Eyes Wide Shut

From Governor Janet Napolitano down, Arizona authorities have protected polygamous sexual predators with their indifference

PhoenixNewTimes.com/August 7, 2003
By John Dougherty

Napolitano's ignorance of the law regarding polygamy suggests to activists that she will do nothing to stop polygamists from sexually abusing young girls.

Colorado City polygamists have thrived in their remote enclave beneath Canaan Mountain about 240 miles by highway from Mohave County's administrative center in Kingman. Prominent polygamists live in huge homes, lower left, that house plural "wives" and children.

Help the Child Brides director Bob Curran hopes to help girls and women seeking to flee polygamous marriages ordered by fundamentalist Mormon leaders from his headquarters in St. George, Utah.

Political players: From far left, clockwise: Governor Janet Napolitano, Mohave County Attorney Bill Ekstrom, Attorney General Terry Goddard, State Senator Linda Binder and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.

Basic training: Colorado City police officer Rodney Holm earned a certificate after attending a police class on child sexual abuse. Holm is set to stand trial August 11 in St. George, Utah, on three counts of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and one count of bigamy stemming from his "plural" marriage to teenager Ruth Stubbs.

Polygamist Colorado City police chief Sam Roundy has never made an arrest on sexual-abuse charges related to an underage girl entering into a polygamous marriage.

Colorado City Mayor Dan Barlow's political clout helped keep his son out of prison after he confessed to repeatedly molesting his five daughters.

"This is laughable," scoffs Cindi Nannetti, Maricopa County's sex-crimes bureau chief, as she finishes reading a three-page report prepared by the Colorado City Police Department -- an agency controlled by fundamentalist Mormon polygamists along the Arizona-Utah border.

The report briefly summarizes more than a decade of sex crimes by Dan Barlow Jr., 52, whose father, Dan Barlow Sr., is the longtime mayor and fire chief of Colorado City, a small town on the desolate Arizona Strip north of the Grand Canyon.

Nannetti certainly isn't laughing over the criminal acts. One of the top sex-crimes prosecutors in the country, she has been directing Maricopa County's investigation into sexual misconduct by Catholic priests for years. She knows good police work, and the Colorado City police report misses the mark.

Nannetti says cases with similar accusations in Maricopa County would result in stacks of evidence two feet high.

Despite its brevity, the Colorado City report, nevertheless, raises some alarming issues.

A two-page synopsis outlines how Barlow molested five of his daughters from the time they were as young as 12 until they were about 19 years old. Barlow would go into their bedrooms, remove their clothing and rub their breasts. With three of the victims, he touched their vaginas. He repeatedly had several of the daughters massage his penis. The events occurred "many, many times," according to the victims' statements in the report.

In a community where underage girls are frequently coerced into polygamous, so-called "spiritual" marriages by religious leaders and where women are taught to obey men without question, the police report notes in a knowing, yet offhand, manner that Barlow used his authority as the girls' father to his advantage.

"Most of the girls told me he used the I am father, trust me' [line] on them to get his way with them," Colorado City Police Chief Sam Roundy wrote in the report.

Unlike more prominent men in town, such as Dan's father -- who are often granted "blessings" of additional young wives by the area's fundamentalist religious leader, or Prophet -- the younger Barlow only had one wife.

He says in court interviews that he preyed on his daughters because he was curious about girls. He relates that he had no contact with teenage girls when he was a young man because of religious sanctions against dating. After he began molesting them, Barlow started considering his daughters surrogate wives.

"I could see them like my wife," he told a court-appointed sex therapist months after a single police interview in December 2001.

Barlow told the therapist he didn't think he was doing anything wrong because he never had sexual intercourse with his daughters.

"He struggled in admitting that there was a sexual intent to his behaviors," the therapist, DeLynn Lamb, stated in her report.

Despite Barlow's admission that he viewed his daughters as "wives," along with his inability to connect his behavior with sexual perversion, there is no indication in the report that the therapist discussed, or even knew, that he grew up in a polygamist community where teenage girls are prized by older men.

The Colorado City police report, Nannetti says, fails to identify the dates of the sexual assaults, which greatly inhibits prosecution. Even more important, she says, is the lack of a videotaped interview of the victims describing their ordeal -- a crucial tool in prosecuting sex crimes, particularly when the perpetrator is related to the victims.

In many cases, victims will recant or seek leniency for their abuser if he is a family member. Four of the five victims and Barlow's wife asked in letters to Mohave County Superior Court that he not be sentenced to state prison. Unlike in jurisdictions where public officials are not overwhelmingly influenced by religious leaders, such sentiment carries great weight.

Barlow was indicted by a grand jury in January 2002 on four felony counts of sexual abuse and one felony count of molestation of a child. If he had been convicted on all four sexual-abuse counts, he could have faced more than 20 years in prison.

The child-molestation charge was even more serious, with the possibility of a 10- to 24-year sentence.

Rather than vigorously pursuing the case to send a signal to Colorado City polygamists that sexual assaults of underage girls will not be tolerated, Mohave County Attorney Bill Ekstrom offered Dan Barlow Jr. a very favorable plea bargain of one felony count of sexual abuse, which the defendant accepted.

State sentencing guidelines suggest a five-year prison sentence. Ekstrom -- despite describing Barlow's crimes as "pretty depraved" -- recommended a sentence of 120 days in county jail, plus probation. He admits that the wishes of the community, including the victims, played a significant role in the sweetheart deal.

Yet even that sentence was too harsh for the Mohave County Superior Court.

Judge Richard Weiss sentenced Dan Barlow Jr. -- a sex offender who had molested his daughters repeatedly over a 10-year period while fantasizing that they were the additional spouses he could not attain in his fundamentalist Mormon society -- to time served plus seven years' probation.

