Arizona AG asks judge to shut down polygamous towns’ police force
Courts • Marshal admits to discriminating against non-FLDS members, according to documents.
Published: June 17, 2014 08:09AM
Updated: June 17, 2014 09:21PM
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Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Willie Jessop, the former spokesman for Warren Jeffs, was threatened by members of the Colorado City, Ariz., marshal's office after Jessop left the church, according to court documents.

The Arizona attorney general is asking a federal judge to disband the police department of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, pointing to statements by the town marshal admitting law enforcement officers discriminated against residents who do not belong to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — and tried to protect members, including now-imprisoned FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.

City Marshal Helaman Barlow made the statements in April, contradicting his testimony from a civil rights trial less than a month earlier, according to documents filed Monday in federal court by Arizona AG Thomas Horne.

After non-FLDS residents Ronald and Jinjer Cooke won their discrimination lawsuit against the mostly-polygamous towns, the department put Barlow — no longer an FLDS member himself — on paid leave. Barlow secured immunity from state and federal prosecutors, admitted to falsely denying discrimination by deputies in the Cooke trial, and recounted numerous incidents where deputies tried to thwart legal action against FLDS members and harm non-members.

Barlow admitted to secretly recording meetings with Texas and federal investigators about Warren Jeffs while Jeffs was a fugitive, wanted for sexually abusing young girls he had married and overseeing the marriages of young girls to other men. Barlow said he gave the tapes to allies of Jeffs, who could deliver them to Jeffs while he was hiding in various safe houses. Jeffs was arrested in 2006 and later convicted in cases in Utah and Texas.

Barlow also admitted to turning a blind eye to illegal marriages of young girls in Hilldale and Colorado City by FLDS men, including one deputy in the marshal’s office, Horne wrote.

When the U.S. Department of Justice launched its discrimination case against the two towns, Barlow said, Colorado City manager David Darger doctored “numerous” police reports because they were incomplete or inconsistent and would make the marshal’s office “look bad,” Horne wrote. When outside law enforcement would attempt to interview residents in Hildale and Colorado City, the marshal’s office would announce the officers’ arrival so FLDS members could protect the target, Barlow said.

Barlow warned authorities in Washington County that, while he was on leave, deputies would feel emboldened to arrest Willie Jessop, Jeffs’ former spokesman and bodyguard, who has left the church. He said sheriff’s deputies in Mohave County, Ariz., previously had to stop Colorado City marshals from arresting Jessop after Jessop renounced Jeffs. He said he also had to stop deputies “on numerous occasions” from arresting non-members without probable cause, and that Darger had “materially altered a police report to the detriment of the subject non-member,” Horne wrote.

Activities at the marshal’s office were often directed by the FLDS church, which selected members who would attend the police academy, had access to municipal security cameras, and conducted meetings with Barlow to plan “how best to protect our church or church members,” Barlow allegedly said. At one point, the marshal’s office “knowingly compromised” its investigations by obeying church orders to stop using the Internet, Horne wrote.

Barlow said he was afraid to testify truthfully at the Cooke trial because “it could have jeopardized his employment and his associations within the community,” Horne wrote.

“Colorado City/Hildale Marshal’s Office has operated for decades, and continues to operate, as the de facto law enforcement arm of the FLDS Church in support of the FLDS Church’s discriminatory policies,” Horne wrote.

Barlow’s statements “[lead] to the inescapable conclusion that the disbandment of the Colorado City/Hildale Marshal’s Office is the only remedy that will stop the FLDS-controlled towns ... from using their willing participant Marshal’s Office as a tool to perpetuate their historical discriminatory pattern and practice of interfering with the ... rights of non-FLDS people.”

A jury awarded the Cookes $5.2 million at their March trial, finding that Hildale and Colorado City had denied them access to utilities for years.

ealberty@sltrib.com