County plans to increase presence in polygamous community
Mohave County could more easily investigate allegations of sexual abuse in polygamist Colorado City and better serve residents if a county court and office facility were built there, officials said.
Mohave County Supervisor Pete Byers said he is working with Colorado City Mayor Dan Barlow about putting a county facility near the state line, visible from the highway, on land that has utility service.
Colorado City is in Byers' supervisor district.
The plan for a county facility near the community has the support of several top county officials.
"We have four deputies covering all of the thousands of square miles in the (Arizona) strip and they are located at Beaver Dam/Littlefield," Sheriff Tom Sheahan said.
"A location near Colorado City could serve individuals not comfortable with the city law enforcement."
Two weeks ago Rodney Holm, a former Colorado City police officer was convicted in Utah on two counts of unlawful sexual conduct with his then 16-year-old third wife and on a charge of bigamy.
Mohave County attorney Bill Ekstrom said law enforcement, court and children's services are now located too far from remote Colorado City.
Colorado City, about 70 miles away, is accessible from Littlefield only through Washington County, Utah.
Littlefield, isolated from the rest of Arizona by the Grand Canyon, in turn is about a 200-mile drive from Kingman through Las Vegas.
"We have tried more than 30 cases from Colorado City but getting information is always difficult," Ekstrom said.
"We have never rejected a case.
It has been difficult to get information and cooperation from Utah."
Mohave County law enforcement and court officials have been criticized for ignoring alleged crimes committed by polygamist members of The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the adjacent cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City.
Most of the area's residents, including members of the police department's in both towns, are polygamist fundamentalist Mormons.
The group Help the Child Brides held a meeting in Kingman in May to bring attention to the disappearance of Ruby Jessup from Colorado City.
Jessup was 14 when she disappeared in 2001 after being married to her stepbrother in Hildale group member Bob Curran said.
The twin cities of Hilldale and Colorado City are divided by Short Creek, the former name of the combined city.
Ekstrom and Sheahan said county law enforcement and court officials would not try to change the culture of the Colorado City/Hildale community or prosecute polygamy.
They would prosecute sexual abuse of underage females as defined in the Arizona law along with any other criminal activity.
Polygamy is illegal under the Arizona constitution but legislators have never passed a corresponding law.
The statutes are clear, however, about the age of consent below which sexual abuse is defined, Ekstrom said.
The county attorney's office would provide a full range of services to the Colorado City area with the cooperation of supervisors, courts and other agencies, Ekstrom said.
"We want to provide victim services, children's services, law enforcement and criminal prosecution for those living in that more remote region just as other citizens receive in Mohave County," Ekstrom said.
Sheahan said Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith is willing to cooperate with investigations.
"We will cross-deputize personnel so those deputies closest to the scene can respond," Sheahan said.
"Our officers will be able to investigate crimes in both jurisdictions."
Certification of law enforcement personnel in both states has begun, Sheahan said.
A toll-free phone number has been established for residents to report criminal activity.
George, about 50 miles from Colorado City, is the county seat of Washington County.
State and county officials from Utah and Arizona met in St.
George earlier this month to discuss sexual abuse, polygamy and law enforcement in the area.
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard and officials from Arizona Child Protective Services and the state Department of Economic Security met their Utah counterparts and with county representatives.
Linda Binder, R-Lake Havasu City, attended the meetings.
Goddard left the legal issues to local officials, Ekstrom said.