Polygamists Probed

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Later that day, March 21, sheriff's deputies returned to the Black home and were allowed to enter. The deputies found Phelps' three daughters, and returned them to their mother.

But Black -- the polygamous fugitive who had been surrounded the night before -- was long gone.

County Attorney Ludlow and MacFarlane did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Smith, the Washington County sheriff, says his top priority was the safe release of the children. He says he wasn't aware that Black was wanted on a felony warrant from Arizona -- despite the fact that his deputies had notified sheriff's department supervisors of the warrant early on the evening of March 20.

Even if he had known about Arizona's warrant the night before, Smith says, he still would have removed his officers to defuse the situation.

"Black was the least of my worries," Smith says.

Smith says he's had no personal contact with the Arizona Attorney General's Office and that he thinks Black's arrest is a low priority for Arizona authorities. Besides, he says, the Arizona felony charges against Black were not serious enough to risk a violent confrontation.

"There are felonies, and then there are felonies," Smith says.

Asked why he didn't leave a deputy to monitor Black's house overnight, Smith says he didn't have enough manpower for such a stakeout.

Bottom line: Black's arrest, Smith says, is not Washington County's concern.

"That's Arizona's problem," he says.

The WCSO encounter with Black was expected to be raised during a Utah Senate confirmation committee hearing on Ludlow's judicial nomination scheduled for April 30 (after press time for this article). A committee staff member, Jerry Howe, says the Black incident raises a serious question about Ludlow's competency.

"Why didn't they arrest the guy when they had them surrounded? I don't have the answer to that," Howe said before the hearing.

The failure by Washington County law enforcement to arrest Black surprised Mohave County (Arizona) Sheriff Tom Sheahan. On the morning of March 21, Sheahan told New Times that he understood Black's house had been surrounded the night before and that Black would be arrested.

"If they capture him, he would be extradited to Arizona and would be in our jail," Sheahan said at the time.

A month later, Sheahan says he doesn't know why Black wasn't nabbed and that he hasn't asked for an explanation from Washington County.

"It doesn't matter what happened at that time," Sheahan says. "It matters where he is at now."

Law enforcement officials in Arizona and Utah believe Black has fled to Mexico. In recent weeks, several of Black's wives and more than a dozen children have also left the country to reportedly join him south of the border.

Among the children who left Arizona is 15-year-old Sally Beth Barlow, whom Peterson believes is now "married" to Black as his seventh wife and has borne him a child.

Sally Beth's mother, Rosie Stubbs Barlow Black, is also married to Black. Sally Beth was fathered by a previous husband.

Beginning in February, Peterson says, she made repeated calls to Arizona Child Protective Services asking that the welfare of Black's children, including Sally Beth, be ensured. Peterson says she was concerned about reports that Sally Beth's appearance had changed dramatically in the last year and that the girl had not been in school for many months.

Peterson had good reason to be worried.

Her sisters are Roberta and Beth Stubbs. Roberta and Beth both delivered babies before they were 18, and Black claims to be the father.

The girls, however, told Arizona AG's investigators in separate interviews last year that they have never had sexual relations with Black, claiming they became pregnant through artificial insemination.

Peterson wasn't the only person expressing concern to CPS that Sally Beth appeared to have had a baby.

A Mohave County sheriff's deputy told a CPS worker that he had observed Sally Beth adjusting a nursing bra and standing close to an infant during an unsuccessful attempt in March to serve the felony warrant on Black, according to an April 14 taped phone call between Peterson and CPS investigator Joanna Donglinger obtained by New Times.

"The police officer said . . . the baby was laying on the bed and that Sally Beth was standing in front of a mirror and adjusting a bra," Donglinger says during the taped conversation. "And he put two and two together, assuming or thinking, that she's been nursing the baby."

Donglinger would soon meet Sally Beth and see evidence for herself. Donglinger went to Black's Arizona home in late March and observed Sally Beth hovering near a baby. Black had his half-dozen or so wives and children spread between two homes about eight miles apart -- one in Arizona and the other in Utah.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty