OPINION – Local law enforcement officials across the state take their direction from the attorney general’s office.
If he says he isn’t going to prosecute certain cases, they take his direction and go after crimes that they are assured won’t be undercut by a defense attorney standing up in court and saying: “There’s no crime here. Even the attorney general says he wouldn’t prosecute this.”
Oversight slips, things get out of hand, the crimes become more heinous.
That is, I believe, what has happened in Utah where Attorney General John Swallow has adopted a hands-off policy in prosecuting polygamy.
Recap of recent events
Incredibly, it seems a reported edict by the self-proclaimed prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Warren Jeffs, directing three men of his choosing to impregnate all girls and women of the faith 12 and older, is not being taken seriously.
The FLDS embrace the practice of plural marriage. In the context of Jeffs and his followers, marriage to underage girls is perfectly acceptable. There is nothing consensual about these marriages, they are arranged by the prophet. Removing oversight of polygamy violations of law lessens oversight of these vile crimes against children.
There is a sickening outrage stuck deep in my gut as I see the response to questions about this continue to be shrugged off.
I made a plea in print here asking Utah Attorney General John Swallow to act, to remove all of the girls between the ages of 12 and 18 from the Hildale, Utah, enclave where many of Jeffs’ FLDS followers live.
It has fallen on deaf ears.
Response from the attorney general’s office; the role of rumor
Paul Murphy, spokesman for Utah Attorney General John Swallow, told me in email correspondence that “Utah law does not allow law enforcement officers to remove children from their homes based on a rumor.”
Let me remind Mr. Murphy and Mr. Swallow that an April 3, 2008, raid by a cadre of law enforcement officials on the Yearning For Zion compound in Eldorado, Texas, resulted in 12 indictments; that Texas Department of Family and Protective Services investigators found that 12 of the 43 girls between the ages of 12 and 17 who had been taken from the ranch during the raid were placed into “spiritual” marriages between the ages of 12 and 15; that seven of them had already given birth to children of their own; that 12 men were indicted on sex charges ranging from assault to bigamy; that it resulted from a rumor — an allegation — that something terribly wrong was going on at the compound.
I am sure that Texas law does not allow law enforcement officers to remove children from their homes based on a rumor, which is why they went to 51st District Court Judge Barbara Walther for an order allowing them to go into that Eldorado compound and, rightfully, remove those young girls, all of it based on one telephone call from a woman in Colorado who may or may not have had a connection to the FLDS compound.
What would have continued to happen to those little girls taken into spiritual marriage by those perverted, older men had somebody in the Texas judicial system sat back and said “we don’t act on rumors?”
What we have here is selective slicing and dicing of words and their meanings to fit a predisposed purpose. In other words, the office of our state attorney general is using a word to defend his inaction.
A rumor of war is enough to send troops overseas. If there was a rumor of murder, you could bet that law enforcement officers would be swooping in to investigate. Why, then, is the Attorney General’s Office so reluctant to send a team of investigators to Washington County to work with the local sheriff’s office to probe the veracity of these allegations?
Murphy went on to tell me in his email: “As you know our office has charged and convicted people with bigamy in relation to other crimes and our prosecutors have found that it is just as difficult to prosecute a person for bigamy as it is for child abuse.”
Actually, the only two times I recall anybody being tried on bigamy/polygamy charges was when the gutsy David Leavitt, who was the Juab County Attorney at the time, prosecuted and won a conviction of Tom Green, who was convicted of child rape for his spiritual marriage to a 13-year-old girl, and Rodney Holm, a cop who was convicted on two counts of unlawful sexual conduct with a 16- or 17-year-old girl and one count of bigamy in 2003 in Hildale.
Our judicial system is designed to make prosecution difficult, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person is guilty of the charges leveled against them.
It comes into play because the line between rumor and allegation is thin and gray.
We know it is no rumor that Warren Jeffs raped young girls. He has been convicted of it. So have some of his top followers. We have been told by Willie Jessop, who purchased the massive complex that Jeffs ordered his followers to build, that there was a room in one of the buildings designed specifically for Jeffs that he described as a “porn palace” and “rape room” where Jeffs intended to sexually abuse young girls. We know, as evidenced by the women who have escaped the shackles of polygamy, that very young girls are sexually assaulted, that they become fair game for older men to take as wives as soon as they reach puberty. Why is it such a stretch to believe that Jeffs, who has clearly been running his church from a prison cell in Texas, issued the latest decree?
No witnesses, no investigation
I was told by Murphy in an email that law enforcement officers in Utah and Arizona are aware of the rumor but so far have been unable to find a single witness to substantiate it.
There’s a reason why, of course.
From early childhood on, Jeffs’ followers have had it pounded into their heads that the only path to salvation is to obey his commands, whether it means adhering to the code of silence demanded of the prophet when dealing with those from the outside world or engaging in The Principle, the practice of plural marriage.
What is the most distressing, however, is that Murphy again underscored his previous statement that “the burden to bring perpetrators to justice and provide protection for victims does not just rest with the Attorney General’s Office—it is the responsibility of everyone in the state of Utah.”
I would argue that somebody has done just that, alerting the state, through the media, that Warren Jeffs has made a threat against its children.
The eyes of Texas saw the opportunity to prevent further abuse of those little girls in Eldorado.
Unfortunately, the eyes of Utah remain tightly shut.
- On the EDge: Jeffs’ latest edict requires immediate response by law enforcement
- ON Kilter: Censorship, a family value
- Warren Jeffs’ Hildale compound bought by former bodyguard
- On the EDge: Straightening out the UEP mess? Hardly
- On the EDge: Utah stance on marriage is hard to swallow
- On the EDge: Courting polygamy solutions?
- On the EDge: UEP settlement still a mess
- ‘Plygs,’ a fact-based novel by southern Utah journalist
- $10,000 reward offered in Colorado City animal cruelty case
- Mohave County Sheriffs now patrolling Colorado City
- Federal lawsuit goes after Hildale, Colorado City for discrimination
- Wallace Jeffs injured in I-15 accident
- On the EDge: Polygamy, it’s ‘still’ against the law
- Host families needed for Colorado City youth
- Sheriff deputies assist wife of Warren Jeffs in leaving Colorado City home after being called to ‘keep the peace’
- Freedom of Religion Carte Blanche, Unless You are Warren Jeffs?
- Warren Jeffs Shuts Down Dairy, General Store is Next Says Source
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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