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Police in polygamous towns investigated for trespassing in own homes

Published April 17, 2013 3:01 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

One of the more interesting details that came out of last week's United Effort Plan hearing is that some of the police in Short Creek could be in hot water.

The latest accusations are not that law enforcement violated rights or spied on people who no longer follow their leader. No, the marshals of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., could be in trouble for not paying rent.

Attorney Jeff Shields mentioned the situation during his comments in court. When I called for more details, Shields explained that like many people in the southern Utah polygamous towns, members of the local marshals office at one time signed occupancy agreements with Bruce Wisan. The agreements let them live in homes owned by the FLDS's United Effort Plan, which is managed by Wisan.

But since they signed those agreements, Shields said, the officers have moved around to different homes. That's not necessarily unusual in Hildale and Colorado City. A lot of people switch houses all the time. What is significant is that it's against the law.

"You should not be living in a house without an occupancy agreement signed by Bruce Wisan," Shields emphatically told me.

He added that it was completely inappropriate for police officers, as well as other city officials, to break the law.

Shields said he and Wisan have communicated with members of the community who have told them about the officers moving into different homes. Shields also stressed that his and Wisan's goal wasn't to kick people out of homes but just to know who was living where and to collect relatively small occupancy fees and taxes.

Having police comply with the laws, Shields said, would send a strong positive message to the community.

During Friday's hearing, Shields mentioned that officials with Utah Police Officers Standards and Training, or POST, believe the officers should be evicted if they're living in homes without occupancy agreements.

When I contacted Wisan, he told me that he believed there were active trespassing investigations into members of the communities. Some of those investigations may involve POST, Wisan said.

Utah Department of Public Safety spokesman Dwayne Baird confirmed Tuesday that POST is conducting an investigation. However, because the investigation is ongoing Baird could not provide any details about it.

This isn't the only problem concerning the marshals office. The marshals have been accused of being a security force for imprisoned FLDS leader Warren Jeffs. The U.S. Department of Justice contends the marshals and the twin towns discriminate on the basis of religion and is suing them.

In each of the last two years, the Arizona legislature has discussed bills with the goal of dissolving the marshals office, but neither bill passed.

— Jim Dalrymple

Twitter: @TribunePolygamy