12 years and a day: Ex-FLDS woman secures custody of her kids
Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson
1/24/2013 6:00:00 AM
By Ahron Sherman
In 2001, Ruby Jessop of Colorado City, who was 14 at the time, asked her sister, Flora Jessop, to help her get away from a forced marriage to her second cousin/stepbrother Haven Barlow.
She had been compelled to marry Barlow by Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints leader Warren Jeffs, according to a release from the Arizona Attorney General's Office.
Flora Jessop, who left the church in 1986 and is a vocal critic of the FLDS, went to County Supervisor Buster Johnson - who had earned her trust as well as the trust of many others in Colorado City - and asked for help.
With the help of state and county law enforcement, Johnson and Flora Jessop attempted to locate Ruby Jessop and remove her from the situation. But they couldn't find her.
It took nearly 12 years, but Ruby Jessop recently escaped Colorado City and the marriage and was granted temporary custody of her six young children. She had been hidden in Canada and in FLDS communities over the last decade, Johnson said.
"Who can imagine that in the United States a child of 14 would ask for help and not be found to give her help until she is a woman of 26 with six children?" Johnson said in a release. "Society failed Ruby. Elected officials failed Ruby."
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne announced Tuesday that 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 led by imprisoned leader Jeffs, an allegation the local agency denies.
Horne announced the probe involving the town of Colorado City, the home base of the FLDS.
Though Ruby Jessop won temporary custody of her six children, it took two MCSO deputies and a detective all of Jan. 17 to get Barlow, who is also an employee with the Colorado City Marshal's Office, to hand over the children.
An MCSO deputy's narrative of the day describes a situation where law enforcement, aided by both Jessop sisters, had their attempts to locate Barlow and serve him with custody paperwork slowed by people at the Marshal's Office.
Deputies ended up serving Marshal Hyrum Roundy with the paperwork, and at about 7 p.m. Barlow showed up at the Marshal's Office and turned Ruby Jessop's children over to her, according to the report.
One of the deputies asked Barlow what made him decide to turn the children over. According to the report, Barlow replied: "My attorney told me I had to."
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.
But Horne did offer this: "Women who wanted to escape have been forcibly held by the marshals against their will."
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 being convicted 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 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 for 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 MCSO. It failed, so he allocated more than $400,000 to provide for limited patrols. He said that money will soon run out, and he will try again with the Legislature.