Sacred seizure

FLDSbookYesterday I raised some of the journalistic questions surrounding coverage of the raid on the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints in Texas. And I was happy to see I wasn't alone in being intrigued by those questions. In the comments to the post, reader Joel asked:

Did you notice that when the temple was searched, there was little or no mention of the taboo-ness of gentiles entering it? I wondered about that, and I still haven't seen anything that mentions the FLDS reaction to having their sanctum sanctorum violated.

Enter Miguel Bustillo's story in today's Los Angeles Times.

Authorities searching a remote polygamist compound for a 16-year-old girl who had claimed she was sexually abused discovered a bed inside a towering limestone temple and were told by a "confidential informant" that men used it to have sex with underage girls, according to a court document unsealed Wednesday.

The Associated Press ran a video report on the raid, that puts the size of the temple and the ranch in context.

Some folks wondered how it was possible that the group's sacred temple and the contents therein could be subject -- rather easily it seemed -- to a search and seizure by law enforcement officials. Here's the Times, again:

The allegation that sex between adult men and underage girls was occurring inside the monolithic white temple came Saturday from a confidential informant who formerly belonged to the religious sect and who had been cultivated over several years by Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran, according to the affidavit.

In addition, Texas Ranger Leslie Brooks Long disclosed in the affidavit that investigators had interviewed numerous underage girls who were pregnant or married to men with multiple wives. While inside the compound, Long saw a document "indicating marriages between one man and more than 20 wives, all of whom resided in the same residence" as of last August.

When an investigator asked one girl her age, the affidavit states, the girl turned to her husband, Lee Roy Jessop, who said, "You are 18." The girl then told the investigator that she was the fourth wife of Jessop, 33, and that "he was still married to the other three wives" in the eyes of the sect.

The initial search warrant does not appear to have been executed solely due to one complaint from a 16-year-old girl who said she had been raped and beaten. The Texas officials had been working with a confidential informant who had, on more than 20 previous occasions, given information that had been corroborated. The affidavits for search warrants have been unsealed so I hope the media report the further details.

Reading through the search warrants, some of the girls with children of their own claim not to know their age. So clearly law enforcement officials are looking for records which establish precisely how much statutory rape is going on among the FLDS. That presents concerns not only related to religious freedom but also attorney-client privilege. FLDS attorneys are arguing they have the right to review the seized material:

"The church has rights. Entry to the church is a sacred area," said Gerald H. Goldstein, an attorney for church elder Lyle Jeffs. He argued that seized texts and genealogies considered holy by the FLDS should not become part of any court cases if they don't directly relate to crimes.

Tom Green County District Judge Barbara Walther agreed that with help from an independent special master, the group should have the right to review evidence -- for example, to ensure that attorney-client privilege is not violated if the evidence contains correspondence between attorneys and members of the sect.

I think Bustillo did a great job with the story, answering so many of the legal questions that have been raised. One minor point is that the temple had multiple beds, not the singular one that he mentions in the lede. Bustillo wrote an engaging story without falling into some of the overheated langauge we've seen in other reports.

For those still wondering about whether the term "compound" is appropriate, read the search warrant and let us know what you think.

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