SALT LAKE CITY – An 18-year-old man who says he was kicked out of his home and church filed a lawsuit seeking to force a polygamist church leader to help him get back in touch with his family.
Attorneys for Johnny Jessop sued Tuesday seeking a court order to force Warren Jeffs, head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, to disclose the whereabouts of Jessop's 62-year-old mother, Elsie. Jessop has not spoken to his mother in more than 18 months, attorney Roger Hoole said.
Jessop says he was among several boys who were kicked out of the FLDS church in the past four years by Jeffs for being disobedient or because they were seen as competition to older men seeking young brides.
The FLDS practices polygamy and arranged marriages. The faith has an estimated 10,000 members, mostly in the border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. Jessop grew up in Hildale, Hoole said.
FLDS members consider themselves "fundamentalist Mormons," although the mainstream church disavows any connection. FLDS members also consider Jeffs a prophet of God with dominion over their salvation.
Jeffs, 51, is in jail on two felony counts of rape as an accomplice for his suspected role in a 2001 marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her older cousin. On the run for nearly two years, Jeffs was arrested last year in a traffic stop in Nevada.
He has led the church since 2004, and dissidents describe him as a heartless ruler who has fractured dozens of families, sending fathers and husbands away and reassigning their wives and children to other men.
Now living in Salt Lake, Jessop was forced out of his family five years ago, Hoole said. Essentially homeless, the youth ran into some minor legal trouble and was ordered several times by courts to return home.
Under threat of church punishment, though, his family turned him away, and Jessop ended up in Salt Lake City as a ward of a nonprofit organization that helps boys who say they were pushed out of the church, Hoole said.
For several years, Jessop maintained telephone contact with his mother, but that ended nearly two years ago, Hoole said.
Jessop believes that Jeffs ordered his mother to cut ties with him and that the leader knows where Jessop can find his mother, Hoole said. The young man says that he has written two letter to Jeffs, begging him to allow the family to reconnect, but that Jeffs has not responded.
Jeffs' attorney Wally Bugden also has not responded to requests for help, Hoole said.
A message left by The Associated Press after business hours at Bugden's office was not immediately returned Tuesday.
"The child/parent relationship is a protected relationship under the law," said Hoole. "We need a court order that will force Warren Jeffs to tell Johnny where Elsie is. Then the lawsuit can go away."
It was unclear whether Jessop might have sought help from other authorities in finding his mother.
Jessop is not seeking damages, Hoole said. No court date has been set.