Justice Dept. sues polygamous towns in Arizona, Utah - East Valley Tribune: Public Safety

Justice Dept. sues polygamous towns in Arizona, Utah

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Posted: Thursday, June 21, 2012 5:18 pm | Updated: 3:14 pm, Tue Jun 26, 2012.

Claiming a pattern of discrimination, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the polygamous communities of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in federal court here, charges that the Colorado City Marshal's Office, which patrols both communities, has been carrying out "the will and dictates'' of Warren Jeffs, the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-day Saints as well as his lieutenants, even though Jeffs was arrested in 2006 and is currently serving a life sentence in Texas on charges of child sex assault.

For example, the lawsuit states, the marshal's office fails to investigate crimes against those who are not members of FLDS, a breakaway sect from the Church of Latter-day Saints which continues to practice polygamy, and refuses to arrest members of the church who have committed crimes against those who are not.

Incidents range from destroying crops on a farm not operated by the FLDS or its members, to returning at least one underage bride to a home from which she had fled.

"For decades, officials of the cities have, by operating at the direction and for the benefit of the FLDS, abdicated their official duties to protect the rights of all citizens equally and to administer governmental functions consistently with the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution,'' federal officials charges.

The lawsuit also alleges that the communities have made housing unavailable to those who are not FLDS members, and the power and water companies have delayed or denied service outright.

Attorneys for the government want a federal judge to not only declare the actions of the towns and the utilities illegal but also issue an order blocking them from future discrimination. They also want unspecified financial compensation for those who were harmed.

Jeffrey Matura, attorney for Colorado City, called the charges old news.

"It's a different marshal now, different set of policies and procedures,'' he said.

"The allegations going back as early as 2000, those are just circumstances and people that don't exist in Colorado City any more,'' Matura continued. "We're not sure what the point of those allegations are.''

But state Attorney General Tom Horne, who has had his own fights with the communities, said that's not the case.

"This past year they've excommunicated a number of men, which means they take away their wives and children,'' he said.

"They've expelled something like 100 young boys,'' Horne said, with the number over the years closer to 1,000. "They take them to other towns or they leave them on the road to hitchhike so that the old men can dominate the young women without competition from young men.''

The lawsuit charges that the towns' police force is an arm of the church.

"The marshal's office deploys its resources to enforce FLDS religious edicts,'' the government attorneys said, including sending deputies to "confront persons about their alleged disobedience to FLDS rules and instructing such persons to report to FLDS leadership.''

Marshal's deputies, also responding to a 2001 Jeffs' edict that banned domestic dogs from the communities, went to each home to seek dogs and then shot and killed them.

But the lawsuit notes that bills in both the Arizona and Utah legislatures to disband the marshal's office failed to pass.

The Arizona measure, pushed by Horne, would have allowed county supervisors to have the sheriff's department take over law enforcement where at least half the local police officers over an eight-year period have had their peace-officer certifications revoked. That would have applied to Colorado City where officers have been stripped of their authority, some for misconduct with minors and others after declaring that their loyalty to Jeffs is more important than state law.

While the measure passed the Senate, it died in the House after opposition from the area's two representatives.

Rep. Nancy McLain, R-Bullhead City, said it was unnecessary because the community now has new officers of certified. She said it would be wrong for the community to lose its local police force now

because of the actions of prior officers.

"Things have been changing in Colorado City,'' she said.

The lawsuit, however, suggests otherwise.

It says, for example, that three of the officers involved with killing the dogs are still on the force.

While the measure failed, Horne announced two weeks ago it will provide $420,000 to the Mohave County Sheriff's Office for overtime pay so its officers can patrol Colorado City 16 hours a day.

"The presence of the Sheriff's Office will help prevent wrongdoers from infringing on the rights of innocent citizens of Colorado City,'' Horne said in a prepared statement.

The lawsuit is the latest in what has been a multi-decade fight between government officials and the towns, going back to 1953 when then-Gov. Howard Pyle ordered the Department of Public Safety to raid the polygamous community, then known as Short Creek, to round up and arrest people for violating state bigamy laws.

More recently, there have been reports of young girls being forced into plural marriages with older men. Jeffs was eventually arrested on charges that in arranging those "marriages'' he was facilitating the rape of girls as young as 13.

Charges against him in Arizona were thrown out after prosecutors said the two alleged victims in that case no longer wanted to proceed. But Jeffs has been convicted in Utah on charges of rape as an accomplice as well as the child sex assault charge which resulted in the life term in Texas.

And ABC news reported just Thursday that Jeffs has ordered that only 15 of his male followers are allowed to have sex -- along with the women they want -- to procreate all future children for FLDS.

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