For the second time in five days, Mohave County Jail officials are force-feeding polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs because of a self-imposed fast.
The jail’s medical staff resumed force feeding Jeffs, 53, on Tuesday after he stopped eating Monday evening, according to a Mohave County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman.
Medical director Kirsten Mortenson first placed Jeffs on a feeding tube Friday morning after he became weak and debilitated because of a prolonged fast.
He was able to resume eating on his own but stopped again, said spokeswoman Trish Carter. She said Jeffs is being closely watched around the clock because of his behavior and condition.
“This has been a continuing problem with his on and off eating habits,” Carter said. “We’ve had to force feed him in the past.”
Jeffs’ bouts of fasting are often tied to significant court hearings involving the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Last week, hundreds of FLDS members turned out in Salt Lake City for a court hearing on sale of property in a trust once controlled by the sect.
In a letter dated July 31 and filed as a court document Monday, Mortenson said Jeffs’ condition was deteriorating and “death could be imminent without immediate medical intervention.”
The letter, written to Superior Court Judge Steven F. Conn, said Jeffs would be evaluated daily and force-feeding discontinued when he improved.
Carter said medical staff are treating Jeffs at the jail.
Jeffs, head of the FLDS, has been jailed in the Mohave County facility since February 2008. He is awaiting trial on charges related to two underage marriages he conducted.
Jeffs is already serving two consecutive five-to-life sentences in Utah related to his performance of a marriage between an underage girl and an adult member of his sect, which is based in the Utah-Arizona border communities of Hildale and Colorado City.
Defense attorney Michael Piccarreta said Tuesday that Jeffs is not fasting in protest, but eschews food while in religious meditations. Piccarreta said leaders of other faiths also have denied themselves meals while incarcerated.
“Mr. Jeffs, when he goes into deep prayer, does not eat or drink,” Piccarreta said. “Occasionally, that has some medical repercussions. The jail needed to deal with a deteriorating medical condition, and they dealt with it.”
Jeffs is a slight man, about 6-foot-3 and 155 pounds even when healthy. While behind bars in Utah, he raised concerns by declining meals, banging his head against walls and purportedly attempting suicide.
Since arriving at Mohave County Jail in February 2008, Jeffs has been in solitary confinement. Carter said he’s been a good inmate except for incidents involving religious practices. She explained that Jeffs sometimes prays while kneeing to a point where his knees develop sores, and jailers enforce a policy against self-injury.
Piccarreta would not comment on whether Jeffs is in contact with followers, but said the FLDS faithful are worried about their leader’s condition.
“Members are concerned because they view Mr. Jeffs as being a victim of religious persecution on behalf of all of them,” he said. “He is their prophet, their representative.”