Mark Shurtleff's absence from a scheduled meeting between a leader in the Fundamentalist LDS Church and the Utah Attorney General's Office was conspicuous to at least one participant.
"There were some very good people at that meeting, but Mark Shurtleff didn't bother showing up," said FLDS member Willie Jessop. "Making a relationship work can't be one-sided. It's pretty shortsighted if it's always all the other guy's fault."
Chief Deputy Kirk Torgensen and several other representatives of the Attorney General's Office met with Jessop on Thursday in Salt Lake City. Torgensen said the fact that Shurtleff wasn't at the meeting was "appropriate."
"At this point I think it's appropriate for Willie Jessop to be talking to me. That's all I want to say," Torgensen said on Friday.
Jessop traveled to Utah from Texas, where he has been serving as spokesman for the polygamous sect since Texas authorities raided the group's Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado.
"Of course, I hoped that Mark Shurtleff would be there. Part of the reason why the governor's office helped set up this meeting was for us to talk to Utah officials about how our people felt about the raid in Texas. A lot of them felt like it happened because of the tainted, bad information Utah provided," Jessop said.
Texas authorities raided the ranch in early April, eventually removing more than 450 children after a judge ruled there was reason to believe each child was in danger of abuse. Two higher Texas courts eventually overruled the district judge, who was then forced to send the children home to parents with some restrictions.
The raid, which garnered worldwide attention, involved dozens of law enforcement officers and Child Protective Services agents. An armored personnel carrier, SWAT teams, automatic weapons and a helicopter were used in the raid, which lasted over a three-day period.
"Utah has said that they would never do to us what Texas has done," said Jessop. "But where did this paranoia start? At Warren Jeffs' trial, they profiled us and made us out to be demons. All we did was show up to a court hearing."
He was referring to a Deseret News report earlier this week about dossiers of himself and 15 other FLDS men and women deemed a threat by the Washington County Sheriff's Office. The profiles were sent to Texas officials in April. Some of the information came from intelligence gathered at the Jeffs trial last year in St. George.
Washington County officials also provided snipers, SWAT teams and other specialized security during the Jeffs trial, Jessop noted.
"Texas followed the lead on Utah's example on how to treat the FLDS people," Jessop told the Deseret News. "And it was all at the expense of wasted tax dollars. Profiling is ethically wrong."
Torgensen disagrees with Jessop's interpretation of how the AG's office has been doing its job.
"I told Willie that this isn't persecution. You don't have a record of that in Utah. We haven't done any illegal wiretapping or anything like that," Torgensen said. "For me, prosecuting crime is prosecuting crime. It doesn't matter whether it's evidence of crimes committed by the FLDS or anyone else. It is all the same to me. I don't care who it is."
Both Torgensen and Jessop said their discussions were wide-ranging, although a considerable amount of time was spent on the issue of underage marriages within the FLDS Church. Jessop recently announced to the media that the church will no longer condone or encourage underage marriages.
"We had a very strong conversation about that," said Torgensen. "I told him that I was very distrustful of these protestations of change. We've heard that before, and it hasn't happened. I also need to know if the person I am talking to, Willie Jessop, has the authority to speak for the church or not? That's what I need to know."
For his part, Jessop said the announcement was a clarification of a marriage practice that has been in place for more than a year.
"Not only did I say this publicly, but the FLDS have lived it privately for more than a year," Jessop said. "I'll be the first to say that this meeting did me some good. It wasn't a meeting where everyone drew battle lines. I think the ball is in Mark Shurtleff's court now. We'll see whether he calls us back or not."
Torgensen said he is "optimistic" that more discussions will be held between the two parties.
"It's going to be a long process. There is potential for further dialogue," Torgensen said. "Only time will tell whether (this meeting) bears fruit."
Torgensen said he briefed Shurtleff on the meeting with Jessop."Mark's reaction was cautious skepticism, just like me," Torgensen said. "I think we are open to future meetings under the right circumstances."
E-mail: [email protected]