Total county jail time for the son of the polygamous Colorado City mayor: 13 days.

Limp-Wristed Enforcement

The shoddy police work and lenient prosecution in the Dan Barlow Jr. case are typical of how Colorado City and Mohave County have long addressed sex crimes against minors that permeate life in the fundamentalist Mormon stronghold.

Arizona leaders -- from Governor Janet Napolitano down -- have also given the polygamists a virtual free pass by refusing to enforce state laws to protect children when local officials fail to do so. Instead, Arizona's political leaders have mostly ignored the abuses in the remote town while emphasizing instead the clean-cut image promoted by Colorado City's leaders.

The last time the state took a concrete step to stop rampant sexual abuse of minors in Colorado City was in 1953, when former governor Howard Pyle launched a police raid on the community and arrested all the men. That effort wound up going nowhere, and only in the last three years has the state Attorney General's Office feigned slight interest in the issue. When she was attorney general, Napolitano opened a criminal investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct, welfare abuse, school fraud and weapons violations. But the timid probe has been conducted primarily from Phoenix, with very little on-the-ground work in Colorado City, and has resulted in no arrests.

The polygamists -- so far -- have been successful at thwarting AG's investigators. Last winter, several plural wives refused to testify before a grand jury, and the state elected not to exercise its legal right to toss them in jail on contempt charges. In another instance, a polygamist indicted on sexual-misconduct-with-a-minor charges fled to Mexico with his wives and children before he could be arrested.

The governor, meanwhile, has done nothing to address the crisis in Colorado City since taking office in January, despite years of pressure from prominent women's groups dating back to when she was AG. In an interview with New Times recently, Napolitano expressed frustration with the Colorado City situation, but continued to offer no solution. So far, she has ruled out another state raid to stop the wholesale sexual abuse of young girls -- which, sources say, she fears might result in a violent confrontation. She told New Times she fears for the safety of any state workers sent in to investigate the Mormon fundamentalists' apparent misuse of public money for schools and welfare.

An ongoing New Times investigation of polygamy in Arizona has uncovered the following additional significant law enforcement failures at the city, county and state levels:

"The Colorado City Police Department ignores sexual-misconduct crimes stemming from the widespread community practice of coercing underage girls into non-civil, polygamous marriages with much older men.

"Evidence presented in Mohave County Superior Court strongly suggests that molestation of girls by fathers and brothers is endemic in the repressed community, which supports claims made by women who have left that incest is rampant.

"None of the dozen sexual-molestation cases filed against Colorado City fathers and brothers in the last 10 years by Mohave County Attorney Ekstrom has resulted in a county jail sentence of more than one year.

"The Colorado City Police Department is poorly equipped and lacks trained personnel to properly gather evidence in sexual-assault cases. The department does not have a written criminal-procedures manual -- a standard tool in most police departments -- to guide its investigations.

"The Colorado City police force also serves the adjacent polygamous community of Hildale, Utah. None of the police department's officers, however, is certified to act as a peace officer in Utah.

"Colorado City police rely almost exclusively on religious leaders to alert them to sexual-misconduct crimes. Mounting evidence indicates that the leaders hardly report all the crimes they know about to police.

"Although polygamy violates Arizona's Constitution, an effort to decertify polygamous Colorado City police officers has been stymied because the state Legislature has never passed a legal statute making polygamy a crime.

"Colorado City's isolation from government services and oversight makes it extremely difficult for sexual-assault victims to receive assistance from authorities outside the control of fundamentalist religious leaders.

"Utah is showing up Arizona by taking aggressive steps to arrest and prosecute polygamists engaging in illegal sex with minors. While Napolitano and Arizona officials languish, Utah's attorney general vows that leaders of the polygamous society may also be prosecuted.

Most of Colorado City's police officers are polygamists, including Chief Roundy. They have jurisdiction over an area on both sides of the state line with a population of about 6,000.

Hildale, Utah, is the home of Warren Jeffs, president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS). Jeffs, who also carries the title Prophet in the area, conducts weekly services in a sprawling meeting hall on the Arizona side of the border.

Jeffs, 47, has more than a dozen wives, including at least two he impregnated under the age of 18, according to Utah birth records obtained by New Times. Sexual contact with 16- or 17-year-olds is illegal in Utah for people who are 10 years older, unless couples are legally married. No one can be legally married to more than one spouse.

Sources familiar with Jeffs' penchant for young girls say he seeks out not only virgins, but girls who know little about sex as part of his religious rituals. "He doesn't like them to understand anything," says a former FLDS woman familiar with Jeffs' huge family.

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.

So far, neither Mohave County nor the state has made even the most minimal effort to make it easier for these women to testify against their abusers.

A big problem is distance. Colorado City is more than 240 miles away from the Mohave County seat in Kingman, and few victims have the financial resources or independence to travel that far.

What the state needs to do -- if officials like Napolitano are doing anything more than paying lip service to wanting to prosecute the sex offenders in Colorado City and remove their victims from harm -- is bring services and legitimate investigators into the remote area.

In recent weeks, Arizona political leaders have expressed support for studying a proposal to build a joint state and county governmental justice center near Colorado City -- which could include a "Children's Justice Center."

Mohave County has already allocated $500,000 to build a new justice court in the area. Construction of the new facility might be expanded to include the children's facility, officials are now hinting. Such a center would have a child-protection-services office, a department of economic security office (to oversee welfare programs that now hand out more than $10 million a year to the polygamous community on the Arizona side of the border), a Mohave County sheriff's substation, a county attorney's satellite office and -- most important -- a sexual-assault-victims' advocacy office.

The advocacy office would specialize in assisting sexual-assault and sexual-abuse victims in what authorities say would be a protective and nurturing environment. The center would have medical equipment for examinations and would be staffed with trained interviewers who would gather videotaped evidence needed to competently prosecute cases.

