Double Exposure

Arizona's finally followed Utah's lead and launched serious action to stop abuses by polygamists

As significant as the recent ground swell of action by Utah and Arizona authorities may appear, it would be naive to think that the initiatives will force Jeffs and the fundamentalist Mormons he controls to abandon polygamy, the very bedrock of their religion.

While the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officially backed away from polygamy in 1890 -- and says it now excommunicates members who continue the practice -- fundamentalist Mormons believe that polygamy is the only route to salvation.

The recent moves by Utah and Arizona authorities are viewed by FLDS faithful as yet another round of persecutions to be endured. In fact, the only aggressive state action against polygamists -- an ill-fated 1953 raid on the community by Arizona Governor Howard Pyle -- has been used by FLDS leaders to rally the faithful around their prophet ("Polygamy's Odyssey," March 13).

Colorado City schools superintendent Alvin Barlow (left). Bob Curran (right) helps child brides escape polygamy.
John Dougherty
Colorado City schools superintendent Alvin Barlow (left). Bob Curran (right) helps child brides escape polygamy.
(Left)Arizona AG Terry Goddard (top) and Utah AG Mark Shurtleff are targeting 
polygamists. (Right)The financially troubled Colorado City school board’s controversial Cessna (top). A cave (above) 
where many believe weapons are stored.
John Dougherty
(Left)Arizona AG Terry Goddard (top) and Utah AG Mark Shurtleff are targeting polygamists. (Right)The financially troubled Colorado City school board’s controversial Cessna (top). A cave (above) where many believe weapons are stored.

Sources say Jeffs' followers are building a secret compound -- possibly along the Arizona-Mexico border -- where stalwarts could retreat if authorities descend on Colorado City and Hildale. At the same time, Jeffs has ordered workers to fortify the perimeter of his Hildale compound with an eight-foot-high block wall.

"It appears he's digging in," Utah AG Shurtleff says.

An interesting aside is that while Utah AG Shurtleff, a mainstream Mormon, has been particularly aggressive in putting pressure on the fundamentalist enclave to, among other things, stop underage marriages, his office has announced it will not prosecute polygamists who enter into spiritual unions with adult females. The stance has come despite a state law declaring polygamy of any sort a felony.

Consequently, the Utah Judicial Conduct Commission decided in October to allow polygamist Walter Steed to continue serving as judge of the Hildale Justice Court, even though he has three wives and is violating the felony statute. Records show that Steed entered into one civil marriage and two subsequent spiritual unions.

In an October 27 ruling, the commission said it would not strip Steed of his position because his wives were adults when they entered into the marriages. In its decision, the commission cited statements by Shurtleff's office that it would prosecute no polygamy case that didn't involve an underage spouse.

The commission's support of Steed sends a powerful signal to other polygamists holding pubic office in Hildale that, unless they take child brides, they need not worry about losing their positions for violating state law and the Utah Constitution (which, like Arizona's, bans polygamy).

"The police department is polygamist. The town council is polygamist. The judge is polygamist. It's unbelievable," says Douglas White, attorney for the anti-polygamy activist group Tapestry Against Polygamy. "Is that a breakdown of the Constitution or not?"

Steed, a truck driver who has served as a judge since 1981, was reappointed last month by the Hildale town council to another four-year term. A spokesman for the Judicial Conduct Commission declined to comment, saying its proceedings are confidential.

Utah -- the home to the largest Mormon population in the nation, whether they be mainstream or fundamentalist -- traditionally has been hard on women who flee polygamous marriages with their children.

Late last month, a Utah court stripped Tamara Phelps of custody of her three children and gave them to Amy Black, one of her former sister wives in a polygamous marriage.

The court -- in a decision Shurtleff says he was stunned by -- issued the order even though Amy Black is legally married to polygamist Orson William Black, a fugitive who fled to Mexico last spring to avoid arrest by Arizona law enforcement on five felony counts of sexual misconduct with minors ("Polygamists Probed," May 1).

Phelps, who admits to having had emotional problems handling her transition out of polygamy, wanted to keep the children, or, at the very least, have them adopted by her brother or sister, who aren't polygamists. Instead, the court agreed with Utah child welfare officials, and the children, including two teenage girls, were put back in the polygamous home. Though Orson Black reportedly is still in Mexico, and the court ordered Amy Black to have no contact with him, Phelps believes her children are still in danger.

"That just blows me away," Shurtleff says of the custody decision. He vows to see if his office can legally intervene in the case.

Bleeding the Beast

Prophet Warren Jeffs "seems to need a steady supply of young virgins," claims Deloy Bateman, a former FLDS member who left the church several years ago after leaders tried unsuccessfully to remove four children by his second wife from his care.

A source in the Utah Attorney General's Office says authorities are investigating reports from former FLDS members concerning Jeffs' penchant for exploiting young girls who have little understanding of their sexuality.

"Warren Jeffs is an evil, evil man," maintains the source, who is very familiar with the case Shurtleff's office is working up against Jeffs.

It's no exaggeration to say that FLDS families must at least pretend that they would be honored to have a daughter become one of Warren Jeffs' plural wives. A marriage into the Jeffs household increases a family's social status and, more important, enhances the family patriarch's chances of obtaining additional wives -- since it is Jeffs who rules on which girls and women go where.

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