22 Sep 2007

Single-minded lawman pursues polygamists

CNN - September 20, 2007

(CNN) -- Pinning down a prophet is lonely work. Just ask Mohave County, Arizona, investigator Gary Engels.

The plain-spoken Engels' sole focus since October 2004 has been to pursue Warren Jeffs and his polygamist sect in Colorado City, Arizona, a town on the state line across from Hildale, Utah.

He hasn't gotten a lot of help from the locals, including the police, whose loyalties have been called into question.

A state oversight board has stripped six members of Colorado City's tiny police force of their badges since 2003 -- all members of Jeffs' FLDS church.

Some were decertified for having plural wifes and others for failing to help catch Jeffs when he was a fugitive, according to The Associated Press. Read

Townsfolk turn their backs on Engels when he tries to talk to them, and most of those who do talk are evasive, says the former police officer.

"There is nobody that works in this city, that works for this city, that is not a loyal FLDS member, and that's from the mayor all the way through the employees right down to the last marshal here, and the last police officer that works here is loyal to Warren Jeffs," Engels told CNN.

"It's my experience ... that these police officers are not real police officers. They're enforcers for the FLDS church. They're enforcers for Warren," he said in another interview.

"I know that if it comes down to it, I can't count on them at all for backup," he said. "In fact, I believe that if guns started being pointed, that their guns would probably be pointed at me."

The FLDS is the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the polygamous sect that Jeffs runs. The FLDS, now with perhaps 10,000 adherents, broke away from the Mormon church more than a century ago when the latter disavowed polygamy.

It was Engels' investigation that led to Jeffs' arrest on charges including being an accomplice to rape. The charges stem from Jeffs' alleged practice of arranging marriages between adult male followers and underage brides.

Closing arguments are set Friday in Jeffs' trial across the state line in St. George, Utah. The FLDS leader also faces similar charges in Arizona. So far, Engels has steered clear of the Utah trial. But his investigation is ongoing.

Ever since his office was burglarized, the investigator always carries his files with him, he told Court TV, which is part of CNN's parent company, Time Warner.

Engels' work might be lonely, but he's rarely alone. He says he is followed by young men in vehicles with tinted windows every time he shows up in the sect's stronghold.

"Sometimes if they're stopped at a stop sign or something, they'll try to take off real fast, throwing gravel on my vehicle," he told CNN. "Or the diesels, you know, they'll accelerate real fast, blowing a lot of black smoke out."

But he has never let the surveillance and the glares stop him. He is on a mission.

"I think, eventually, justice will win out," he told CNN shortly after Jeffs' arrest. "If I didn't, I couldn't continue to do this. So we just keep pushing and pushing, and -- and see where it leads us. I'm not -- I'm not done yet. I'm not ready to give up."

He elaborated in a 2005 interview with National Public Radio.

"I would just love to see this whole community brought back into the United States, where everybody has equal rights," he said.

"These people don't have the right to voice their opinion. They don't have the right to criticize," he told NPR. "If they do, then they stand to lose their house, they stand to lose their family, and they stand to lose their job, and most important to most of these people, they stand to lose their salvation."

Engels said he's not necessarily interested in stopping the practice of polygamy, according to Court TV.

"When I first got here, it was still a shock," he told Court TV. "I don't even think about it anymore. There are some families up there where polygamy works for them, and some [where] it doesn't. But I think it has to be done among consenting adults."

That's why prosecutions in the case have focused on statutory rape charges. The case has been built by comparing dates on marriage and birth certificates to identify girls who became pregnant by older men before the girls were 16, too young for sex under Arizona law.

"If they get them young enough and get a couple of children, then it makes it very difficult for them to leave," he told CNN. "And the fact that the women are not educated or taught how to deal or take care of themselves in the outside world is another issue."

He doubts change will come quickly to this corner of the desert, even if Jeffs is convicted.

"I think that there are the die-hards that will always consider him the prophet," Engels said. "There are those that are probably questioning it right now."

He said he'll be satisfied if the trial lets women in the FLDS know they have other choices.

"I hope that it will empower some of the women there who may be thinking about wanting to get out, to go ahead and get out."


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