The governmental center could pay for itself by increasing Mohave County's ability to assess and collect property taxes in Colorado City. The town is violating state law by failing to provide a list of new building permits it issues to the county assessor's office and state Department of Revenue each year.

The theory is, because of the center's proximity to Colorado City and the lengthy statute of limitations in Arizona, scads of victims would come forward and enable unbiased authorities to gather sufficient evidence to routinely level prosecutable cases.

"This problem is not going to be solved by criminal prosecution," maintains Attorney General Goddard. "It's going to be solved by individuals who have a grievance having a safe place to go."

Rampant Sexual Abuse

Women who have left Colorado City have long claimed that incest and other sex crimes are widespread in the fundamentalist Mormon area and rarely reported to police, let alone prosecuted. Their horror stories are common on anti-polygamy Web sites.

Colorado City leaders have dismissed such accounts as malicious rumors spread by a handful of disgruntled women.

New Times' review of public records in Mohave County Superior Court dating back to 1992 provides strong support to the claims of rampant, FLDS-condoned sexual abuse of minors under the single roofs of the large polygamous households of Colorado City.

Religious admonishments against sex outside polygamous unions and the indoctrination of females to be obedient to men have led to fathers preying on daughters and brothers molesting sisters, court records and interviews show.

During the course of New Times' investigation, numerous personal stories of abuse have been related. In some, the molestations are mentioned in passing, underscoring contentions that they are common. Nearly all of the women refused to allow their names used because they fear retribution, not just of them but of their loved ones.

Pennie Petersen is one of the few women willing to come forward with an on-the-record account of what happened to her and her family under polygamy. Petersen says she fled Colorado City when she was 14 after she was sexually assaulted by the husband of her 14-year-old girlfriend.

Petersen says the man -- who has never been charged -- climbed into bed with her during a trip to Las Vegas. She woke up to him fondling her.

"I rolled out of that bed and ran as hard as I could," she recalls.

Her girlfriend, Petersen says, had already told her she had been repeatedly raped by the man after she was forced to marry him.

"I knew exactly what I was heading for," she says. "I might as well have put a gun to my head and shot myself [rather] than [have dealt] with that."

Petersen managed to get home and report the story to her parents, who asked the advice of Leroy Johnson, the area's religious leader at the time. The Prophet commanded that Petersen immediately marry a 48-year-old polygamist who Petersen claims had already sexually abused her.

"I said, Whatever,'" Petersen remembers.

That night, she sneaked out of the house and phoned friends, who picked her up beside the road and spirited her back to Las Vegas.

Petersen is now married and living in Phoenix. She has spent years trying to assist her sisters, several of whom were married as young teenagers to much older men. One of her sisters is Ruth Stubbs, who married Colorado City police officer Rodney Holm, who is set to go on trial soon in St. George for cohabiting with Ruth when she was underage.

Arizona attorney general's investigators have conducted interviews with several Colorado City women who report widespread sexual misconduct. In a July 26, 2001, interview with state investigators, former fundamentalist Lenora Spencer said her daughter spent hours with a girlfriend generating a list of acquaintances they knew in the Colorado City area.

"They could think of not one of them who had not been molested," Spencer told investigators.

"The adults brush it off like [it's] no big deal, like it's normal," Spencer related.

It is not unusual to find families with more than 20 children from various mothers and fathers living in the same home.

"Many children share the same bedrooms and bathrooms. They are not allowed to listen to music, watch TV, [the boys aren't supposed to] talk to girls, there are no social programs, dances, activities. They teach [that] all these things are evil," a divorced father who left the area and whose children remain there states in a letter to Mohave County Superior Court.

The father says his teenage daughter was fired from her job in town because she spoke to a boy walking past her.

"To even look at a girl is considered evil," he states.

The rules forbidding contact between teenage girls and boys break down when it comes to sexual assault in the home. In most of the criminal cases coming out of Colorado City, the assaults occurred repeatedly and spanned a number of years before they were finally addressed by law enforcement and the courts.

The case of Jeremiah Sunderland Johnson provides insight into the depravity lurking inside some of the polygamous families tucked into the sprawling, ramshackle houses that dominate the town's landscape.

Church leaders contacted Colorado City police in January 1997 and reported a child-molestation case involving 19-year-old Jeremiah, who was living in a home with his stepfather, Lyle Major Jessop, and mother, Sirrene Johnson Jessop -- along with other children and Lyle's additional wives.

Police began a series of interviews with Jeremiah's full sisters, beginning with a 16-year-old. The girl stated that Jeremiah began molesting her when she was about 6 years old. Jeremiah was about 9 when the assaults began. She says Jeremiah had come into her room and persuaded her to take off her clothes. He got on top of her and tried to put his penis inside her, but was unsuccessful. This routine continued until she was 15 and he was 18, after which the two had sexual intercourse about half a dozen times.

Police then interviewed a 14-year-old sister, who recounted a similar story, including having sex with Jeremiah when she was 10. She estimated that they had intercourse six times.

An 18-year-old sister told police that years earlier when Jeremiah was about 11 he had unsuccessfully attempted to enter her when she was 10 years old and in the fourth grade.

Jeremiah admitted to police that he sexually assaulted his sisters, but he claims the incidents began when he was about 12.

The years of unchecked sexual assaults of his sisters while they were inside their home had a devastating effect.

"I feel that he has hurt me, and I will never get that back," the 14-year-old told the court in 1997.

"He needs to understand how bad he has hurt his whole family," the 16-year-old recounted. "My life will never be the same. I wish I could have a different one."

The girl was racked with guilt.

