Eyes Wide Shut

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

Limp-Wristed EnforcementThe shoddy police work and lenient prosecution in the Dan Barlow Jr. case are typical of how Colorado City and Mohave County have long addressed sex crimes against minors that permeate life in the fundamentalist Mormon stronghold.

Arizona leaders -- from Governor Janet Napolitano down -- have also given the polygamists a virtual free pass by refusing to enforce state laws to protect children when local officials fail to do so. Instead, Arizona's political leaders have mostly ignored the abuses in the remote town while emphasizing instead the clean-cut image promoted by Colorado City's leaders.

The last time the state took a concrete step to stop rampant sexual abuse of minors in Colorado City was in 1953, when former governor Howard Pyle launched a police raid on the community and arrested all the men. That effort wound up going nowhere, and only in the last three years has the state Attorney General's Office feigned slight interest in the issue. When she was attorney general, Napolitano opened a criminal investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct, welfare abuse, school fraud and weapons violations. But the timid probe has been conducted primarily from Phoenix, with very little on-the-ground work in Colorado City, and has resulted in no arrests.

Help the Child Brides director Bob Curran hopes  to help girls and women seeking to flee polygamous marriages ordered by fundamentalist Mormon leaders from his headquarters in St. George, Utah.
John Dougherty
Help the Child Brides director Bob Curran hopes to help girls and women seeking to flee polygamous marriages ordered by fundamentalist Mormon leaders from his headquarters in St. George, Utah.
Political players: From far left, clockwise: Governor Janet Napolitano, Mohave County Attorney Bill Ekstrom, Attorney General Terry Goddard,  State Senator Linda Binder and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
photo of Bill Ekstom courtesy of the Kingman Daily
Political players: From far left, clockwise: Governor Janet Napolitano, Mohave County Attorney Bill Ekstrom, Attorney General Terry Goddard, State Senator Linda Binder and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.

The polygamists -- so far -- have been successful at thwarting AG's investigators. Last winter, several plural wives refused to testify before a grand jury, and the state elected not to exercise its legal right to toss them in jail on contempt charges. In another instance, a polygamist indicted on sexual-misconduct-with-a-minor charges fled to Mexico with his wives and children before he could be arrested.

The governor, meanwhile, has done nothing to address the crisis in Colorado City since taking office in January, despite years of pressure from prominent women's groups dating back to when she was AG. In an interview with New Times recently, Napolitano expressed frustration with the Colorado City situation, but continued to offer no solution. So far, she has ruled out another state raid to stop the wholesale sexual abuse of young girls -- which, sources say, she fears might result in a violent confrontation. She told New Times she fears for the safety of any state workers sent in to investigate the Mormon fundamentalists' apparent misuse of public money for schools and welfare.

An ongoing New Times investigation of polygamy in Arizona has uncovered the following additional significant law enforcement failures at the city, county and state levels:

• The Colorado City Police Department ignores sexual-misconduct crimes stemming from the widespread community practice of coercing underage girls into non-civil, polygamous marriages with much older men.

• Evidence presented in Mohave County Superior Court strongly suggests that molestation of girls by fathers and brothers is endemic in the repressed community, which supports claims made by women who have left that incest is rampant.

• None of the dozen sexual-molestation cases filed against Colorado City fathers and brothers in the last 10 years by Mohave County Attorney Ekstrom has resulted in a county jail sentence of more than one year.

• The Colorado City Police Department is poorly equipped and lacks trained personnel to properly gather evidence in sexual-assault cases. The department does not have a written criminal-procedures manual -- a standard tool in most police departments -- to guide its investigations.

• The Colorado City police force also serves the adjacent polygamous community of Hildale, Utah. None of the police department's officers, however, is certified to act as a peace officer in Utah.

• Colorado City police rely almost exclusively on religious leaders to alert them to sexual-misconduct crimes. Mounting evidence indicates that the leaders hardly report all the crimes they know about to police.

• Although polygamy violates Arizona's Constitution, an effort to decertify polygamous Colorado City police officers has been stymied because the state Legislature has never passed a legal statute making polygamy a crime.

• Colorado City's isolation from government services and oversight makes it extremely difficult for sexual-assault victims to receive assistance from authorities outside the control of fundamentalist religious leaders.

• Utah is showing up Arizona by taking aggressive steps to arrest and prosecute polygamists engaging in illegal sex with minors. While Napolitano and Arizona officials languish, Utah's attorney general vows that leaders of the polygamous society may also be prosecuted.

Most of Colorado City's police officers are polygamists, including Chief Roundy. They have jurisdiction over an area on both sides of the state line with a population of about 6,000.

Hildale, Utah, is the home of Warren Jeffs, president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS). Jeffs, who also carries the title Prophet in the area, conducts weekly services in a sprawling meeting hall on the Arizona side of the border.

Jeffs, 47, has more than a dozen wives, including at least two he impregnated under the age of 18, according to Utah birth records obtained by New Times. Sexual contact with 16- or 17-year-olds is illegal in Utah for people who are 10 years older, unless couples are legally married. No one can be legally married to more than one spouse.

Sources familiar with Jeffs' penchant for young girls say he seeks out not only virgins, but girls who know little about sex as part of his religious rituals. "He doesn't like them to understand anything," says a former FLDS woman familiar with Jeffs' huge family.

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