This edit of my work on the Texas raid on the YFZ Ranch that won 1st place from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Utah Headliners. I could only submit twelve photographs in which to tell the story.
The last time I was in San Angelo I took souvenir photographs of the courthouse and grounds, thinking, “This is it. I’ll never be back to this place.”
As you can guess, I was wrong. But so was the guy who told me something to the effect of, “Today’s custody hearing is going to be over quick— No more than five minutes.”
Barbara Jessop was in court today for a custody hearing on her 14-year-old daughter (who CPS alleges was married to FLDS leader Warren Jeffs when she was 12) who is currently in foster care. So I was after photos of Barbara going in and out of court as well as whatever else I could find. If I was lucky, there would be a good photo to be made.
I was tipped off about which direction they would walk in from. Positioning myself across the street made for a lousy start, as the downtown construction they walked through, well, you can see for yourself (above).
I tried to incorporate the courthouse in a way I hadn’t really done before. There was lots more freedom of movement today, with only me and two video cameramen on the scene.
After they went in it was time to sit and wait. Five minutes went by but the hearing wasn’t over. Then five minutes went by at least twenty more times. While we waited, the TV guys would film anyone who walked into the courthouse, just in case they were involved. One guy, below, who had nothing to do with the FLDS cases, held a blue folder in front of his face to conceal his secret identity:
I thought I had a good angle for when they came out, with the shadows of a tree falling on the columns of the courthouse. It didn’t quite work, with too many people grouped too tight. Here is that shot, cropped loose:
As Barbara walked off with her son Dan and her two attorneys…
…I ran down to shoot with the courthouse behind them. Looking at the photo now, the overly joyous looks on the attorneys’ faces had me thinking of a funny article I read earlier today.
The photograph tells you where I saw the sun go down Wednesday night.
Okay, if you don’t know it’s the FLDS temple outside Eldorado, Texas.
This is how the trip goes:
Wake up before 6am.
Make my kids’ lunches for the next three days. Let my wife’s dog out to pee.
Say goodbye. Drive to airport. A bunch of other annoyances en route to getting on plane, like the $15 charge to check a suitcase and the TSA agent who asks me to remove my hoodie.
Buy three chocolate chip scones at Starbucks, which I will eat at various moments over the next couple days and/or finally discard when they get too stale and hard.
Talk on plane with Brooke about how to save the newspaper industry and swap a bunch of polygamy news so that we’re current. Here’s one item we talked about, the blog of a “young” “mormon” “girl” “looking into” joining a plural marriage. Interesting, and a bit creepy. But I’m thinking it’s fake
as all get out.
We land in Dallas to an urgent text message from a source: “Call me immediately!”
The news? Two polygamist leaders in Canada arrested and charged with polygamy. We both think, Why does this always happen when we travel somewhere?
Now we’re working a story in Canada and one in Texas. Too much chaos, too many phone calls. It’s nuts.
Layover is lunch time. Nearly settle for Popeye’s Chicken. Came this close. Instead, find a sit-down Mexican restaurant with power outlet at the bar to charge dead laptop and cel phone batteries.
Bad, expensive airport lunch.
At gate, sit on floor for almost two hours because it’s the only place near a power outlet. Fix multiple issues with Brooke’s laptop. Continue working Canada story. Wondering if we’ll rerout there instead of Texas, but remembering how cold even southernmost Canada is at this time of year.
Fly to San Angelo. Rent car. Nibble on chocolate chip scone while driving to YFZ Ranch. Rushed in and meet a few people, some of whom have appeared on the blog.
Sent out to drive around the ranch, sans escort. Photograph beautiful sunset. Park on the rock pile and smell the mulch pile while we make calls reporting on and planning possible travel to Canada. Mom gives border crossing advice and says there is six feet of snow in Spokane.
Rejoin group at main house. Watch people eat olives, carrots, nuts, pickles. My picture is taken. Photograph subject of interview (which can’t be talked about just yet).
Drive to San Angelo while on phone about Canada (can’t really discuss the final plans here). Arrive at Outback Steakhouse ten minutes before closing. Order. Eat. Order cheesecake.
Check in at hotel. Talk Brooke into not leaving for tomorrow’s story until the late hour of 8:15am local time. Put cheesecake in fridge, uneaten.
Dream about cheesecake.
Here and now I’m presenting the awards for the past two weeks spent covering the polygamy raid in Texas. I fully recognize that all of you involved (media, CPS, FLDS) were deserving of some award or another, and I had a hard time narrowing it down to these finalists. So if you didn’t win (or if you did), remember that it’s all in fun. As they say at the YFZ schoolhouse: We’re all about smiles around here!
Most unobtrusive photographer in a pink shirt with a wet towel on his head:
Sweatiest hairy neck on a hot day:
Best judge-shielding by a baliff:
Best photo of man holding a box:
Best photo of Willie Jessop where he appears to be walking into a pole with a small human head growing out of his shoulder:
Worst case of microphone assault:
Most ironic use of yellow tape during a CPS press conference:
Worst place to sit on a 106 degree day: Between two hot grills at the Japanese Steak House.
Worst food product ever bought at a gas station: Fried green beans in Eldorado.
Photographer hustle award:
Best souvenir: A business card I collected. But I can’t tell you whose it is.
Favorite quote uttered at an Italian restaurant: “If the families won at the Supreme Court, why are they losing?”
Worst shady place to park on a stakeout the Schleicher County Courthouse when you need to be able to clearly see the front door:
Cutest couple: Aw, come on. Too easy of a joke.
Funniest (and only) ten minutes of television I watched in two weeks: The Nancy Grace Show.
Best day off: No award given.