"I feel like I could have done something more," she told a probation officer. "I feel like if I'd only been strong enough to tell somebody how embarrassing it was. . . . Coming forward may have prevented this."

As is common in incest cases, the girl began displaying behavior similar to Jeremiah's. She offered to have sex with her stepbrother and admitted molesting one of her younger brothers.

That boy later told Lyle Jessop that he, and yet another brother, both under 10, had also been molested by Jeremiah.

The sexual entanglements appear to extend even further. Court records show that the mother, Sirrene, stated that her younger brothers living in another house were involved with her younger sisters in an "inappropriate way."

Despite the court receiving additional allegations of sexual misconduct before Jeremiah entered his guilty plea, there is no record that additional charges were filed against him or the 16-year-old girl. There also is no record of any police investigation or charges related to Sirrene's allegation concerning her brothers.

While Jeremiah's sisters were struggling to recover, Jeremiah displayed a "nonchalant manner" during his probation evaluation that was "very disturbing" considering the gravity of the crimes, Mohave County chief probation officer Rod L. Marquardt stated in a report.

Despite Jeremiah's showing "no remorse" according to Marquardt, Mohave County Attorney Ekstrom allowed him to plead guilty to just one count of sexual conduct with a minor. Once again, rather than giving Jeremiah the lengthy state prison term suggested under state sentencing guidelines, a Mohave County Superior Court judge sentenced him to just 10 months in county jail and five years' probation.

Marquardt believes that Jeremiah's attitude could have stemmed from what he learned from his father, Lavar Johnson, who died in the early 1990s.

In 1981, Lavar raped a stepdaughter, sources close to the victim say, was convicted of sexually abusing her and later served three years' probation. Additional details are unavailable because case records have been inexplicably purged from Mohave County files, Marquardt says.

What this says is that the incest in the Johnson family spread across at least two generations and involved at least nine family members.

At the time of his sentencing, Jeremiah Johnson couldn't explain his actions.

"I don't know what made it all happen," he wrote in a letter to the court. Referring to his sisters, he added, "I know now that I have indeed hurt them for life."

In the Pocket of Polygs

Mohave County Attorney Bill Ekstrom has enjoyed a long, cordial history with Colorado City polygamists.

Ekstrom has been successfully courting votes from the community since 1979, when he first became county attorney just a couple of years out of law school.

"I've gone up there and handed out candy to the children," he says. The distribution of sweets helps him get permission from town leaders to put up campaign signs in the community. Colorado City historically has bloc-voted for candidates mandated by religious leaders.

So while Ekstrom delivers a tough-on-crime spiel to reporters, his office has repeatedly offered Colorado City sex offenders lenient plea bargains that allow them to avoid lengthy prison terms.

Ekstrom also has made it clear that he is not going to be peeking into anyone's bedrooms to see if underage girls have become the concubines of polygamous husbands through FLDS-sponsored "spiritual marriages."

The county attorney is up-front that he has no interest in charging anyone with polygamy-related crimes such as the unlawful cohabitation of multiple adults.

When that comes up, he quickly changes the subject to the down-home aspects of Colorado City. He expresses admiration for such small-town eccentricities as the dairy farm in the middle of town and the community's Mayberry-like July 4 parade.

Ekstrom says he has been assured by one of the FLDS' high officials, former Colorado City police officer Sam Barlow, that underage girls are no longer being thrust into polygamous marriages. Ekstrom claims to have warned Barlow, himself a polygamist, that if such marriages are continuing, Mohave County is prepared to file charges.

"I told him face-to-face, if this happens, that these are cases we are going to prosecute," Ekstrom says. "If there is a relationship between an adult who is 10 years older than a person, say 17, I'm going to assume it's predatory. That's our policy."

It's easy for Ekstrom -- who ran unopposed in the 2002 election -- to remain blissfully ignorant about the rampant sexual abuses in the town and maintain to outsiders that he has issued stern warnings to religious leaders like Barlow. After all, how can Ekstrom -- whose office is not about to go out and look for trouble -- know about sexual abuse in the community unless the polygamist-controlled Colorado City police force finds out about it and tells his investigators?

And the fact is, the Colorado City Police Department has never on its own referred a single case to Ekstrom's office of an underage girl being sexually abused in a plural marriage with a polygamist.

Look no further than the Rodney Holm case for an example of how local cops ignore even the most obvious violations of the law. Holm, a police officer, entered into a spiritual marriage with a minor. But instead of referring the case to prosecutors in Utah where Holm and his wives live -- as they were duty bound to do -- Holm's fellow Colorado City officers kept it quiet.

The Utah Attorney General's Office found out about the situation and filed charges against Holm only after the underage wife, Ruth Stubbs, fled and filed her child-custody case in Maricopa County Superior Court.

The Holm case has sparked polygamy critics to demand that the Colorado City Police Department be disbanded and its duties taken over by the Mohave County Sheriff's Office along with Washington County, Utah, law enforcement.

"Is it not time to withdraw certification from these so-called public-safety officials, most of whom are non-indicted felons engaging in illegal practices?" asks Bob Curran, director of Help the Child Brides, a nonprofit organization based in St. George, Utah.

Ironically, the department already is prohibited from carrying out law enforcement duties in Utah -- but not because of its malfeasance regarding polygamy. Seems that all 10 full- and part- time Colorado City police officers -- including chief Roundy -- let their certifications with the Utah Peace Officers Standards and Training board lapse as of June 30.

Because Arizona has less stringent continuing-education requirements, the Colorado City officers remain certified south of the state line.

If history is any guide, however, the result of the officers not being sanctioned to investigate wrongdoing in Utah has little bearing on the plight of young sexual-abuse victims on either side of the state border. The dozen teenage abuse cases originating on the Arizona side in the last decade came about because religious leaders notified local police of whatever wrongdoing they were willing to divulge. (None of the cases the FLDS let out of the bag stemmed from an underage girl marrying into polygamy.)

