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Two days before a state judge held hearings on whether to keep children from a polygamous sect in custody, Texas officials circulated profiles of FLDS members they worried might intimidate or bribe witnesses.
An April 15 memo distributed to law enforcement, state agencies and care providers included driver license photos and brief biographical sketches of 20 FLDS men and a woman considered possible threats.
Five men were described as "enforcers" who "will probably be the ones who might intimate [sic] kids and other witnesses, watch foster homes where kids are placed, bribe people, appear at court hearings and make attempts to contact FLDS children," according to a memo from the Tom Green County District Attorney's office.
Among the men: Lyle Jeffs and Nephi S. Jeffs, brothers of sect leader Warren S. Jeffs, and Willie Jessop, a spokesman for the FLDS church.
In the two months since the memo was written, there have been no allegations of such misconduct by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the sect is angered by the portrayals of its members as violent.
Willie Jessop said the claims were outrageous and even "dangerous." The sect has tried to "turn the other cheek" against false accusations, he said, but has learned the "painful" way it can no longer keep silent, said Jessop.
"When government officials begin demonizing you, innocent people can get hurt really bad," said Jessop.
'A definite threat': The information in the profiles came from Mohave County investigator Gary Engels, Timothy Linnins, an attorney in the criminal prosecution division of the Arizona Attorney General's Office, and Jake Schultz, a sheriff's deputy for Washington County, Utah.
The write-ups for several men note there is no reason to consider them a threat. A few are described as having provided security at FLDS weddings in Nevada or as having made "discreet" attempts to intimidate victim Elissa Wall and her family in Utah during Jeffs' September trial on charges of rape as an accomplice.
The information was requested by Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran, said Kirk Smith, Washington County sheriff.
Doran was "just trying to get on top of things and make sure that they had as much information they could on as many people," Smith said Wednesday, adding that his office initially compiled the information as part of providing security during Jeffs' trial.
The memo says Willie Jessop was banned from the proceedings on the trial's third day after he was "observed . . . staring menacingly at witnesses."
"If anything remotely resembling violence or intimidation occurs, you can be fairly certain that [Willie] had a hand in it," the memo states. "He should be considered a definite threat."
The sect became aware of the profiles during later court hearings and obtained copies.
Jessop denies intimidating witnesses during Jeffs trial. "Absolutely not," he said, "and there's plenty of courtroom video that shows every move I made."
The memo also alleged Jessop "reportedly has a passion for violence, weapons (legal and illegal) and explosives."
'Rather be safe than sorry': Despite the claims of intimidating behavior during Jeffs trial, none of the people identified in the files have been charged with that crime.
Smith said the intimidation described in the files "doesn't necessarily cross the threshold" of a crime. He also was not aware of anyone in the files having convictions for violent offenses.
Smith, who has previously described the FLDS as "docileĀ," said Wednesday the group has the potential for violence: "You're dealing with religious extremists, and when you're dealing with religious extremists you'd rather be safe than sorry," he said. "We take this very seriously."
The memo makes that point, too: "You have to be aware of the wild card. There are many individuals who are willing to give their life for the cause and you can never underestimate what a religious fanatic is capable of," it states.
One such person, the memo says, is Ruth Cooke, an FLDS member who has "exhibited unstable behavior, especially when she is not taking her medications. Ruth is blindly devoted to Warren and the FLDS religion."
Jessop objected to the description of members as "religious extremists," saying: "The sect has no past history of any violence."
The Deseret News reported Wednesday that surveillance on the home of 51st District Judge Barbara Walther, who is presiding over the custody case, was triggered by the warnings from Utah and Arizona about the "enforcers," but the newspaper did not cite a source.
Tela Mange, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, declined to confirm the surveillance or when it began.
"I'm not aware of any [specific threats against Walther], but we don't discuss security," she said.
The FLDS have said they have no connection to several Web sites vilifying the judge and officials with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.