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Texas governor defends agency's treatment of children from compound
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Posted: 1:52 PM- By Bill Hanna and John Moritz

McClatchy Newspapers

AUSTIN, Texas - Texas Gov. Rick Perry voiced strong support for Child Protective Services officials Wednesday even as a social services official in the state's Hill Country expressed more outrage over the treatment of 464 children removed by the state from a West Texas polygamist compound.

Perry's spokeswoman Krista Piferrer said the governor has full confidence in the agency. The governor applauded agency officials for promising an internal investigation into the concerns raised by Hill Country Mental Health Mental Retardation officials when the children from the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints were housed at San Angelo shelters.

"The governor is very proud of the work being done by CPS," Piferrer said. "CPS has handled a very complex situation both professionally and compassionately."

Perry's comments are his first about the FLDS raid in more than a month.

But John Kight, chairman of Hill Country Community MHMR board, said he has been rebuffed in his attempts to talk with Perry but he is still trying to arrange a meeting. He said MHMR caregivers reported "appalling behavior" that included flashlights being shined in eyes of mothers at night and CPS caseworkers repeatedly telling lies to the women.

The governor's spokeswoman said the complaints were released to the news media before state officials were notified.

"Considering that DFPS (the Texas Department of Family Protective Services) had to ask for those reports after reading about them in the newspaper might suggest that he (Kight) might have his own agenda," Piferrer said.

Kight continued to blast the state agency's handling of the massive child abuse case and suggested officials had no justification for removing all of the children from YFZ (Yearning for Zion) Ranch near Eldorado.

"My agenda is to get the truth out. They went in there thinking this was great and it's turning out to be a nightmare," Kight said. "... I don't know if the governor is deciding to cover his tracks or what, but to say CPS is acting professionally is ridiculous. It's all going to come out whether the governor likes it or not."

Kight, a retired Kendall County, Texas, commissioner who lives near the San Antonio suburb of Boerne, said he has contacted "nationally known" civil rights lawyers about the situation and will be meeting with them next week.

CPS spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said Wednesday that officials are continuing to investigate the complaints but declined to further comment.

The criticism by a Texas-based agency is an exception.

Most Texas officials have voiced support for the state's actions or remained silent, while officials in Arizona and Utah, where the sect is traditionally based, have been more critical.

But their comments frustrated state Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, who isn't happy with the second-guessing.

"It does disturb me when you see actions and practices that have hurt children and then you have all of this Monday-morning quarterbacking," Darby said Wednesday. "Quite frankly, I'm disturbed that other state officials have turned a deaf ear to the criticism.

"What the state of Texas encountered at that ranch was enormous, far beyond what anybody thought would be there," Darby said. "The first reports were everyone thought there would be 60 children out there. To end up with 430 shows you how what CPS was facing out there."

The massive raid on Eldorado compound was triggered by telephone calls to an abuse hot line in which a woman claimed to be an underage wife with children at the compound. Those calls are now believed to have been a hoax.

FLDS members came to West Texas in 2003, when the church bought the ranch four miles north of Eldorado. Most of the estimated 10,000 members of the FLDS live in Colorado City and Hildale.

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