The area elders also haven't been willing to divulge any wrongdoing related to sexual abuse in underage marriages in Utah, records in the Washington County Attorney's Office show.

The way it works is, church leaders from time to time urge members to come forward and confess misdeeds such as sexual misconduct. The idea is that they must repent to remain in God's good graces.

"The bishop up there will discuss a subject like that and tell the people they need to come forward," says Matt Smith, Mohave County's lead sex crimes prosecutor. "We will then see [a case] every once in a while."

Colorado City police declined to return phone calls. But information gleaned from court records shows that most cases follow a similar pattern. Upon getting the word from religious leaders, Colorado City cops typically interview the victims without videotaping the proceedings. Sometimes a Mohave County sheriff's deputy is called in to assist in the questioning.

The officers then interview the suspect -- sometimes days later. The suspect readily confesses to the crime and is normally arrested. A brief synopsis of the interviews, usually no more than a couple of pages, is then sent to the County Attorney's Office for review and presentation to a grand jury.

Here is what happened in the 12 Arizona cases involving a dangerous crime against a child:

Not one of those indicted went to trial. They all ended with the suspect pleading guilty, typically to a single, reduced felony count. No suspect was sentenced to state prison -- with most offenders receiving probation. Several served time in county jail. The longest sentence was one year. Three of the cases resulted in sentences requiring registration as a sex offender.

Ekstrom is aware that polygamists control law enforcement in Colorado City. But he doesn't go around thinking they are corrupt because of their religion. Besides, he says, the wishes of the community play into punishment leveled from all jurisdictions in the county. He says letters are often received from family and friends requesting leniency. When it comes to Colorado City, however, Ekstrom's office never receives another kind of letter that commonly comes from other areas -- the kind that calls for the county attorney to throw the book at the scoundrel.

Typically, Colorado City community leaders will write letters vouching for a sex offender's character, his spiritual devotion and his important role in society.

Dan Barlow Jr., for instance, got many such letters from FLDS leaders, and Ekstrom says the support played a big role in the county's handling of the case. He says it even factored into the light 13-day sentence that Barlow received.

"The court first has to accept the plea and impose a sentence, and [it was] even more lenient than what we recommended," Ekstrom says.

When word got out that Dan Barlow Jr. had gotten a slap on the wrist, a wave of discouragement went through the community of Colorado City women considering fleeing or pressing charges, anti-abuse activists say.

The closed, fundamentalist society in which these women live preaches that outsiders are wicked. Anyone cooperating with outside authorities can expect severe repercussions, including excommunication from the church, shunning by family and friends, eviction from their homes and the loss of their children.

"They have blackballed me with every horrible accusation that you can make against a person," says a woman who has fled Colorado City. "I don't even dare get near the place until things calm down."

It is clear that law enforcement authorities like Ekstrom have allowed FLDS leaders to strengthen their grip on the community. The fundamentalist leaders are not forced to change anything when all the average sex offender can expect from the County Attorney's Office and the courts is the most minimal punishment possible.

Says sex-crimes prosecutor Nannetti, "Until the ramifications are worse for the offender than the victims, things are not going to change."

While Arizona leaders -- from Ekstrom to Napolitano -- have shown no interest in coming down hard on men who molest young girls in the name of polygamy, their counterparts in Utah appear to have gotten the message that something has to be done.

Last January, Utah's special investigator for polygamous communities, Ron Barton, accused Colorado City religious leaders of doing what every outside expert familiar with the situation knows they have been doing for decades -- covering up sexual misconduct. Barton formally leveled the accusation in a letter to Mohave County Superior Court Judge Richard Weiss in conjunction with another Colorado City-area child-molestation case.

In the letter, Barton expressed concern that neither the adults living in the home of the suspect, Todd Dutson, nor FLDS religious leader Warren Jeffs filed a report with police or child-protective-services officers after learning of Dutson's behavior -- which included molesting two girls, ages 13 and 11.

On several occasions in 1999, and again in 2001, Dutson entered the girls' bedrooms while they were sleeping, pulled down their panties and inserted a finger into their vaginas.

Barton says Jeffs "decided to rely solely on his ecclesiastical authority to impose disciplinary action."

Jeffs' solution, Barton states, was to order that Dutson, a juvenile at the time of the offenses, be stripped of his priesthood and forced to move away from the community. According to Barton's letter, the Prophet told Dutson he could be reinstated into the FLDS after repenting.

Neither Barton nor Jeffs returned phone calls seeking comment.

At the time of the assaults, Dutson lived in a polygamous household with his stepfather, mother, his stepfather's two additional wives and 24 children. The girls he assaulted were the daughters of one of his stepfather's plural wives.

Barton says in the letter that Dutson's behavior had become well-known in the community, including to police, yet no one did anything.

"I have heard that many others in the community, including some affiliated with law enforcement, became aware of Todd's conduct and chose to do nothing to protect the girls from further victimization or to assist Todd in correcting his inappropriate conduct," Barton's letter states.

It was only after Dutson became enamored of a girl from a prominent Colorado City family in April 2002 that "the community decided to begin a criminal investigation" into his past activities, Barton states in his letter.

While Barton expressed serious concern over the conduct of religious leaders and local police in failing to aggressively pursue criminal behavior, he felt that Dutson was largely a victim of his polygamous environment.

Barton asked Judge Weiss for leniency, citing Dutson's willingness to admit to wrongdoing and seek counseling.

In this case, Dutson naturally received no letters of support from church elders. He had committed the sin of seeking a romance that didn't meet with FLDS approval.

