SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Law enforcement officials from Utah and Arizona will gather in St. George Friday for the so-called “polygamy summit,” a meeting to help authorities identify and pursue abuse cases arising from plural-marriage communities.
The meeting is expected to focus on the polygamous towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., where most residents belong to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
That group split with the mainstream Mormon faith, which abandoned polygamy in 1890, still believes in taking plural wives. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints excommunicates anyone who practices polygamy.
The summit was called by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, whose office won a conviction last week against suspended Hildale police officer Rodney Holm, who was charged with bigamy and unlawful sexual activity with a minor. The case involved a girl Holm took as his third wife when she was just 16.
At the summit, representatives from law enforcement and social services will discuss how to prevent child abuse, how to fight fraud and how to set up a safety net among various social and government agencies to assist people in polygamous communities.
The first hour of Friday’s meeting will be open to the public, followed by a private three-hour meeting. There also will be an open session after the closed-door meeting.
“This is just a start,” said Paul Murphy, a spokesman for the Utah Attorney General’s Office. “This is where we begin, and we’re going to be doing more.”
Canadian officials were invited to Friday’s summit because of the ties between Colorado City and Hildale with the polygamous community of Bountiful, British Columbia. They were unable to attend, but may come to future gatherings, Murphy said.
Salt Lake City attorney Rod Parker, who defended Holm, is questioning the value of the summit, saying it could even be counterproductive. Parker, who has represented FLDS members for 12 years, said no representative of the polygamous community was invited to the meeting.
Parker said excluding FLDS members marginalizes them and makes them less likely to seek out social services.
“The solution is not driving them further to the margins of society,” Parker said. “Let them be part of the solution.”
Murphy said the summit was set up for officials to discuss issues in private and that all members of the public — including polygamists — can attend the public sessions.
Hildale Mayor David Zitting, a member of the FLDS Church, said the meeting could be useful, depending on what’s discussed.
“If it’s specifically for coming after the people of this community,” he said, “I take that as an affront.”