Phoenix • The state House of Representatives approved a bill Thursday targeting police in a northern Arizona polygamist community, but not before stripping it of provisions that would have immediately triggered a sheriff’s department takeover.
The bill was opposed by a lawmaker from Kingman who argued it unfairly targeted Colorado City’s law enforcement officers.
The original bill would have set up a process for a local police agency to be replaced by the local sheriff’s office if at least half of its officers have lost their law enforcement certifications in a five-year period. Only Colorado City met that threshold.
A marshal’s office patrols that town and adjacent Hildale, Utah.
The towns are home to many members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, an offshoot of the mainstream Mormon church, which does not practice polygamy. The FLDS is led by Warren Jeffs, who is serving a serving a life sentence in Texas after convictions on child sex and bigamy charges.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne has championed versions of the bill for the past two years, saying Colorado City officers who are members of the FLDS do Jeffs’ bidding and are simply replaced by other followers of Jeffs if they’re removed individually.
In January, Horne said he was investigating whether marshals were preventing women from leaving the church.
Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan said his agency also was involved in a criminal investigation of the FLDS and the marshal’s office. He described authorities there as “security guards for the FLDS church.”
“They are corrupt and work only for the FLDS and Warren Jeffs,” Sheahan said in January.
Town officials were in the gallery before the vote, and their lawyer said the Legislature was unfairly targeting them.
“This bill is special legislation against Colorado City,” Phoenix lawyer Jeff Matura said. “It is targeting their police force for alleged misconduct that we’ve never seen proof of.”
The city has five police officers and hopes to hire a sixth soon. Matura said any community with a small police department could be targeted under the measure, and there’s no evidence the marshals are not upholding the law because of their faith.
He said the bill targeted the FLDS community.
“Religion is an important part of Colorado City,” he said. “They are deeply religious, faithful people.”
The bill that passed the House on a 52-7 vote Thursday will lead to action only if more officers lose their certification.
It set up a process where the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board must certify that the department has triggered the law because of repeated loss of certifications it determines are the result of corruption or mismanagement. The county Board of Supervisors must then vote to take over the department and appoint a special master. In the case of Mohave County, which has three instead of five supervisors, a unanimous vote is needed.
Rep. Doris Goodale, R-Kingman, said there have been repeated investigations but no proof the marshal’s office is corrupt.
“I would challenge anyone to present to me any document, any absolute fact, anything in writing, that suggests that Colorado City is a rouge police department,” she said. “It’s all build on hearsay, it’s all based on conjecture by the attorney general’s office.”
A similar bill was rejected in the Arizona House last year after the Senate approved it unanimously. A similar also bill failed last year in the Utah Legislature.
The new bill now goes to the Senate for action.
Associated Press writer Cristina Silva contributed to this report.