Double Exposure

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

If Utah records are accurate and the Jessop girl went through a normal gestation period, Winford Barlow is the second Colorado City police officer discovered to have spiritually married and impregnated an underage girl.

Last August, Officer Rodney Holm was convicted of bigamy and sexual misconduct for spiritually marrying a 16-year-old girl as his third wife. The girl bore Holm two children before she turned 18. Holm was sentenced to one year in the Washington County, Utah, jail and stripped of his police officer certification in Utah and Arizona.

Utah AG Shurtleff says the Rodney Holm case -- along with evidence indicating that other Colorado City police officers, including Winford Barlow, have engaged in unlawful acts -- has spurred his office to launch an investigation of the entire town police department, which has jurisdiction on both sides of the state line.

Brian Stauffer
Warren Jeffs' compound: The prophet's horde of wives live in structures the size of hotels.
John Dougherty
Warren Jeffs' compound: The prophet's horde of wives live in structures the size of hotels.

Shurtleff says his goal is to strip Utah police certification from as many Colorado City police officers as possible, which would set up the possibility that the Washington County Sheriff's Office would take over policing in the area.

"We are going beyond just the fact that they are living in polygamy," Shurtleff says. "We are also trying to document cases where they have been uncooperative with law enforcement efforts and haven't been doing their jobs."

The fate of many in the Colorado City department, made up of more than a dozen cops, could be determined next month when the Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) board, which certifies law enforcement personnel in the state, holds its next meeting.

Arizona officials, meanwhile, say they are closely monitoring Utah's upcoming certification hearings.

"If the grounds for revocation in Utah are also grounds for action in Arizona, then cases could be opened," says Tom Hammarstrom, executive director of Arizona's POST.

Like Utah, Arizona does not certify police departments, but individual officers. Under current state law, Arizona's POST cannot revoke a certification just on the grounds that an officer is a polygamist, even though officers must pledge to uphold the state Constitution, which bans polygamy.

Arizona tried unsuccessfully to decertify former Colorado City assistant police chief Sam Barlow in the late 1980s because he is a polygamist. A hearing officer ruled that since the Arizona Legislature has never passed a law criminalizing polygamy, there were no grounds to strip Barlow of his certification.

Because legal issues regarding polygamy are murky in both Arizona and Utah (there have been no enforced legal restrictions against men marrying as many wives as they please), the fundamentalist Mormon community straddling the border between the two states has been able to rapidly expand. Fifty years ago, there were fewer than 500 polygamists in the area. Now, there are more than 6,000.

Utah has passed a series of laws attempting to stop polygamy, including a felony bigamy statute that makes it illegal for a married person to "purport" to be married to another person or to cohabit with another person. But the statute has been rarely enforced because it is difficult for authorities to find plural wives willing to testify against men. The Rodney Holm case was the rare exception where an estranged spiritual wife served as a witness for the prosecution.

Arizona, meanwhile, has no specific statute banning polygamy. Arizona's bigamy law is only effective against a person who knowingly enters into two civil marriages. Polygamists have gotten around this prohibition by conducting spiritual unions.

Arizona Senate President Ken Bennett says he will support legislation that would stop polygamists from abusing the welfare system and from holding public office. The most direct way to do that, he says, is to make all multiple marriages illegal, regardless of whether they are spiritual in the eyes of fundamentalists.

Bennett, a mainstream Mormon, says he has no plans to personally introduce such a bill. But if another lawmaker does, he says he will hold hearings and make sure the bill comes to a vote during the upcoming legislative session.

"I imagine it would be successful," Bennett says.

House Speaker Jake Flake, a mainstream Mormon whose great-grandfather was a polygamist, also supports hearings next session to address Arizona's lack of a criminal statute banning polygamy, says aide Jake Logan.

All this is good news to state Senator Linda Binder, the Lake Havasu Republican who for years has been pushing the Legislature to enact laws banning what she calls "sham marriages."

"I think [Bennett and Flake] are finally realizing that they have to get on board," says Binder, who has been the most outspoken of a handful of legislators calling for reforms that would protect young girls in the state's polygamist society from sexual abuse.

Arizona AG Goddard says he heartily welcomes the possibility of legislation making it a felony for a person to enter into a multiple marriage with a minor, spiritual or otherwise.

"That law," Goddard says, "would give us some real prosecutorial clout."

Arizona Moving In

As legislators talk about getting tough on fundamentalist Mormons, and state agencies investigate polygamists' sexual abuses and highly questionable public policies, one thing seems certain:

Arizona will open a multi-agency government office in Colorado City early next year that will assist women seeking to avoid or escape polygamous marriages.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Phoenix Concert Tickets