Unlike in the Dan Barlow Jr. case, where Mohave County prosecutors agreed to drop four of the five felony charges in exchange for a plea, Dutson was only offered a reduction in the severity of both felony counts. As a result, he pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted child molestation.

Judge Weiss then sentenced the 20-year-old -- who committed the crimes while a juvenile -- to six months in county jail and 10 years' probation. Dan Barlow Jr., the 52-year-old son of Colorado City's mayor, got less than two weeks in the Arizona case.

"The judge hit him pretty hard for the first time," says Lyman Dutson, Todd's father. "That's because he didn't have the right last name."

State Bust in '50s Failed

The ongoing sexual exploitation of minors in Colorado City is nothing new.

Older men have been taking teenage plural "wives" for generations. The marriages are considered essential to the fundamentalist Mormon religious practice that requires a man to have at least three wives to reach the highest levels of a complex heaven called the celestial kingdom.

Drawing on the practice of Old Testament prophets having multiple wives, fundamentalists have expanded the concept to include New Testament figures, including Jesus, who they claim was a polygamist who had many children.

The plural wives have no legal right to community property generated by the earthly marriage. Their goal can only be the afterlife, where the religion says righteous men and women will become gods and goddesses and reign over a multitude of planets that will be populated by their progeny.

The founders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that controls Colorado City and Hildale today split off from the main Salt Lake City-based Mormon church in the late 1880s over the issue of polygamy.

Congress was refusing to grant Utah statehood unless the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) renounced polygamy -- which was introduced as a central tenet of the Mormon religion by church founder Joseph Smith in 1843, and put into common practice by Smith's successor, Brigham Young.

The Mormon church leadership under the direction of president Wilford Woodruff disavowed polygamy in 1890 -- months after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a law that disenfranchised the church and threatened to destroy the religion. A large number of Mormon faithful, however, continued to practice polygamy, believing God's law as given through "Prophet" Joseph Smith was superior to civil law.

Some of the polygamist renegades from the mother church eventually gravitated to the Utah-Arizona state line and settled a remote outpost called Short Creek. The mainstream Mormon church to this day officially opposes polygamy and claims to have excommunicated all members who practice it.

In the early 1930s, Mohave County authorities arrested several Short Creek leaders on unlawful cohabitation charges. Two men were sentenced to 18 months in prison in 1935. Upon their release, they returned to the area. The community continued to grow.

On July 26, 1953, former governor Howard Pyle directed a secretly financed, predawn raid on Short Creek. The governor declared the community was in a state of insurrection and sent more than 100 state troopers to arrest all the men in town and remove about 40 women and 160 children.

The raid came after authorities learned that in the previous five years about 20 young girls between the ages of 11 and 15 had entered into polygamous marriages with much older men, according to a statement written in 1954 by Charles Adams, then Mohave County's chief probation officer.

Twenty-six men later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor conspiracy to commit unlawful cohabitation and were sentenced by a Mohave County Superior Court judge to one year on probation.

The women and children were placed under the protective custody of the juvenile court in Phoenix. After a series of hearings, two judges found that the children were endangered by their home surroundings in Short Creek and were to remain wards of the court. The children and mothers were assigned to Mormon families scattered across the state.

The custody ruling, however, was overturned on appeal in 1955 after the defendants successfully argued that the juvenile court had prevented defense attorneys from representing them during certain proceedings. The appeal was upheld by the Arizona Supreme Court. Most of the women and children soon returned to Short Creek.

The self-described legal "blunder" during the custody proceedings by Mohave County Judge J.W. Faulkner put an end to the state's legal effort to dislodge the polygamists.

Faulkner, who played a crucial role in planning the raid with Governor Pyle, predicted that the appeals court's decision would severely set back efforts to end sexual abuse resulting from polygamy. "[This] will inevitably give new life to the cause of polygamy, and prolong the fight for another fifty years," Faulkner wrote after retiring in 1955.

Legal issues aside, the Short Creek raid generated massive negative publicity stemming from the clandestine nature of the arrests combined with photographs of fathers being forcefully separated from their wives and children. The publicity doomed Pyle's political career.

No Arizona political leader has since directly addressed the issue of underage marriages among Arizona polygamists.

In the last 20 years, two former Arizona governors, Democrat Bruce Babbitt and Republican J. Fife Symington III, publicly assured fundamentalist Mormon leaders that the state would not interfere with their unique religious lifestyle.

Short Creek had been renamed Colorado City in 1963, and Arizona endorsed the incorporation of the town in 1985 when Babbitt was governor. The state action came despite the fact that most of the land in the community is owned by a trust controlled by the FLDS. The church can thereby control the assets of the community, charging rent on some property and allowing church faithful to build houses on some of it. The caveat is that citizens can never take title to the homes on church land and can be evicted at any time by FLDS leaders.

The state of Arizona, records show, has become a major contributor to the FLDS collective. Arizona now pours more than $10 million a year into welfare programs, $5 million to the public schools and $1.1 million in other assistance to the town. Utah is pouring millions of dollars into welfare programs to take care of FLDS polygamists living in Hildale.

There is virtually no outside oversight of how this money is spent. On the Arizona side of the state line, local oversight comes in the form of a polygamist-controlled Colorado City town council, whose membership has not changed since its first councilmen were appointed by Mohave County supervisors in 1985. No incumbent has ever faced an election challenge. Hildale, Utah, meanwhile, has had the same mayor for nearly 20 years, and its town council includes Fred Jessop, bishop of the FLDS, who is second in command to Prophet Warren Jeffs. Both councils, sources say, report directly to religious leaders such as Jessop and the Prophet.

New Times' investigation into Colorado City uncovered widespread financial irregularities within its school district, including misuse of credit cards and state vehicles, salary discrimination (non-FLDS workers generally are paid less), an exorbitant number of employees, conversion of public school space to church-run private schools and the questionable purchase of a $220,000 airplane flown by the school board president's son (both father and son are FLDS loyalists).

