The fight over 462 children taken from the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch is headed for court — in child custody hearings and civil lawsuits.

Letters demanding Texas bureaucrats preserve "all evidence" related to the raid on the FLDS compound are being sent out this week as lawyers for the polygamous sect gear up for litigation.

"Right now, our focus is on finding a way to reunite the children and their families," said Rod Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney representing the FLDS Church. "We're considering several different legal alternatives that we hope would accomplish that result."

The letters were addressed to Carey Crockerell, the commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services; his assistant, Joyce James; and Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran. Copies of the letters were given to the Deseret News on Monday.

"The purpose of this letter is to remind you of your duty under Texas and federal law to preserve evidence related to any potential civil claims against your agency, its agents, officers and investigators," the letters state. "In order to fulfill your duty to preserve evidence, please preserve all items seized in the searches of the ranch, including, but not limited to, any documents, records, photographs, books, computers, computer hard drives, electronically stored information, cell phones, and PDAs."

The letters also ask the agencies to keep the names of investigators, law enforcement personnel, witnesses, children seized, nurses, doctors, social workers and others involved. It also puts the departments on notice to cease deleting any internal electronic communications or voice mail.

Parker said a federal lawsuit was also being considered over allegations of a lack of due process in the mass hearings and the mass placement of FLDS children in foster care, though no decision had been made to proceed on that. A call to Texas child protective services officials for comment was not immediately returned on Monday.

A number of papers have been filed in a San Angelo court by other attorneys challenging the search warrants and the seizure of evidence from the YFZ Ranch, as well as the decision to keep the children in state custody.

The ranch was raided April 3 when authorities acted on a call to a family crisis shelter from someone claiming to be a 16-year-old girl named "Sarah," saying she was pregnant and in an abusive relationship with a man named Dale Barlow.

Upon investigating, law enforcement and child welfare workers said they discovered other signs of abuse on the ranch, including a pattern of teenagers being "spiritually" married to older men, pregnant or who had already given birth. Those allegations prompted a judge to order the removal of all of the children. Last week, the children were placed in foster care facilities across Texas.

Child custody hearings will be held in mid-May, culminating in a massive hearing on June 5. A judge will decide if the children can be reunited with their parents or remain in foster care.

Authorities have not found "Sarah" and are investigating a Colorado woman as a "person of interest" in a hoax call. Dale Barlow, 50, was questioned in St. George by Texas Rangers but has not been arrested.


E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com