An ousted leader of a polygamist church community in the Arizona Strip says he will speak about abuses there at a press conference Friday, an activist against the community says.
Jay Beswick, a Phoenix-area activist who is founder of Help the Child Brides, said the man does not want his name known until the press conference, scheduled for 1 p.m. at the man’s Colorado City home.
“Go easy with him, as this is a community or society that is not allowed to see TV, read newspapers or own computers that are linked to the Internet,” Beswick said of the press conference.
“It has taken great courage to make this decision and we respect that. I believe he will name the new leadership appointed by Warren Jeffs and explain his own peril.”
On Jan. 10, Jeffs, the son of deceased prophet Rulon Jeffs, excommunicated 21 leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has an estimated 10,000 members. Colorado City Mayor Dan Barlow and 20 other prominent church leaders in the community north of the Grand Canyon were ordered to leave and to turn their property, wives and children over to the church, Beswick said.
Beswick formed Help the Child Brides to work against what he says is child abuse within the cloistered polygamist border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City.
“In this community those out of favor can lose everything for a minor statement, and the women and children are then routinely assigned to a new husband,” Beswick said.
Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan said normally four Mohave County deputies are assigned to the Arizona Strip, the area north of the Grand Canyon, but with the recent turn of events he has assigned four to six additional deputies.
Beswick said the ousted church leader would speak to the press and county and state officials.
District 3 Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson said he plans to attend the press conference.
Flora Jessop, a child-rights advocate who spent her childhood in Colorado City but later escaped, now spends her time helping runaways escape the polygamous lifestyle that often victimizes teenagers.
Jessop explained that when the church split in the mid-1980s the decision created what insiders refer to as “first ward” and “second ward,” two factions of the church, each with separate leaders.
Several teenagers have taken advantage of the leadership crisis to escape from the strife-torn communities.
“We are quietly helping them until they can be afforded assistance that eventually will work out the way we are hoping it will,” Jessop, a Phoenix resident, said of her efforts to assist the runaways.
Sheahan said officers normally assigned to the Arizona Strip live in and around that area and that the additional officers are from Kingman and the surrounding area.
The county is looking into leasing property in the area for a law enforcement building, which is sorely needed, as the closest Mohave County Sheriff’s facility if 85 miles away in Beaver Dam, which is in the very northwest corner of Arizona and can be reached only by driving through Utah.
“We are trying to find a good location, and then contract for a company to put together a modular building on the site,” he said.
Mohave County Manager Ron Walker and other staff members met last week with Mohave Community College President Thomas Henry to begin talks of leasing property in the Colorado City area belonging to the college.
The county would like to lease approximately one-fourth of an acre of a four-acre parcel. Basic utilities are located near the property, although it may be expensive to provide initial connection, Walker said in a prepared statement.
The Mohave County supervisors, sheriff and county attorney, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, Arizona Child Protective Services and the governor’s office are cooperating to locate a joint county/state government facility in Colorado City, said Walker.
Walker said he would discuss the property proposal at the MCC Board meeting in Bullhead City at 9 a.m. on Friday.