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Texas CPS asks to retain custody of polygamist sect children

AUSTIN -- Child Protective Services should be allowed to retain custody of the youngsters seized from the West Texas polygamist ranch last month because returning them might lead to further abuse, the agency said Friday in an emergency appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.

The petition to the state's highest civil court came one day after an appeals court ruled that CPS had overreached its authority when it rounded up more than 460 children and that a district court in San Angelo was too hasty in awarding the state temporary custody. The appeals court said the state had not adequately demonstrated that the youngsters were in immediate peril.

But in the filing submitted Friday to the Supreme Court, CPS argued that sending the children back to the ranch near Eldorado operated by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FDLS) would be irresponsible.

"The Department is not in a position to properly identify the correct mothers or fathers at this time, because maternity and paternity testing ordered by (the district court), has not been completed," lawyers for CPS said in the petition.

The nine-member Texas Supreme Court did not immediately rule on the petition, but a court spokesman said such matters are generally dealt with swiftly.

The children were placed in state custody after officials received a call from a girl claiming to be 16, pregnant and married to an abusive older man from the YFZ (Yearning For Zion) Ranch in Eldorado.

Officials now suspect that the call was a hoax. But the district court ruled last month that the state should keep temporary custody at least while the investigation into conditions at the ranch are investigated.

The FDLS broke away from the Mormon Church when the latter rejected polygamy in 1890. FDLS members have historically been based in Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, where an estimated 10,000 members live.

The sect bought the YFZ Ranch in 2003 and constructed a sprawling compound where an estimated 700 people lived before the state raided the ranch on April 3.