PHOENIX — Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard wants a safe haven established in the polygamous town of Colorado City to serve underage brides and abused children.
“The nearest (Child Protective Services) station is 30 miles away, and that’s unconscionable given what we know today,” Goddard said during a wide-ranging interview Wednesday with The Associated Press.
Colorado City and neighboring Hildale, Utah, are heavily populated with members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a splinter offshoot of the mainline Mormon church, which disavowed polygamy in 1890 and excommunicates those who practice plural marriage. Critics of the sect contend underage girls are sometimes forced into marriage.
Goddard said he thinks that after a year or two, townspeople would realize the state center was permanent and might start calling in anonymous tips and seeking shelter from abusers.
“Absolutely. I think he’s right on target,” said state Sen. Linda Binder, R-Lake Havasu City, whose district includes Colorado City. “There needs to be a place that’s not intimidating to victims.”
Although authorities have been investigating reported crimes in Colorado City and Hildale for years, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office has only charged one known polygamist in 50 years. Authorities are still trying to find the man, who is accused of having unlawful sex with two of his “spiritual” wives when they were teenagers.
But Goddard said the recent conviction in Utah of Rodney Holm for bigamy and sexual conduct with a minor sent a message. Holm was a deputy marshal in Colorado City and Hildale.
“A lot of what was supposed to be the protective armor in that part of the world has been chipped away,” he said. “Freedom of religion does not protect you from tax evasion, welfare fraud or child abuse.”
Calls to Holm’s attorney weren’t immediately returned Wednesday.
Goddard maintains the issue is not religion but child abuse.
He said focusing on abuse has helped lower tensions in the communities, but he acknowledged it might take years before anyone would trust an outsider enough to report abuse at a government haven.
For the most part, the communities have been left alone over the years.
Authorities in Arizona made their biggest move against the sect on July 26, 1953, when Gov. Howard Pyle sent officers into Colorado City. The raid became a crisis for state officials after photos of weeping children being pulled from frantic women were published.
“There are still families in Colorado City that were part of the Short Creek raids — children that were taken from their homes and placed in foster care.
“For them, they fear the outside authorities … more than the abusers in their house,” Goddard said.
During the interview, Goddard also said:
While his office was responsible for defending an Arizona law banning gay marriage, he does not personally support the statute:
• “I have serious reservations about interfering in people’s personal relationships. I think it’s incongruous that we’re a conservative state and yet so picky about what people do in their personal lives.”
• His office will to try to get price gouging legislation passed. Gasoline prices skyrocketed in Phoenix this summer after a shortage that began when a key pipeline ruptured.
• He thinks there are too many specific exceptions to public records laws. He favors a periodic sunset review for the exceptions.