Utah-Arizona border towns pay to settle more lawsuits as effort to boot cops from polygamous community stalls

Two towns on the Utah-Arizona line have agreed to pay $350,000 to people who allege they were wrongly arrested by police loyal to a polygamous sect.

The settlements noted in court records last week resolve two civil rights lawsuits against Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., and their joint police force, referred to as marshals. The towns are the longtime home of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

The settlements arrive as Arizona’s police regulators are seeking to remove six of the community’s seven marshals for allegations including making false arrests, failing to investigate crimes and lying to investigators.

The plaintiffs’ attorney in both lawsuits, Bill Walker, on Thursday said the settlements are “significant victories” for his clients. He also called the payouts further proof that the marshals still favor members of the FLDS and why the state of Arizona should boot them.

“I think it pretty much puts the last nails in the coffin of these marshals,” Walker said.

| Courtesy Sam Brower Andrew Chatwin being placed under arrest.

The lawyer for Colorado City, Jeff Matura, on Thursday said the towns were not admitting any wrongdoing. The settlements, he said, are “a business decision to limit the exposure and settle the case.” The money will be paid from city funds, Matura said.

Seth Cooke and a company he formed, Prairie Farms LLC, will receive $200,000, according to Walker and Matura.

Cooke and another man named Patrick Pipkin in 2015 obtained an agreement from the owner of an old Colorado City zoo to farm and ranch on the property.

Pipkin and Cooke went to take possession of the zoo, and a third man, Andrew Chatwin went with them. The towns’ marshals arrived and said the three were trespassing. Pipkin and Cooke refused to leave and were arrested and booked into jail on suspicion of trespassing for the first time on Oct. 13, 2015.

Four days later, Pipkin and Chatwin returned to the zoo and were arrested again. Pipkin and Chatwin settled their cases in August and received a combined $221,000.

In the second lawsuit recently settled, Isaac Wyler and his girlfriend, Twila Carstens, will receive a total of $150,000. On Dec. 23, 2015, they were changing the locks on a home in Hildale where sheriffs deputies had recently served an eviction.

According to the plaintiffs’ complaint, marshals arrived, accused Wyler and Carstens of trespassing and handcuffed and arrested them. Wyler and Carstens also accused the marshals of taking them to the Arizona side so sheriff’s deputies from Utah couldn’t provide assistance.

FILE - In this Dec. 16, 2014, file photo, Isaac Wyler, a former member of The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, (FLDS) who now works with Utah state officials to handle evictions, stands in front of an evicted polygamous property, in Hildale, Utah. A state-run church trust that controls homes in the polygamous community on the Utah-Arizona has seized 150 homes over the last two years from sect members who refused to pay $100-a-month occupancy fees, with nearly 80 of those homes being sold to former sect members who want to live in the remote village. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

The marshals have been the subject of scrutiny for years as a series of civil rights lawsuits have made their way through the courts. Then in November of last year, Arizona’s police regulators, called the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, voted to begin the process of removing six of the marshals. The marshals have remained on the job while they appeal. An appeal hearing has still not been scheduled.

Matura on Thursday said the standards and training board during the summer had asked his clients for more records about past incidents involving the marshals. Matura said the marshals have thus far not provided those records.

Matura explained he was trying to ascertain whether the records are part of the ongoing case against the marshals or part of a new investigation. Fact finding has ended for the current case, Matura said, and if Arizona is starting a new investigation, the marshals have a right to be informed of that before any records are provided.

“We’re trying to figure out why, what the scope of this request is,” Matura said.

Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune A Colorado City/Hildale Marshal on the phone at a memorial for the 13 (and 1 still missing) victims of a September 14th flash flood. The memorial was held in Maxwell Park in Hildale, Saturday September 26, 2015.

Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune A Colorado City/Hildale Marshal at a memorial for the 13 (and 1 still missing) victims of a September 14th flash flood. The memorial was held in Maxwell Park in Hildale, Saturday September 26, 2015.

Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune J. Barlow of the Colorado City/Hildale Marshals Office at a memorial for the 13 (and 1 still missing) victims of a September 14th flash flood. The memorial was held in Maxwell Park in Hildale, Saturday September 26, 2015.

Jack Lane, the director of the standards and training board, on Thursday declined to specify which records he requested, but said they address issues that have been raised previously. Providing them could be beneficial to the marshals, he said.

“It’s possible that these documents might actually clear some of these matters up that have been brought to the board,” Lane said.

The charges against the marshals include falsely arresting the men at the zoo. The marshals also are accused of failing to investigate crimes ranging from vandalism to child sex abuse, of lying to investigators about what names they have used over the years and whether they served on a church security force.

The marshals facing discipline are Chief Jeremiah “Jerry” H. Darger and deputies Samuel E. Johnson, Hyrum S. Roundy, Daniel R. Barlow, Jacob L. Barlow Jr. and Daniel N. Musser.

A seventh marshal, Curtis L. Cooke, resigned in 2016 rather than face discipline from the Arizona regulators. Cooke’s replacement is the only marshal not under suspicion.

The Hildale and Colorado City marshals are certified in Utah and Arizona. Utah’s police regulators in 2016 closed an investigation into the marshals with no action.

Laws in the two states are different. Arizona’s police board can take action against “malfeasance, misfeasance, or nonfeasance,” according to its regulations.

Utah once had similar language. Then, in 2010, the Utah Legislature changed the law to limit police discipline cases to a few specific offenses, including criminal conduct, sex on duty, and drug and alcohol problems.