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Forum focuses on polygamy woes

Published: Wednesday, April 25 2007 12:04 a.m. MDT

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard listens as Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff discusses polygamy.

Christopher Onstott, The Spectrum

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ST. GEORGE — A town hall meeting brought politicians, polygamists, activists and community members together here to vent and share their feelings about reaching out to victims of abuse in closed polygamous communities.

Hundreds packed the Dixie Center to offer their opinions Tuesday night.

"Why is there a statute of limitations on rape and molestation?" a person identified as "victim" wrote in comments read to the audience. "How can the women and children get justice when the statute exists?"

Others pushed for decriminalization of polygamy.

"I am not a lawbreaker, but I am practicing civil disobedience," said LeAnne Timpson, a member of the fundamentalist community of Centennial Park, Ariz.

Some spoke out against the closed nature of polygamous societies.

"Most of us will not be permitted to see our families or friends again," said Fawn Broadbent, who ran away from the Fundamentalist LDS Church. "Most of us have an eighth-grade education or less. I attended a private school where we were taught mostly history of the church, how to cook, clean and sew."

The forum zeroed in on the troubles of the FLDS Church. Yet no members of the polygamous sect stepped forward to counter a drumbeat of criticism. An FLDS member was seen in the audience, listening to the remarks. He declined comment to a Deseret Morning News reporter.

FLDS leader Warren Jeffs is in jail facing criminal charges of rape as an accomplice. Jeffs, 51, is accused of performing a child-bride marriage.

Security at the town hall meeting was beefed up for the Utah and Arizona attorneys general. St. George police brought in bomb-sniffing dogs to search the Dixie Center and extra officers were on hand. There were no reported threats at the event, Utah attorney general's spokesman Paul Murphy said Tuesday night.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff defended his office's approach to go after abuses within polygamy, noting that men have been prosecuted, resources are being offered to victims and some polygamous societies are working with authorities.

"Have we done enough? No. Have we made a difference? Absolutely," Shurtleff said.

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard apologized again for the notorious 1953 raid on the border community once known as "Short Creek," where polygamists were rounded up by police and put in jail.

"We are profoundly sorry that approach was taken ... setting up a situation for tyranny to thrive," he said, referring to Jeffs.

Members of other polygamous groups said the controversy surrounding Jeffs has led to a vicious stereotyping and backlash. Natalie Hammon, a basketball coach for a Colorado City-area school, said her team experienced taunts and even violence at a game against an outside community.

"These kids were getting heckled," she said. "They were saying, 'Go home to your five wives and kids."'

That prejudice works both ways, St. George resident Jane Hawley said.

"In the store, I reach out to smile at a baby from someone in the community and had dirty looks or they gathered their children away," she said. "I'd like to see that change, see mutual trust and respect for each other."

Perhaps as a result of Jeffs' jailing, law enforcement officials said they are noticing some small changes in the rigidly isolated FLDS community.

Washington County sheriff's deputy Darrell Cashin admitted to having "trust issues" with officers in the polygamous border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., when he was put on patrol there last year.

Asked if he was comfortable having the Hildale/Colorado City Town Marshal's Office back him up on calls, Cashin said he had no problem with a simple traffic stop.

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