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(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) In July 2014, authorities found and removed nine FLDS boys living in this home near Pocatello, Idaho. Their caretaker, Nathan C. Jessop, has been charged with three misdemeanor counts of child abuse. Photo taken on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014.
Idaho seizes boys from Utah polygamous sect
FLDS » Caretaker is charged with three misdemeanor counts of child abuse.
First Published Aug 28 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Aug 28 2014 04:07 pm

Pocatello, Idaho » If the boy didn’t wake at 6 a.m., he wouldn’t be allowed to eat breakfast.

When a sheriff’s detective asked what was usually served in the mornings, the boy didn’t know. He hadn’t been up that early in a while.

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The breakfast policy was just one of the rules the boy — apparently in his early teens — had to follow after running afoul of leaders of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Last month, police and child welfare agents removed the boy and eight others from a home outside Pocatello where they had been living with caretaker Nathan C. Jessop, now charged with three misdemeanor counts of child abuse.

As discipline, Jessop struck boys with a board or broom or sent them outside into cold weather without coats, the children told investigators. One boy was confined to a furnace room for up to two days, where he was provided meals but could leave only to use the bathroom, a Bannock County sheriff’s report said.

The boys, whose ages appear to range between 12 and 17, also described being given limited access to food and isolated from their parents as they raised money by building and selling furniture, mowing neighbors’ lawns and doing other odd jobs.

Jessop and the boys are all former or current members of the FLDS and had been sent on "repentance missions" by church leader Warren Jeffs or his brother Lyle, according to the sheriff’s report, provided to The Tribune last week by the Bannock County Prosecuting Attorney.

The names of the children, who were taken into state custody, were redacted from the 70-page report, which offers rare insight into the lives of people loyal to Warren Jeffs and how they deal with children they consider wayward.

Before an Aug. 11 custody hearing in Pocatello, a Tribune reporter in the courthouse lobby heard lawyers tell the mothers of four boys that their cases were being dismissed and their sons would be able to go home with them.

When 6th District Magistrate Judge Bryan Murray learned the journalist had also attended the hearing, Murray ordered him not to report on what was said or on the rulings in the cases. An attorney for The Tribune has asked Murray to reconsider the ban, pointing out there were no signs limiting who could enter, other people who were not parties in the case also were in the courtroom, and no one spoke when the judge asked whether there were objections to anyone present.

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Citing state policy, an Idaho Department of Health and Welfare spokesman declined to say whether the boys remain in state custody.

Raising questions » Idaho child advocates, meanwhile, are critical of the apparent return of at least some of the children to their families, questioning whether potential expenses played a role.

The Health and Welfare department has been more reluctant to open child protection cases and quicker to close them due to cost concerns and layoffs, said attorney Bradley Willis, who represents children in Bannock County through the Court Appointed Special Advocates program.

"I know the department was concerned about the cost of keeping [eight] boys in foster care," said Willis, who did not disclose what was said in court or legal motions. He said the state also appeared concerned that FLDS parents would claim they were being discriminated against on the basis of their religion.

"They were afraid of what happened down in Texas," Willis said, referring to the 2008 raid of the YFZ Ranch, where Texas authorities removed more than 400 FLDS children but eventually returned them.

"This was one of the more hands-off approaches that the department has had when the safety and well-being of children has been brought before the court," Willis said of the Idaho FLDS cases.

Former Bannock County Sheriff Bill Lynn, who now works with that county’s program for neglected and abused children, has written to the parties in the custody case, saying, "At least eight young boys will have been hurt by the decisions made."

The Tribune obtained a copy of the letter.

Some officials, Lynn wrote, "lost their vision in regards to these kids and were swayed by a fear of the costs involved and the effort and time that would have been necessary to insure that these boys had a chance at a decent future."

The boys deserved a hearing, Lynn wrote, "and a chance to escape the tyranny of an evil prophet who will add their names to his long list of Lost Boys that, along with a little help from Idaho, will grow and grow and grow."

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