Oct 23, 2016

After guilty verdicts, polygamous towns are the subject of a hearing that asks, 'What next?'

The Salt Lake Tribune
October 23, 2016

Courts » They could be ordered to disband marshals’ office; critics say it would trade old problems for new ones.

Changes appear to be coming for the municipal governments of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., home of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

It's just not clear if federal Judge H. Russel Holland will make those changes with a scalpel or an ax.

Holland on Monday in Phoenix will preside over a four-day hearing where the U.S. Department of Justice will present evidence supporting their request that Holland should order the Hildale and Colorado City police force, known as the marshals, disbanded.

The hearing is the latest step in a 4-year-old lawsuit that complains that the municipal governments in Hildale and Colorado City, collectively known as Short Creek, take direction from FLDS leaders and favor church members. In March, an Arizona jury found that the towns and the marshals discriminated against people who did not follow or were out of favor with FLDS leaders. Those people were denied city services such as permits, utility connections and police protection, the jury found.

The jury also found the marshals had a practice of unreasonably seizing property and making arrests without probable cause. The jury found the marshals not guilty of unreasonable searches, unreasonable investigative stops and excessive force.

Lawyers for Hildale and Colorado City have countered that disbanding the marshals would be unprecedented — that not even police forces found to have widespread corruption and poor practices have been forced to close.

Disbanding the marshals would also present logistical problems, Hildale's lawyer, Blake Hamilton contends. Under the Justice Department plan, the sheriffs on both sides of the state line would start policing the towns.

On the Utah side, the Washington County Sheriff's Office is 31 miles away. On the Arizona side, the Mohave County Sheriff's Office has used state funding to keep a presence in Colorado City, but reaching headquarters requires a four-hour drive around the Grand Canyon.

"You're trading past problems for a new set of problems," Hamilton said in an interview Thursday.

The towns would divert their law enforcement budgets to the sheriffs to keep deputies in the towns full-time, much the way some Salt Lake County communities pay their sheriff for police services.

Colorado City resident and former FLDS follower George Jessop doesn't want to see the marshals go. He worries that peace officers who don't know the community, especially the way FLDS leaders have split so many families and separated children from parents, will treat juvenile offenders too harshly.

"If the county comes in they'll just take them downstate [in Arizona] and put them in a foster home," Jessop said.

Hamilton said the marshals and the towns have made changes since the jury verdict. They hired a police consultant who has reviewed policies and is helping the marshals gain national accreditations, Hamilton said. The consultant also sat on a committee that earlier this year hired a marshal from neighboring Centennial Park, Ariz. — the first marshal in decades to not come from Hildale or Colorado City.

The towns also have established an advisory board of neighboring police chiefs to mentor Chief Marshal Jerry Darger, Hamilton said.

Hamilton said the towns already have held diversity training and also plan to hold trainings for municipal employees and elected officials about fair housing, landlord-tenant issues and Fourth Amendment rights.

Hamilton even pointed to how the marshals led the Independence Day parade in the towns in July. He does not dispute that the marshals had problems in the past, but said his clients are "committed to changing the culture there in the marshals office."

The Washington County and Mohave County sheriffs are on the Justice Department witness list for the hearing. They are expected to testify about their abilities to police the towns and their concerns about the marshals. The Justice Department also is scheduled to call policing experts about problems with the marshals office.

The defense plans to call the newly hired police consultant, prosecutors who have worked with the marshals and the marshals themselves.

Meanwhile, Darger and five other marshals are facing another threat to their badges. Arizona's police regulators have concluded an investigation into their conduct and are considering whether to revoke their law enforcement certifications. The six are accused of "improper application of the law, biased policing, unlawful detentions/arrests, and [falsified] record keeping." Regulators have not provided specifics of the allegations.

The Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training is expected to discuss the marshals at a Nov. 16 meeting, Jack Lane, the organization's executive director, said in an email Thursday.

The Justice Department has other proposals it wants Holland to consider.

It wants Holland to appoint a monitor who will have access to municipal employees, documents and attend meetings of the town councils. In briefs already filed with Holland, lawyers for the towns call a monitor a burdensome extra layer of bureaucracy.

Another contested issue figures to be whether Holland should order Colorado City to approve a plan to subdivide properties. That topic received scant attention during the trial, but lawyers for the property trust controlled by the state of Utah contend Colorado City's refusal to divide property — entire town blocks are currently listed as lone parcels at the county assessor's office — have caused millions of dollars in litigation and delays.

Colorado City attorney Jeff Matura has contended the town adopted a process for subdividing that is similar to other Arizona municipalities and requires the land trust to make such improvements as adding curbs and sidewalks. The issue is being litigated in a state court in Arizona, and Matura hopes the federal judge lets the matter remain there.

"Why are we delving into subdivision issues after an eight-week trial that didn't involve subdivision issues?" Matura asked in a Friday interview with The Tribune.

A similar dispute in Hildale was resolved by a ruling from the Utah Supreme Court forcing the town to approve dividing parcels.

Jessop said he, too, wants Holland to appoint the monitor and order property to be subdivided. While he disagrees with the Justice Department over what to do with the marshals, he is complimentary of the department's four-year legal effort to ensure civil rights in the towns.

"I don't think [the Justice Department] can create any more harm than has already been done," Jessop said.

Holland has said he wants only evidence presented at the hearing. Arguments are to be presented in writing in the months following the hearing. Hamilton said it will be at least February before Holland rules.


Twitter: @natecarlisle


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