PHOENIX (AP) – Arizona authorities are investigating whether marshals in a town dominated by one of the nation’s largest polygamous sects prevent women from leaving the church run by imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs, an allegation the local agency denies.
Attorney General Tom Horne announced the probe Tuesday in Phoenix involving the town of Colorado City, Ariz., near the Utah border, the home base of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
“Women who wanted to escape have been forcibly held by the marshals against their will,” he said.
Horne declined to provide details of the criminal probe of the FLDS and the Marshal’s Office, which serves as a small police force in the twin polygamous towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City.
Attorneys for the two towns and the Marshal’s Office adamantly denied the charges, calling Horne’s words “inflammatory.”
“I can’t speak for the FLDS but the bottom line is the Marshal’s Office absolutely does not hold people against their will,” said lawyer Blake Hamilton. “The Arizona attorney general, as the highest ranking law enforcement official in Arizona, ought not be making those statements unless he has evidence of it.
“It’s just absolutely not true,” Hamilton said.
The church does not have a spokesman to speak on its behalf, and Jeffs, who is said to still rule the sect, is imprisoned for life in Texas after convictions on child sex and bigamy charges.
The criminal probe announced Tuesday mirrors the one that landed Jeffs in prison.
After receiving a complaint of child abuse, Texas authorities in 2008 raided the FLDS’ Yearning for Zion Ranch. The move led to a chaotic roundup of 400 children living at the secretive location in what became one of the largest custody cases in U.S. history.
All of the children were eventually returned. But 11 men, including Jeffs and other high-ranking FLDS lieutenants, were arrested on charges of sexual assault or bigamy and later convicted.
Horne fought last year for a bill in the Arizona Legislature aimed at abolishing the Marshal’s Office in Colorado City and replacing law enforcement there with deputies from the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office. It failed to pass, so he allocated funds to provide for limited patrols by deputies. He said that money will soon run out, and is again asking the Legislature to take up the bill.
Horne was joined at a news conference by Flora Jessop, a vocal critic of the FLDS who fled the church in 1986. She was flanked by her sister, Ruby Jessop, and the woman’s six young children.
Flora Jessop said her sister, who did not speak Tuesday, had been held captive by the FLDS for years, undergoing sexual and mental abuse at the hands of her husband while not being allowed to leave with her kids. Ruby Jessop finally fled last year, and recently won temporary custody of her children who were being held “hostage” by the sect, Flora Jessop said.
“It’s a good day for freedom,” she said of the investigation.
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
- Workers comp: Signs your co-worker could be a fraud
- Who's the real founder of America's pastime?
- Epidemic rising? What you need to know about Alzheimer's in Arizona
- 5 unforgettable Wooden Award winners
- Family and hard work are keys to success of modern dairy farmers
- Genetic testing could hold answers for colon cancer survival
- Cold beers and baseball: A beer lover's guide to Spring Training
- Telecommuting: 5 tips to make it work for employers and employees
- See how top CFOs feel about economic growth in the Valley
- Migraine myths that keep patients from effective treatments
- Here’s why Gaydos went tankless with his water heater
- Bocce ball and basketball: How you can help Arizona's Special Olympics athletes
- Tips on building the best wine room in Arizona
- Avoid the nightmare: 6 tips to choose a great contractor
- Breast cancer: Improved testing and treatments means more survivors
- Failed back surgery: New hope for patients living in pain
- Ticking time bombs: Telltale signs your water heater is about to explode
- Reading glasses could be a thing of the past
- 6 cool ways teachers are using technology in the classroom
- Emerging tech jobs in Phoenix and how to get one in 2017
- 4 top treatments athletes use for pain
- Emergency! What to do when bathrooms flood
- Arizona kids in crisis: How you can help
- New treatment offers hope for migraine sufferers
- 11 stadiums to watch your favorite football team
- Shopping for a TV? Best models for 2016
- Avoid this holiday plumbing disaster in your home
- 7 tips to avoid holiday weight gain
- New treatments mean better prostate cancer survival rates
- 5 of the scariest things found in drains