A mother of six who authorities say was held captive in an Arizona town by Warren Jeffs' polygamous sect and the local police force it controlled has escaped with her children, according to the state's top lawman.
Ruby Jessop, 26, whose detention in Colorado City led to a criminal probe of the church founded by the now-imprisoned Jeffs, was granted temporary custody of the children and has left the tiny town, according to Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne. As a member of Jeffs' Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), Jessop was forced to marry her brother-in-law at age 14. For the next dozen years, she remained trapped in the Utah-Arizona border town, Horne said, along with several other women allegedly held captive by church elders.
"What they do is say, 'Everybody watch her so she won't run away.' Then she can't leave," Horne said. "Women who wanted to escape have been forcibly held by the marshals against their will."
A criminal probe of the FLDS and the Marshal’s Office, the police force with jurisdiction over the twin polygamous towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, is currently ongoing, said Horne, who declined to elaborate. The Marshal's Office has long been accused of being under the control of the sect.
Horne denounced Colorado City’s culture as “the biggest injustice that I know of in the state of Arizona.”
Attorneys for the two towns and the Marshal's Office strongly denied the charges, characterizing Horne's words as "inflammatory” and “absolutely not true.”
"I can't speak for the FLDS, but the bottom line is the Marshal's Office absolutely does not hold people against their will," said lawyer Blake Hamilton. "The Arizona attorney general, as the highest ranking law enforcement official in Arizona, ought not be making those statements unless he has evidence of it.”
Jeffs, who is said to still run the sect, is jailed for life in Texas after convictions on child sex and bigamy charges. The church does not have a spokesman to speak on its behalf.
Horne was joined at Tuesday's news conference by Flora Jessop, a vocal critic of the FLDS who fled the church in 1986, her sister, Ruby Jessop, and the woman's six young children.
Flora Jessop said her sister, who did not speak, had been held captive by the FLDS for years and suffered sexual and mental abuse at the hands of her husband while not being allowed to leave with her kids. Ruby Jessop finally fled last year, and recently won temporary custody of her children, who were being held "hostage" by the sect, Flora Jessop said.
"It's a good day for freedom," she said.
Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan said his agency also is involved in a criminal investigation of the FLDS and the Marshal's Office, adding that authorities there function as "security guards for the FLDS church."
"They are corrupt and work only for the FLDS and Warren Jeffs," Sheahan said.
Sheahan said it's a dangerous situation for his deputies to be patrolling Colorado City without the cooperation of local law enforcement from the Marshal's Office.
"They are not our allies," he said. "I wouldn't trust them as backup for our deputies."
Another attorney who represents Colorado City called the allegations outlandish, adding that the Marshal's Office works well with Mohave County deputies.
"The Marshal's Office welcomes the presence of the sheriff's deputies because it provides them with backup," said lawyer Jeff Matura. "The more police service, the better protection for everyone."
The U.S. Justice Department sued Colorado City and Hildale last year, claiming discrimination against residents who were not FLDS members. Arizona also has a similar ongoing civil lawsuit against Colorado City.
The criminal probe announced Tuesday by Horne and Sheahan mirrors the one that landed Jeffs in prison. After receiving a complaint of child abuse, Texas authorities in 2008 raided the FLDS' Yearning for Zion Ranch. The move led to a chaotic roundup of 400 children living at the secretive location, eventually becoming one of the largest custody cases in U.S. history.
All of the children were eventually returned but 11 men — including Jeffs and other high-ranking FLDS lieutenants — were arrested on charges of sexual assault or bigamy and later convicted.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.