Under Siege

Polygamists are barricading their homes in the midst of mounting legal assaults by authorities

The Arizona Constitution bans polygamy. Roundy and Officer Vance Barlow each has three wives and more than 20 children. Both already had been stripped of their police certifications in Utah because they are bigamists.

Roundy told Utah police that he knew Ruth Stubbs was fellow officer Rodney Holm's plural wife and that he knew the underage girl was pregnant. He said he considered the marriage legitimate because Stubbs' father had given permission.

"I thought everything was hunky-dory," Roundy told a Utah investigator during an October 2004 interview.

Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith
Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith
Fundamentalist Mormon polygamists are building imposing walls around the perimeter of their homes in Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah.
Mark Folkerson
Fundamentalist Mormon polygamists are building imposing walls around the perimeter of their homes in Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah.

Rather than decertifying polygamist cops a couple at a time, Arizona Attorney General Goddard says he is seeking ways to eliminate or greatly reduce the powers of the Colorado City police department. Goddard last month asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the Colorado City police because of repeated civil rights violations.

"The bigger issue is whether the entire police force can be placed on probation," Goddard says.

Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan says the Colorado City cops have been "less than helpful" to him and his deputies on several occasions and that he supports a Justice Department investigation.

"The ideal situation," Sheahan says, "would be for the whole Colorado City police department to just go away."

The largest polygamist community in North America is under siege. There is action by both Utah and Arizona against the Colorado City police force. There are the indictments against fugitive Prophet Warren Jeffs and eight other FLDS men. There is the potential takeover of the school district by Arizona Attorney General Goddard. There is the removal of fundamentalist church members as trustees of the UEP, the FLDS' richest asset.

And if that is not enough, there are the lawsuits against Jeffs by the young men in the community, one of which accuses the prophet of continuously raping his nephew.

The result of all this is that some townspeople in Colorado City and Hildale are barricading themselves inside their houses, while others have headed to Texas to form a new fundamentalist community.

Will the polygamists inside their walled compounds refuse to pay their taxes and dare authorities to confront them? Will Warren Jeffs, wherever he is, order them to keep authorities out no matter what the consequences?

Will Jeffs and his followers -- who have no intention of abandoning polygamy, which includes "celestial marriages" of FLDS members to underage girls -- harbor fugitives sought for prosecution behind those walls?

Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson worries not so much about a massive standoff between the FLDS and outside authorities as he does about a random act of violence. He is worried that an FLDS leader will order one of the young zealots in the towns to confront a police officer or other critic, and all hell will break loose.

"I've always thought one of the young FLDS kids might shoot someone," Johnson says.

Meanwhile, Mohave County Attorney's investigator Gary Engels holds a lone vigil in the double-wide in Colorado City that he calls an office.

Engels has no backup in the area. The closest Mohave County Sheriff's Office substation is more than an hour away in Beaver Dam. Colorado City is more than 200 miles from the county seat in Kingman.

Both Sheriff Sheahan and AG Goddard contend they cannot afford to send full-time backup officers to Colorado City. They talk about the need for state or federal grants to finance additional officers for the Mohave County Sheriff's Office.

As for Engels, he is not about to abandon his post.

Mohave County Attorney "Matt Smith and I were the first ones to ever get any charges against the prophet out here," he says proudly.

This lone ranger hopes the cavalry will come if he needs it.

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