As a result of New Times' earlier stories, Tom Horne, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, last month asked the state auditor general to conduct a formal financial and performance audit of the Colorado City school district.

Most of the Colorado City-area teachers, along with police, school board members and town council members, are polygamists. They were all required to swear an oath to uphold the Arizona Constitution at the time they assumed their elected posts or were hired -- and the state Constitution has banned polygamy since 1912.

Yet despite this state constitutional prohibition, the Arizona Legislature has never passed a corresponding criminal statute.

Napolitano Fence Sits

Normally well-briefed on subjects that she has agreed to talk about to the press, Governor Napolitano in the interview with New Times neither knew that Article XX of the state Constitution bans polygamy nor that the state has never enacted a law banning it.

Napolitano's apparent unfamiliarity with the legal issues surrounding polygamy makes anti-abuse activists wonder whether she has any intention of taking action to solve the problems in Colorado City. Plus, it is incredible that the governor would be ignorant on a subject that was thrust into the center of the gubernatorial campaign last fall by independent candidate Dick Mahoney.

In a series of commercials in the last month of the campaign that attracted national attention, Mahoney blasted Napolitano for failing to aggressively investigate and prosecute criminal activity in Colorado City. Mahoney based his commercials on documents -- which appeared to have originated in the AG's Office, but in reality were forgeries -- that nonetheless accurately described the horrific conditions in the polygamous area.

Recently, cell phone records from Mahoney's former campaign were linked to the fraudulent documents by the state Department of Public Safety after an investigation. It seems that Napolitano, who won by a small margin, may have wound up getting helped by the ads from the liberal Mahoney, who came in a distant third. The commercials also blasted Republican Matt Salmon, saying he would not work to solve the Colorado City problem because he is a mainstream Mormon. In any case, it was Napolitano who ordered the DPS to conduct the criminal investigation into how the forgeries were leaked to the press. While the bogus material did not come from the AG's Office, its claims of rape, incest, welfare abuse and school fraud by Colorado City polygamists have since been substantiated by New Times. (See earlier stories under "Polygamy in Arizona" at www.phoenixnewtimes.com.)

When told in the interview that polygamy does violate the state Constitution, Napolitano admitted that state employees and cops, plus elected officials in Colorado City, must "have in some respect violated their oaths of office."

Napolitano then rightly said the state already has sufficient laws to go after sexual predators in Colorado City, but she mistakenly added that Arizona already has a criminal provision against polygamy.

"We have laws against statutory rape. We have laws against polygamy. We have laws about obstruction of justice. We have laws about perjury. Those laws are on the books. The difficulty that we have been experiencing is using the laws and getting a case to prove them," she said. "That's back to the fundamental problem, which is the unique nature of Colorado City."

The fundamentalist Mormon enclave's high profile in the last election along with Napolitano's misunderstanding of Arizona law regarding polygamy increases activists' perception that she does not want to risk a potentially nasty political fight to stop the misspending of taxpayer funds in the area, much less the sexual assault of young girls.

Indeed, when pressed by New Times on how she might attack the abuses in the fundamentalist community, Napolitano said only that she would examine the proposal to put the Children's Justice Center close to Colorado City so that young female victims of sexual abuse might have access to help.

At the same time, the governor said she would be concerned for the safety of any government workers sent into the area. The implication was that polygamists might become violent toward outside government officials trying to upset their established order.

It is true that such a center might aid authorities in making cases against sex-abusing polygamists -- the difficulty of which, the governor insists, has always been the problem -- but the activists say she should do more than just study the proposed project, and that she should urge the AG's Office to send investigators into the area, after which the DPS should move in and arrest the victimizers of young girls.

"The civil rights of children in polygamous groups have been violated because law enforcement has not protected these victims," says Lorna Craig, a human-rights activist who is preparing a report on the abuses of polygamy for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

The governor's refusal to address the issues in Colorado City has frustrated the American Association of University Women's Arizona chapter. When Napolitano was attorney general, the group carried out a statewide letter-writing campaign demanding that she take firm action against the polygamists.

The association's Marie Meahl, a prominent Mohave County Republican, says Napolitano -- who has enjoyed strong support from women in her quests for political office -- brushed off the AAUW's concerns. "She gave us lip service," complains Meahl.

But activists have not given up on getting the governor to take real steps to end the abuses. Last month, Meahl joined forces with a cadre of Mohave County Democrats, also frustrated with the lack of state and county action to clean up Colorado City, to form the Citizens Coalition to Protect Children. The group's goal is to present Napolitano, the AG's Office and Ekstrom with a petition signed by 5,000 people demanding that sexual abuse of young girls by the polygamists be stopped. The bipartisan group says it plans to publish the petition in newspapers around the state.

Says coalition co-organizer and Democrat Janet Olson, "Somebody ought to be doing something about this, and we looked at each other and decided it had to be us."

Anti-Polyg Law a Must

The Legislature's refusal to criminalize polygamy derailed an effort by the state police regulatory board in the late 1980s to decertify polygamous Colorado City police officer Sam Barlow for failing to uphold his oath to the state Constitution.

In 1987, more than a dozen Colorado City residents petitioned the Arizona Law Enforcement Officer Advisory Council (now Peace Officer Standards and Training) to decertify Barlow for abusing his police powers. The petitioners said he was using his police authority to enforce religious doctrine and to evict people from church-owned land.

Utah law enforcement officials had already revoked Barlow's police certification in 1986 on the grounds that he was a polygamist. The Arizona law enforcement council did not attempt to remove him based on his performance, but strictly on the narrow grounds that his practice of polygamy violated his constitutional oath.

