New documents describe girls found in ex-FLDS leader’s trailer in Flagstaff
FLAGSTAFF, AZ (CBS 5/3TV/AP) — New court paperwork released on Friday describes the disturbing conditions and how girls were transported in an enclosed trailer through northern Arizona late last month. On Aug. 28, Samuel Bateman, 46, was spotted with a box trailer “full of people including children” at a gas station on Highway 89 and Silver Saddle Road, court documents said. A trooper found him on Interstate 40 a few miles away, and DPS said the trooper saw “children’s small fingers moving in the gap of the rear trailer door.” Bateman eventually pulled over.
According to court documents, Bateman’s SUV had two women and two girls under the age of 15. In the trailer were three girls, all between the ages of 11 and 14 years old, DPS said. The trailer also had a makeshift toilet, which was a bucket, a trash bag and a toilet seat.
The trailer also had a couch and camper chairs. DPS said the women and girls said they were heading toward Phoenix or Tucson, and investigators were concerned about the heat since the trailer didn’t have any air vents. Detectives tried talking to the group, but only the oldest woman would speak. Investigators said they also found a box of ammunition in the center console of the SUV. Bateman was later arrested and charged with three counts of child abuse.
Bateman, who is a former leader of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS, was indicted by a federal grand jury earlier this month on three counts of destroying or attempting to destroy records and tampering with criminal proceedings. He pleaded not guilty in U.S. Magistrate Court in Flagstaff on Thursday.
Federal prosecutor Patrick Schneider said Bateman talked to supporters in Colorado City, Arizona, from the Coconino County Jail in Flagstaff and instructed them to delete communications sent through an encrypted private messaging system and demanded all women and girls obtain passports. Schneider said the state child welfare agency has removed children from Bateman’s home in Colorado City, where the FBI had recently served a search warrant.
Darren DaRonco, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Child Safety, declined to comment in an email Thursday, citing confidentiality laws. FBI spokesman Kevin Smith said in an email that the search warrant is sealed. Bateman posted bond on the state charges. He was arrested again Tuesday in Colorado City by federal authorities investigating whether children were being transported across state lines for sexual activity, Schneider said. Bateman faces a maximum of 20 years in prison on each federal charge if convicted. Samuel Bateman previously pleaded not guilty to three counts of child abuse in an Arizona state court, court documents show.
Bateman’s attorney, Adam Zickerman, cautioned against inferring the federal case was about religious persecution, though he didn’t specify Bateman’s faith or say if he practices polygamy. Zickerman said Bateman is not a danger to the community. Schneider cited a pretrial services report saying that Bateman had relationships with multiple women but didn’t mention whether Bateman belonged to any polygamous groups.
Both the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona and Zickerman declined to comment following Thursday’s court hearing, as did two women who were sitting in the gallery and met with Zickerman. U.S. Magistrate Judge Camille Bibles ordered Bateman remain behind bars while the case winds through the courts. She noted Bateman is a pilot and survivalist who has followers and international contacts who might help with financial or other resources at a moment’s notice. However, she said she also was concerned about young girls in vulnerable positions. “Courts have a tremendous interest in protecting people who can’t protect themselves,” she said.
Bateman listed a home address in Colorado City, where a patchwork of devout members of the FLDS, ex-church members, and those who don’t practice the beliefs live. Both Colorado City and its sister community of Hildale, Utah, have seen significant cultural shifts in recent years.
The FLDS group, run by imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs has lost much of its control over the communities. Jeffs is serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for child sex abuse related to underage marriages. Polygamy is a legacy of the early teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the mainstream church abandoned the practice in 1890 and now strictly prohibits it. Bateman leads a small offshoot of the polygamous sect, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
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