Arizona FLDS polygamous sect leader ordered held in jail

Arizona Republic/September 16, 2022

By Miguel Torres and David DeMille

A leader of a polygamous sect in Colorado City, the town once controlled by Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, remains jailed in northern Arizona after a raid on his home and an earlier arrest while transporting three girls in a wooden trailer.

A federal judge kept Samuel Bateman in custody, labeling him a flight risk and a danger to the community.

Details on the allegations against Bateman still remain spotty. Federal authorities arrested him on suspicion of two counts of destruction of records and one count of tampering with an official proceeding. He also faces three charges of child abuse in Coconino County Superior Court.

U.S. District Judge Camille Bibles directed the U.S. Marshals Service to hold Bateman in Coconino County jail for the next 30 days. The order did not mention any bail.

In court, Bibles labeled Bateman a flight risk and a danger to the community. She declared his detention a "requirement, pending trial."

In her detention order, Bibles cited Bateman’s recent arrest after he was stopped while transporting three girls in a wooden trailer and his ties to a "foreign country."

Bateman had traveled internationally in the past three years, according to her comments.

The “defendant has a group of followers willing to provide extensive material and other assistance on short notice," she wrote, “defendant is an admitted pilot and 'survivalist,' which raise concerns about his ability to flee.”

She noted in court records that Bateman had instructed followers to get passports for the young girls and women in his group. The reasons remain unclear.

Bateman could face a maximum of 60 years in prison if he's convicted in federal court on two counts of destruction of records and one count of tampering with an official proceeding.

For now, his federal trial was set for Nov. 8, although it's common for those dates to be pushed back. In Coconino Superior Court he's next due to appear on Oct. 17 for a pre-trial conference.

He also faces three charges of child abuse in Coconino County Superior Court, after towing three girls inside a wooden trailer through Flagstaff, according to court records. He could face between 1 to 3 ½ years in state prison for each count, if convicted.

Arizona Department of Public Safety Troopers arrested Bateman after pulling him over while driving his SUV in Flagstaff late last month. They found three girls stashed in the trailer he was towing. One trooper noticed small fingers poking out, court records show.

Troopers had received a report about a suspicious vehicle with women and young girls going into the trailer.

After his arrest, Bateman returned to his home in Colorado City on the Arizona-Utah state line, where residents say he describes himself as a prophet. That's also where the FBI re-arrested Bateman Tuesday and searched two of his homes.

It remains unclear what agents were looking for and what they found. FBI spokesperson Kevin Smith said the search warrant was filed under seal.

During the search, federal agents removed nine girls from Bateman's homes and state child welfare agents placed them into protective custody. Details remain elusive.

The FLDS is a radical offshoot of the mainstream The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which abandoned the practice of polygamy more than a century ago.

Colorado City and neighboring Hildale, Utah, make up “Short Creek,” the name locals use for the twin-city border community best known as an enclave for fundamentalist polygamous sects and a church long controlled by Warren Jeffs.

Jeffs is serving a life prison sentence in Texas after being convicted in 2011 of sexually assaulting the young girls he had taken as wives. He continues to maintain control of his followers through communications made from prison, according to media reports.

A former member of the FLDS, Bateman had split off from the main church and started his own small sect, calling himself a prophet and collecting a small following of fewer than 50 people, according to neighbors and others in the community.

As Jeffs’ influence has waned during his years in prison, several former FLDS members have broken off into smaller units, sometimes asserting that they were true prophets or rightful leaders of the church.

Court documents did not describe what relationship Bateman had with the girls who were taken into custody, and it was unclear where they were taken or whether they were with other family members.

Shirlee Draper, the director of operations for a Colorado City-based charity called Cherish Families, which supports people who came from the FLDS or similar groups, said she believed law enforcement had worked carefully to avoid splitting up families or keeping mothers from young children.

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