Video has been released showing the moments before, during and after an Arizona traffic stop involving polygamist cult leader Samuel Bateman in August 2022.
After multiple calls from drivers concerned about the trailer Bateman was towing, Coconino County deputies pulled him over. Inside the trailer, investigators found three young girls between the ages of 11 and 14, makeshift seats and a Porta-Potty.
In the newly released bodycam footage, Bateman can be heard saying to deputies, “I’ll tell you right now, I’m not going to tell you anything.”
Bateman, a self-proclaimed prophet and a leader in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, has upwards of 20 wives, some of which are underage. Instead of facing sex trafficking or polygamy charges, police charged Bateman with obstructing a federal investigation and kidnapping in response to their traffic stop investigation.
“They always say they got Al Capone on tax evasion at the end of the day,” defense attorney Duncan Levin told Law&Crime Network. “What is chargeable in this case and what is winnable in this case may be different than what was going on.”
Levin believes prosecutors charged Bateman strategically, with most potential for conviction.
“There may be other charges where [prosecutors] believe that other federal laws were broken, but until they feel like they have enough evidence to actually convince a jury of that, and to sustain the charges, they may be reluctant to do that,” Levin said. “So they’re doing this strategically to get a conviction. They will bring more charges if they feel that they have evidence to support those charges.”
“We’re getting calls about hands sticking out of a vehicle, out of the trailer,” a Coconino County Sheriff’s deputy told several of Bateman’s self-proclaimed wives back in August. “That is why we are contacting you guys, because it is unsafe for children to be riding in a trailer.”
Bateman was detained during the traffic stop after he refused to cooperate with authorities. He was later arrested and charged on the state and federal levels.
Court documents allege Bateman punished his followers who did not treat him as a prophet. Federal prosecutors also claim that the majority of his “wives” are minors.
“This is where the limits of the government’s power comes into play,” Levin explained. “They’re doing what they can to stop behavior that they feel is insidious. The laws are only as good as the laws are, and their powers are only as good as the laws are. And so the way they’ve gone about doing this is very methodical.”
Following Bateman’s arrest, three of his wives, Naomi Bistline, Donnae Barlow and Moretta Rose Johnson, were arrested. All three face charges of kidnapping and impeding a foreseeable prosecution.
“Four people are under arrest so far,” Levin said. “There may be more in coming days and weeks. And I think that’s something that we’ll keep an eye on as the evidence develops. We’ll get a sense of whether they’re going to be taking in more people. It is an effective strategy that prosecutors often use to try to get people at lower levels of an organization and flip them all the way to the top.”
Levin believes the intimate relationships between Bateman and his so-called followers poses a problem for prosecutors, as they work to get more information from witnesses.
“These are the toughest kinds of cases to make, where you have witnesses who don’t want to talk,” Levin explained. “And so that’s why the government has charged it in a way that doesn’t really require any witness testimony at all.”
Bateman’s federal trial was slated to begin in January, but was delayed when a judge granted his defense team’s motion for more time to prepare for trial. His case is expected to begin on March 14. Bateman has pleaded not guilty to all of his charges.
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