Public officials defend handling of complaints about Colorado City

Arizona officials from Mohave County supervisors to the attorney general have been criticized for not vigorously prosecuting criminal activity in Colorado City.

Critics, led by Flora Jessop, a former resident of the polygamous community in the Arizona Strip, allege child abuse, rape, welfare fraud and other criminal activity occur there and go largely unpunished.

Residents (population 3,332 according to the 2000 census) are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which split from the Mormon Church over the issue of polygamy during the 19th century.

"What should be done?" District 1 Supervisor Pete Byers, whose district includes Colorado City, asked rhetorically.

"It's not for me to figure out.

It's up to the entities that are involved.

It's up to the FBI and attorney general."

Mohave County officials say they lack jurisdiction because Colorado City has its own city government and police department.

Because Colorado City borders another state, they contend, investigation and prosecution are complicated.

And, they add, leads run dry.

Byers was responding to comments from Jessop during a meeting of the supervisors Monday in Lake Havasu City as well as other allegations she made in recent years.

Jessop, who fled Colorado City half a lifetime ago at the age of 16, alleged during the meeting that boys as young as 8 are being trained to use semiautomatic weapons.

"I was taught as a child that we were going to go to war with law enforcement, that law enforcement was our No.

1 enemy and that the county supervisors seem to think that this isn't a concern for the county," Jessop told the Miner.

Jessop spoke as supervisors discussed bioterrorism and emergency preparedness.

Responding to her comments, County Manager Ron Walker advised her to report allegations to the appropriate law enforcement agency.

"If this is new evidence, it should be turned over to the FBI, to the attorney general," Walker told the Miner.

"It is not the role of the board (of supervisors) to try to manage the city of Colorado City."

FBI spokeswoman Susan Herskovits said her agency has jurisdiction over crimes such as sexual abuse and rape committed on Indian and other government reservations.

"Basically, our answer would be if somebody came to us with a complaint about a violation of federal law, then we would look into it and assess whether to launch an investigation," said Herskovits, who is based in Phoenix.

"We have to assess whether we would be the correct agency to look into anything."

Arizona's top law enforcement officer, Attorney General Janet Napolitano, has said Colorado City's location complicates prosecution because crimes might be taking place in both states.

To that, Jessop retorted, "When children are being abused, who the hell cares whose jurisdiction it is?"

During an interview by the Miner on Tuesday, Napolitano, who was elected governor Nov.

5, said her office has been trying to overcome the obstacle by working closely with Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.

"There are already some indictments handled down in the Utah side based on facts gathered by Arizona investigators," she said.

Shurtleff spokesman Paul Murphy confirmed the cooperation.

"We have worked with the Arizona Attorney General's Office," he said.

"We have a full-time investigator who has worked on cases in closed communities.

Many of the polygamous communities are closed.

They are difficult to investigate and difficult to prosecute.

Many people are not used to dealing with law enforcement."

Napolitano cited other factors that weaken a case for prosecution.

"Prosecutors have to find admissible evidence," she said.

"You have the problem of victims not wanting to testify.

… This is not child's play.

These are serious allegations."

Sheriff Tom Sheahan and County Attorney Bill Ekstrom share her concerns.

"We have sent the cases to the county attorney's office for prosecution," Sheahan said.

"And we will investigate any crime, anywhere, on a case-by-case basis."

Sheahan said some leads provided by Jessop have not panned out.

For instance, detective Randy McNally in August investigated a tip of a missing or kidnapped 15-year-old girl.

However, the girl turned out to be a 19-year-old woman who told McNally that she was not forced to go to a polygamous community in British Columbia, Canada, or return to Colorado City, according to a four-page report.

Ekstrom concurred.

"In some cases, a witness is a victim who does not see herself as a victim and therefore would not be willing to cooperate in any prosecution," he said.

When told about Jessop's claims of criminal activity, Ekstrom said, "Give us a name.

Give us a date."

Ekstrom, who has worked in the county attorney's office since 1976 and has been county attorney since 1979, said his office has prosecuted numerous cases over the years.

"Over the course of time, we have prosecuted 30 or so sex crimes in Colorado City, resulting in sentences ranging from probation to 60 years in prison," he said.

"And they are treated just like any other crime."

Jessop, who now lives in Phoenix and has a family of her own, said the problems in Colorado City continue to worsen despite what has been done so far.

"It will continue to escalate and grow if we don't stop it now," she said.

"I am not fighting polygamy per se.

I am fighting child abuse and domestic violence."