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Nate Carlisle
Reporter Nate Carlisle and photographer Trent Nelson cover polygamy for The Salt Lake Tribune. You can follow the Polygamy Blog on Twitter at @tribunepolygamy. Follow Nate Carlisle on Twitter at @natecarlisle. Follow Trent Nelson on Twitter at @trenthead.

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Cooke attorneys question cop’s testimony in polygmous town civil rights trial

Phoenix » Sam Johnson said the FLDS Church doesn’t control a pair of polygamous towns Tuesday, but by the late morning attorneys were working to dismantle that claim at trial.

The first few hours of Johnson’s testimony at U.S. District Court for Arizona came in response to questions from attorneys representing Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah. However, attorneys for the Cooke family — who say they were discriminated against for not being FLDS members — clearly didn’t buy why Johnson was saying.

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Attorney Bill Walker began the cross examination by showing a letter allegedly written by former town police chief Fred Barlow. The letter was written to Warren Jeffs and referenced Johnson’s time in the police academy. According Walker, it also showed that Jeffs was being consulted about Johnson’s appointment to the police force.

Johnson replied that he had heard of the letter but never actually read it. He also insisted that he had never discriminated against the Cookes after they moved to the community.

The letter ultimately resulted in Jessop’s firing from the local police force and his decertification. Johnson said that was a proper response, though Walker asked why local officers never investigated Jessop for communicating with Jeffs, who at the time was a wanted fugitive. Johnson responded that local officers cooperated with state investigations.

Walker also grilled Johnson about his involvement in the FLDS Church, focusing on whether or not Johnson had ever considered Jeffs his prophet. Johnson initially dodged the question, saying he didn’t know and didn’t understand the question, before finally admitting that in the past he did follow the FLDS leader. Walker then brought up a past deposition from Johnson in which he also refused to directly answer questions about his loyalty to Jeffs. Walker wanted to know why the answers differed and suggested that if Johnson was being dishonest, that amounted to perjury.

Johnson replied that he had never lied, but that his status was not always clear. At Walker’s prompting, Johnson also revealed that he is no longer a member of the FLDS Church because he was asked to stop attending meetings.

Among other things, Walker also asked Johnson about FLDS security personnel. Church security has been a prominent theme in court documents and previous testimony, and the Cookes believe church security spied on them. The Cookes’ attorneys moreover believe church security had access to city resources, as well as the cooperation of the local police.

Johnson, however, said he had heard of the church security but never seen them. He also said the police did not participate in church security operations.

Later, during a brief series of follow up questions from the city attorneys, Johnson said that if he were ever forced to choose between following his religious beliefs or fulfilling his police duties, he would choose the latter.

— Jim Dalrymple II

Twitter: @jimmycdii

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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