Eyes Wide Shut

From Governor Janet Napolitano down, Arizona authorities have protected polygamous sexual predators with their indifference

When told in the interview that polygamy does violate the state Constitution, Napolitano admitted that state employees and cops, plus elected officials in Colorado City, must "have in some respect violated their oaths of office."

Napolitano then rightly said the state already has sufficient laws to go after sexual predators in Colorado City, but she mistakenly added that Arizona already has a criminal provision against polygamy.

"We have laws against statutory rape. We have laws against polygamy. We have laws about obstruction of justice. We have laws about perjury. Those laws are on the books. The difficulty that we have been experiencing is using the laws and getting a case to prove them," she said. "That's back to the fundamental problem, which is the unique nature of Colorado City."

Napolitano's ignorance of the law regarding polygamy suggests to activists that she will do nothing to stop polygamists from sexually abusing young girls.
Fred Harper
Napolitano's ignorance of the law regarding polygamy suggests to activists that she will do nothing to stop polygamists from sexually abusing young girls.
Colorado City polygamists have 
thrived in their remote enclave beneath Canaan Mountain about 240 miles by 
highway from Mohave County’s administrative center in Kingman. Prominent polygamists live in huge homes, lower left, that house plural “wives” and children.
John Dougherty
Colorado City polygamists have thrived in their remote enclave beneath Canaan Mountain about 240 miles by highway from Mohave County’s administrative center in Kingman. Prominent polygamists live in huge homes, lower left, that house plural “wives” and children.

The fundamentalist Mormon enclave's high profile in the last election along with Napolitano's misunderstanding of Arizona law regarding polygamy increases activists' perception that she does not want to risk a potentially nasty political fight to stop the misspending of taxpayer funds in the area, much less the sexual assault of young girls.

Indeed, when pressed by New Times on how she might attack the abuses in the fundamentalist community, Napolitano said only that she would examine the proposal to put the Children's Justice Center close to Colorado City so that young female victims of sexual abuse might have access to help.

At the same time, the governor said she would be concerned for the safety of any government workers sent into the area. The implication was that polygamists might become violent toward outside government officials trying to upset their established order.

It is true that such a center might aid authorities in making cases against sex-abusing polygamists -- the difficulty of which, the governor insists, has always been the problem -- but the activists say she should do more than just study the proposed project, and that she should urge the AG's Office to send investigators into the area, after which the DPS should move in and arrest the victimizers of young girls.

"The civil rights of children in polygamous groups have been violated because law enforcement has not protected these victims," says Lorna Craig, a human-rights activist who is preparing a report on the abuses of polygamy for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

The governor's refusal to address the issues in Colorado City has frustrated the American Association of University Women's Arizona chapter. When Napolitano was attorney general, the group carried out a statewide letter-writing campaign demanding that she take firm action against the polygamists.

The association's Marie Meahl, a prominent Mohave County Republican, says Napolitano -- who has enjoyed strong support from women in her quests for political office -- brushed off the AAUW's concerns. "She gave us lip service," complains Meahl.

But activists have not given up on getting the governor to take real steps to end the abuses. Last month, Meahl joined forces with a cadre of Mohave County Democrats, also frustrated with the lack of state and county action to clean up Colorado City, to form the Citizens Coalition to Protect Children. The group's goal is to present Napolitano, the AG's Office and Ekstrom with a petition signed by 5,000 people demanding that sexual abuse of young girls by the polygamists be stopped. The bipartisan group says it plans to publish the petition in newspapers around the state.

Says coalition co-organizer and Democrat Janet Olson, "Somebody ought to be doing something about this, and we looked at each other and decided it had to be us."

Anti-Polyg Law a MustThe Legislature's refusal to criminalize polygamy derailed an effort by the state police regulatory board in the late 1980s to decertify polygamous Colorado City police officer Sam Barlow for failing to uphold his oath to the state Constitution.

In 1987, more than a dozen Colorado City residents petitioned the Arizona Law Enforcement Officer Advisory Council (now Peace Officer Standards and Training) to decertify Barlow for abusing his police powers. The petitioners said he was using his police authority to enforce religious doctrine and to evict people from church-owned land.

Utah law enforcement officials had already revoked Barlow's police certification in 1986 on the grounds that he was a polygamist. The Arizona law enforcement council did not attempt to remove him based on his performance, but strictly on the narrow grounds that his practice of polygamy violated his constitutional oath.

Sam Barlow filed suit in Maricopa County Superior Court, arguing that his right to religious freedom prevented the council from revoking his police certification. Judge Joseph D. Howe agreed and blocked the council's proceedings.

The state court of appeals reversed Howe's decision in 1990. The appeals court upheld the anti-polygamy clause in the state Constitution and ruled that the council had the right to conduct a hearing on Barlow's fitness as an officer.

"The incompatibility between a public flouting of the Constitution and the duties of peace officer requires the state to address such problems when they arise," the court stated.

The law enforcement advisory council held a two-day hearing in March 1992. Hearing officer Harold Merkow ruled in favor of Sam Barlow keeping his peace officer certification because the Arizona Legislature had not enacted a criminal statute outlawing polygamy.

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