Two federal juries in two years said that the police force in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., discriminated against those in the community who did not follow the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Throughout, the communities’ chief marshal, Jeremiah “Jerry” Darger, kept his job — until Monday, when the Colorado City Town Council voted to terminate Darger. The termination is effective at the end of March 12.
“The action was taken due to the political environment and opposition which has made it difficult if not impossible for Jerry to succeed,” Colorado City Town Manager David Darger wrote in an email to municipal employees the day after the meeting, “and the Town Council has found that it is in the best interest of the town to replace him.”
Jerry and David Darger are brothers.
Hildale’s new mayor, Donia Jessop, the first woman to serve in the role, said she recently expressed concerns about the chief marshal.
“There wasn’t a lot of trust with the marshal’s office and the citizens,” Jessop said Friday in a phone interview. “I raised those concerns with Colorado City. Colorado City said, ‘Well let’s replace him.’ I was surprised they did that so quick, but they did.”
Neither of the Dargers nor Colorado City’s mayor returned phone calls seeking comment Friday.
Jerry Darger’s termination may demonstrate that municipal government changes are happening in Hildale and Colorado City, collectively known as Short Creek. After losing the second civil rights lawsuit in 2016, a federal judge in Phoenix ordered changes and installed monitors to observe municipal machinations and ensure they are following their respective states’ laws and were no longer discriminating against non-FLDS residents.
Demographic changes have been happening, too, as members of the FLDS have been leaving Short Creek rather than work with a land trust that owns most of the homes in the community. In the municipal elections in November, Hildale voters elected Jessop, a former FLDS member, and three City Council members who no longer or never did follow FLDS President Warren Jeffs.
Since Jessop and the new council members took office in early January, 11 Hildale employees have resigned.
Jessop said one told her he was quitting because his religion didn’t allow him to work for a woman or sit in meetings with apostates.
The employees who resigned over the past six weeks remained in their jobs until replacements could be found.
“They resigned,” Jessop said, “but they made sure we were secure, which I cannot say how much I respect that.”
A pool of replacements exists. Lots of Hildale and Colorado City employees left their jobs over the years after fallings-out with FLDS leaders, and many of those people continue to live in the community. Jessop said Hildale hired a new recorder and treasurer last week.
As for the marshal’s office, which the two towns operate jointly, the plan had been to rehabilitate it. The judge ordered additional training. The towns also hired consultants and a mentor for Darger, who was a relatively inexperienced chief. Darger received his law enforcement certification in 2009.
Darger and other emergency responders in Short Creek received awards from Utah for their handling of the 2015 floods that killed 12 people.
Meanwhile, Arizona’s police regulators have been trying to revoke the law-enforcement certification of Darger and five of his deputies over allegations similar to those raised in lawsuits that have gone to trial or beeen settled in recent years — discrimination, wrongful arrests, false police reports and failure to assist outside law enforcement. The cases have been waiting for an administrative hearing.
But Jessop said the history of discrimination from the marshals was difficult for Hildale residents to overcome. Since taking office in January, Jessop had asked Darger to attend public meetings and hold safety classes at the public school, but he hadn’t.
Darger had his supporters in Hildale, including two of the council members elected in November — JVar Dutson and Jared Nicol. Both spoke in Darger’s favor at Monday’s meeting.
Darger had recently agreed, Dutson said, to police the towns as though he is part of the community and not as though is he part of the FLDS.
“I felt like he’s been kicked back,” Dutson said, “and forth and he’s agreed in his meetings with us, when we took over, he would abide by the [judge’s orders] and be workable.”
Nicol on Friday said Darger had spoken at a neighborhood watch meeting and seemed to be making progress as a police chief. Nicol was OK keeping Darger in place while there were monitors and consultants to help him improve.
“I didn’t think it should have gone down the way it did so soon,” Nicol said.