year-old girl who said she lived at the ranch, was pregnant and was being abused by her 50-year-old husband.
Texas Rangers, along with other law enforcement, sought a search warrant to enter the YFZ ranch and search for the girl, who has not yet been located. FLDS members say they do not know the girl, and they believe the phone call was bogus.
Members of the FLDS faith recorded what happened over the three-day raid using video, audio, still photography, and by writing down their personal observations.
Officials confiscated much of that documentation, but not all of it, said FLDS spokesman Rod Parker.
Officers in full SWAT gear positioned themselves behind massive limestone rocks carved out of a quarry on the YFZ ranch during the search. Locked gates were forced open, doors were broken in, safes were ransacked and homes were searched many times, Parker said.
"They went onto the ranch under one phone call that was a pretext," Parker said. "It seems obvious to me they came prepared to do much more than take one girl out of there."
While some may question the use of an armored personnel carrier -- believing it's overkill -- Mange said the carrier was not there to make entry on the ranch. "It was there to make sure everything went well and we could get someone out quickly if we needed to," she said.
Mange would not disclose the number of officers involved in the raid but did say there were troopers, non-uniformed investigators and Texas Rangers and officers from four different county sheriff agencies, the San Angelo police department, and the Texas game warden.
Mange confirmed that the Department of Public Safety is continuing to provide security at several locations in San Angelo in connection with the FLDS situation and are continuing with a criminal investigation that spans several areas. She would not elaborate on specifics of the investigation but did say the partner agency is Child and Family Protective Services.
Midland County chief deputy Ed Krevit said the armored personnel carrier came from his department and was there to protect officers. "We like to compare it to being a bullet proof vest for 12 officers," Krevit said.
On Tuesday, 12 days after the raid began, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said it was unclear if the girl at the center of the raid is among the 416 children taken from the ranch. "We cannot confirm that we have (the girl)," said Marleigh Meisner.
A hearing is scheduled Thursday in a San Angelo courtroom to determine whether the state should retain custody of the children.
"I haven't slept, not hardly at all since (the raid)," Isaac said. "It was hard to watch them haul my family off."
Authorities would not allow the children's father to say goodbye when they took the children away, he said.
"My son was on the bus, crying and crying, and I was waving at him," said Isaac. "A CPS worker came up and told me, 'You're not helping. They were fine until you came out.' I asked him if he ever had his family torn away from him and he wouldn't answer."
Once the teams of law enforcement officers and child protection service workers entered the YFZ Ranch, children were rounded up for interviews, Isaac said. A group of girls, aged 7 to 17, were questioned and then placed in a bus and driven off the ranch, he said.
Copyright 2008 The Deseret Morning News