Sam Barlow filed suit in Maricopa County Superior Court, arguing that his right to religious freedom prevented the council from revoking his police certification. Judge Joseph D. Howe agreed and blocked the council's proceedings.

The state court of appeals reversed Howe's decision in 1990. The appeals court upheld the anti-polygamy clause in the state Constitution and ruled that the council had the right to conduct a hearing on Barlow's fitness as an officer.

"The incompatibility between a public flouting of the Constitution and the duties of peace officer requires the state to address such problems when they arise," the court stated.

The law enforcement advisory council held a two-day hearing in March 1992. Hearing officer Harold Merkow ruled in favor of Sam Barlow keeping his peace officer certification because the Arizona Legislature had not enacted a criminal statute outlawing polygamy.

In his ruling, Merkow stated that "the failure of the Arizona Legislature to enact remedies or criminal penalties for engaging in polygamous practices only makes those practices non-recognizable in law."

Merkow ruled that the council did not present evidence to show that Sam Barlow's conduct as an officer was a "danger to the peace and safety of the citizens of Arizona."

Sam Barlow, the brother of Colorado City Mayor Dan Barlow, retired shortly after Merkow's ruling.

Eleven years later, the Legislature -- whose leadership is controlled by members of the mainstream Mormon Church -- has not yet addressed the incongruence between the constitutional ban and the lack of a corresponding criminal statute.

The Legislature may take up the issue next year, says Jake Logan, press secretary for Speaker of the House Jake Flake. Flake is a descendant of a prominent polygamous Mormon family that founded the ranching town of Snowflake in northeastern Arizona.

Logan says Flake "doesn't support polygamy and thinks that it is wrong." Flake is considering meeting with legislators to "come up with a solution" to address the lack of a criminal statute outlawing polygamy, Logan says. The Legislature has not addressed the issue since 1954, when a bill criminalizing polygamy passed the House but later died in the Senate.

State Senator Linda Binder (R-Lake Havasu) has been one of the few state lawmakers demanding that what she calls "sham marriages" of underage girls in Colorado City be made illegal by state authorities.

"I have no problem with consenting adults doing whatever they want to do," she says. "But when this concerns children, it really bothers me. The fact that many of these women aren't educated, and they are indoctrinated into this whole brainwashing program, to me is unconscionable."

Binder says sexual misconduct with minors will not be stopped until the current Colorado City police department is disbanded. And in order to do that, a law criminalizing polygamy must be enacted to give outside authorities a tool with which to dismantle the biased corps of officers. Such a law would also make it illegal for polygamists to serve on the town council and school board, or work as teachers in the public schools.

"But the main thing that has to be done," Binder declares, "is you have to take out the Colorado City police force!"

Small Step Forward

State programs aimed at helping sexual-assault victims have been very effective in Arizona and Utah -- except when it comes to victims in the fundamentalist Mormon community.

A network of sexual-assault advocacy centers has been set up in both states. The centers are essentially one-stop shopping for victims. They pride themselves on handling sexual assaults in an environment friendly to children and teenagers, instead of making victims go to a police station, then to a hospital and wait for hours for help.

There are 15 sexual-assault advocacy centers in Utah, and 11 in Arizona. They typically have specially trained nurses and police interrogators, medical-examination rooms, mental-health counselors, child protective services personnel, county attorneys and customized interview rooms where video and audio tapes are made, usually with hidden cameras and microphones.

The centers have been effective in increasing the rate of successful prosecutions in sexual-assault cases. Officials say suspects often confess after hearing and seeing their victims on videotape.

The facilities have also greatly reduced the trauma to young victims because trained interviewers do initial consultations. A single, carefully conducted interview can provide police and child protective services workers with enough information to determine whether a child needs to be removed from a home and whether criminal charges are warranted.

Experts say videotaped interviews in which no leading questions are asked greatly reduces the need for subsequent interrogations that can be traumatic to victims and provide defense attorneys an opportunity to look for inconsistencies in statements.

Legal assistance, access to shelters and financial help are also provided to victims through the centers.

The problem regarding Colorado City and Hildale is that the closest such center is 50 miles northwest in St. George, Utah. The Washington County Children's Justice Center is available to the Colorado City Police Department for cases arising in both Utah and Arizona, but the polygamist-controlled police force has never once asked for assistance.

"I find it very frustrating," center director Patricia Sheffield says. "They have their own law enforcement out there, and they are not involved with the center."

When services have been offered by the center, Sheffield says, Colorado City police have brushed off the invitation.

"They are very dismissive," she says.

Mohave County also operates a victims' advocacy center in Kingman, called Sarah's House. That facility sees about 350 clients a year, but none from Colorado City, which is more than 240 miles away, says director Sheila King.

A center closer to Colorado City would help, King says, but funds would have to be made available by the state and county. She estimates it costs about $140,000 a year to operate Sarah's House 24 hours a day, seven days a week -- with the help of numerous volunteers.

She agrees that decades of predatory sexual behavior have resulted from the reluctance of Colorado City police to utilize outside resources combined with the secretive nature of the fundamentalist Mormons who control the area.

The possible solution that has recently begun to emerge is an expansion of the planned new $500,000 justice court just outside Colorado City to include a victims' advocacy center.

The current justice court is about 20 miles east of Colorado City, in the tiny town of Moccasin. The county has been leasing a trailer that serves as a courtroom from longtime Justice of the Peace I. McKay Heaton since 1991 -- which has raised conflict-of-interest concerns. Mohave County records show that Heaton receives nearly $1,100 a month for rental of the building and office equipment.

Attorney General Goddard and Governor Napolitano have said they will consider the plan to build the county-state justice center complete with the victims' advocacy facility. Mohave County leaders, including County Attorne

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