Eyes Wide Shut

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

In his ruling, Merkow stated that "the failure of the Arizona Legislature to enact remedies or criminal penalties for engaging in polygamous practices only makes those practices non-recognizable in law."

Merkow ruled that the council did not present evidence to show that Sam Barlow's conduct as an officer was a "danger to the peace and safety of the citizens of Arizona."

Sam Barlow, the brother of Colorado City Mayor Dan Barlow, retired shortly after Merkow's ruling.

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.

Eleven years later, the Legislature -- whose leadership is controlled by members of the mainstream Mormon Church -- has not yet addressed the incongruence between the constitutional ban and the lack of a corresponding criminal statute.

The Legislature may take up the issue next year, says Jake Logan, press secretary for Speaker of the House Jake Flake. Flake is a descendant of a prominent polygamous Mormon family that founded the ranching town of Snowflake in northeastern Arizona.

Logan says Flake "doesn't support polygamy and thinks that it is wrong." Flake is considering meeting with legislators to "come up with a solution" to address the lack of a criminal statute outlawing polygamy, Logan says. The Legislature has not addressed the issue since 1954, when a bill criminalizing polygamy passed the House but later died in the Senate.

State Senator Linda Binder (R-Lake Havasu) has been one of the few state lawmakers demanding that what she calls "sham marriages" of underage girls in Colorado City be made illegal by state authorities.

"I have no problem with consenting adults doing whatever they want to do," she says. "But when this concerns children, it really bothers me. The fact that many of these women aren't educated, and they are indoctrinated into this whole brainwashing program, to me is unconscionable."

Binder says sexual misconduct with minors will not be stopped until the current Colorado City police department is disbanded. And in order to do that, a law criminalizing polygamy must be enacted to give outside authorities a tool with which to dismantle the biased corps of officers. Such a law would also make it illegal for polygamists to serve on the town council and school board, or work as teachers in the public schools.

"But the main thing that has to be done," Binder declares, "is you have to take out the Colorado City police force!"

Small Step Forward

State programs aimed at helping sexual-assault victims have been very effective in Arizona and Utah -- except when it comes to victims in the fundamentalist Mormon community.

A network of sexual-assault advocacy centers has been set up in both states. The centers are essentially one-stop shopping for victims. They pride themselves on handling sexual assaults in an environment friendly to children and teenagers, instead of making victims go to a police station, then to a hospital and wait for hours for help.

There are 15 sexual-assault advocacy centers in Utah, and 11 in Arizona. They typically have specially trained nurses and police interrogators, medical-examination rooms, mental-health counselors, child protective services personnel, county attorneys and customized interview rooms where video and audio tapes are made, usually with hidden cameras and microphones.

The centers have been effective in increasing the rate of successful prosecutions in sexual-assault cases. Officials say suspects often confess after hearing and seeing their victims on videotape.

The facilities have also greatly reduced the trauma to young victims because trained interviewers do initial consultations. A single, carefully conducted interview can provide police and child protective services workers with enough information to determine whether a child needs to be removed from a home and whether criminal charges are warranted.

Experts say videotaped interviews in which no leading questions are asked greatly reduces the need for subsequent interrogations that can be traumatic to victims and provide defense attorneys an opportunity to look for inconsistencies in statements.

Legal assistance, access to shelters and financial help are also provided to victims through the centers.

The problem regarding Colorado City and Hildale is that the closest such center is 50 miles northwest in St. George, Utah. The Washington County Children's Justice Center is available to the Colorado City Police Department for cases arising in both Utah and Arizona, but the polygamist-controlled police force has never once asked for assistance.

"I find it very frustrating," center director Patricia Sheffield says. "They have their own law enforcement out there, and they are not involved with the center."

When services have been offered by the center, Sheffield says, Colorado City police have brushed off the invitation.

"They are very dismissive," she says.

Mohave County also operates a victims' advocacy center in Kingman, called Sarah's House. That facility sees about 350 clients a year, but none from Colorado City, which is more than 240 miles away, says director Sheila King.

A center closer to Colorado City would help, King says, but funds would have to be made available by the state and county. She estimates it costs about $140,000 a year to operate Sarah's House 24 hours a day, seven days a week -- with the help of numerous volunteers.

She agrees that decades of predatory sexual behavior have resulted from the reluctance of Colorado City police to utilize outside resources combined with the secretive nature of the fundamentalist Mormons who control the area.

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