Parental Kidnapping in Utah

A father of four in Utah was arrested for parental kidnapping after being on the run with his four children for over two months.

Doomsday prepper

33 year old John Coltharp, a doomsday prepper belonging to a new religious group named Knights of the Crystal Blade was arrested for kidnapping along with his accomplice and leader of the group, 34 year old Samuel Shaffer. Some in the community questioned Coltharp’s kidnapping charges since the children kidnapped were his own and with him for over two months before authorities got involved.

The delay to search

The mother of the children, 28 year old Micha Soble of Springville, Utah started the public search for her children with posts to her personal social media account as well as public yard sale sites throughout Utah over two months after her children were abducted by their father. When questioned as to why she waited so long to find them, she blamed the Utah Court system.

Custody order takes time

In fear of losing her children, Soble asked the 4th District Judge Pullan to grant her a temporary restraining order. Judge Pullan denied the request in September after which Coltharp disappeared with all four children, ages ranging from 4 to 8 years old. Over the course of the divorce and custody hearings, Soble remained in the dark as to where her children were. Finally, near the end of November, Judge Pullan granted the mother full custody and the search for the Coltharp children began.

Parental kidnapping

The Coltharp children were all found after a lengthy search from law enforcement and volunteers, with two of the children hospitalized from exposure to the cold and weather. In this case, the children were in immediate danger and parental kidnapping charges seemed fitting. In many other cases however, Utah residents are confused as to how a parent can be charged with parental kidnapping and not just custodial interference.

Custodial interference

Utah Code 76-5-303 states “A person who is entitled to custody of a child is guilty of custodial interference [a class B misdemeanor] if, during a period of time when another person is entitled to visitation of the child, the person takes, entices, conceals, detains, or withholds the child from the person entitled to visitation of the child, with the intent to interfere with the visitation of the child.” Or “A person who is entitled to visitation of a child is guilty of custodial interference if, during a period of time when the person is not entitled to visitation of the child, the person takes, entices, conceals, detains, or withholds the child from a person who is entitled to custody of the child, with the intent to interfere with the custody of the child.” In the case of the Coltharp children, their father was not granted custody or visitation. His removal of the children and failure to return then then constituted kidnapping.

Child kidnapping by a parent

Utah Code 76-5-301.1 states that “an actor [or parent without any parental rights] commits child kidnapping if the actor intentionally or knowingly, without authority of law, and by any means and in any manner, seizes, confines, detains, or transports a child under the age of 14 without the consent of the victim’s parent or guardian, or the consent of a person acting in loco parentis.” Child kidnapping is considered a first degree felony in the state of Utah and punishable by 15 years to life in prison. It is important for divorced parents to fully understand their court ordered arrangements to ensure they are staying within the law regarding their divorce and custody ruling.

Utah Woman Charged With Child Kidnapping Her Own Grandson

A Heber, Utah woman was arrested and charged with child kidnapping after she took her own grandson and fled the state.

Unauthorized trip with Grandma

56 year old Donna E. Jones was arrested last week after she took her almost 2 year old grandson and fled the state of Utah. Jones, who is the child’s paternal grandmother, was located along with her grandchild over 1200 miles away in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The child’s mother had just been awarded full custody of the child and police have determined that the non-custodial father helped the grandmother in the kidnapping following the court proceedings which were not in his favor.

First degree child kidnapping

Although the grandchild suffered no injuries on his unauthorized trip with grandma and was with a known family member and not a stranger, Donna E. Jones is still facing anywhere from 5 years to life in prison. Child kidnapping is a first degree felony and is defined under Utah Code 76-5-301.1 as when a person “intentionally or knowingly, without authority of law, and by any means and in any manner, seizes, confines, detains, or transports a child under the age of 14 without the consent of the victim’s parent or guardian”. In the case of Donna Jones, she had consent of a parent, just not the parent with custodial rights.

Stranger danger

While the mention of child kidnapping brings to mind a stranger snatching up a child while a parent isn’t watching, stranger abductions really only account for about one-fourth of all child kidnappings. According the National Crime Information Center, almost half of all child kidnapping cases are of children taken by a family member. In the majority of cases, the family member charged with child kidnapping is the non-custodial parent, but could involve other family such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, and even siblings.

Prison time for disagreeing with court decisions

Child custody hearings can often leave one parent or other relatives feeling like they got the short end of the stick. Unfortunately, family members may act irrationally for fear of not seeing the children as often as they would like. For anyone facing child kidnapping charges for making a bad decision following a child custody hearing, contact a criminal defense attorney immediately.