By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Plural marriages to underage girls have been the norm in Colorado City for decades, and the local police force has played a crucial role in allowing the practice to continue by failing to enforce sexual-misconduct laws to protect minors. In some cases, police officers themselves have been sexually involved with underage girls.
Last year, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff filed sexual misconduct with a minor and bigamy charges against Colorado City police officer Rodney Holm, a Hildale resident, because of his relationship with his third plural wife, Ruth Stubbs.
Holm was 32 when he married Stubbs in a ceremony conducted by church leaders when she was 16. She bore him two children before turning 18.
Stubbs later fled to Phoenix with the help of a sister and filed a child-custody case in Maricopa County. She has since returned to Colorado City. While in Phoenix she gave an extensive interview to Arizona AG's investigators, who provided Shurtleff with enough evidence to file charges. Holm's trial is set to begin on August 11 in St. George, Utah.
Shurtleff says he intends to continue prosecuting cases of sexual misconduct in Hildale as more information is uncovered. He says he is investigating whether to bring charges against top FLDS officials.
"We have been trying to kick this up a notch and take it to the leaders," Shurtleff says.
The Utah Legislature, he says, appears prepared to allocate more funding for his office to conduct investigations of polygamous enclaves throughout the state, the Hildale-Colorado City area being the largest.
"I cannot believe that officially we have been turning a blind eye to all this stuff for all these years," Shurtleff says. "We just can't do that anymore."
It's a different story in Arizona.
While Arizona has provided assistance in the Rodney Holm case, the Attorney General's Office has yet to make an arrest of a Colorado City polygamist on sexual-misconduct charges, even though it has been conducting the criminal investigation into the community for nearly three years.
Attorney General Terry Goddard says he is closely monitoring the investigation and plans to hold a summit later this month in St. George to discuss combining law enforcement efforts with Utah. Goddard will be joined by his counterpart, Shurtleff, and authorities from Mohave County and Washington County, Utah.
In what on the surface seems to be just more talking, Goddard says he hopes the summit will allow Arizona and Utah to implement a unified plan to arrest and prosecute crimes stemming from polygamy.
Efforts last spring to arrest a polygamist on five felony counts of sexual abuse with a minor were stymied after AG's investigators botched the arrest of William Black, who isn't even affiliated with the FLDS, allowing him to flee to Utah and then to Mexico.
Last winter, the AG's Office backed down after several plural wives refused to testify against their abusers before a grand jury. Rather than putting the women in jail on contempt charges, the state let them return to Colorado City.
But the big irony is that while the state has been impotent at prosecuting polygamists rampantly committing statutory rape, it has among the toughest laws in the nation for sex offenders.
Arizona allows sexual-abuse victims to report crimes to police dating back 25 years. The statute of limitations for prosecution is seven years from the time such crimes are officially reported to law enforcement.
"With the laws we have on the books, we can get pretty good sentences," says Maricopa County's Nannetti. Given proper law enforcement procedures, Nannetti says, there is no reason Arizona laws should not work against polygamists who abuse young girls.
But by-the-book law enforcement will not come from within Colorado City, whose police force is biased toward the polygamous culture that controls the area and does not treat sexual abuse the same as do authorities in other jurisdictions.
Victims' rights advocates say they should be able to look to the state for help, but Governor Napolitano's record on the issue has been abysmal. Even as attorney general all she did was initiate the investigation of Colorado City that has continued under Goddard and has gone next to nowhere.
In the recent interview, Napolitano said the criminal investigation during her tenure as attorney general was stymied because investigators could not find a credible victim willing to testify.
"It was a frustrating situation," she said, "and it remains a frustrating situation. I think that is not atypical when you have such a closed and isolated community."
But the governor doesn't appear to be telling the whole truth.
Victims' rights advocates say the state has never exerted enough effort at finding credible witnesses from the remote area. The state's passive approach of waiting for victims to suddenly appear or issuing subpoenas to unwilling plural wives will continue to be unsuccessful, they say.
"Some girls do reject the system," says Craig Chatwin, a longtime Colorado City resident who quit the FLDS a few years ago. "But there is a lot of emotional pressure put on them from family and friends to stay."
It's true that intense religious indoctrination combined with the very real risk of losing their children and homes if they cooperate with authorities makes it difficult to persuade FLDS women to cooperate with outside law enforcement. But all that could change, Chatwin and others insist, if the state took steps to assure the welfare of the women and children.