Jury finds FLDS towns violated constitutional rights of non-members

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PHOENIX — A federal jury reached a verdict in the Justice Department’s trial against Hildale and Colorado City, the polygamous towns in Arizona and Utah, ruling they discriminated against non-members in housing, water services and police protection.

The jury handed down the verdict Monday. Prior to the verdict, the towns and the federal government reached an agreement the defendants would pay $1.6 million to resolve claims about housing violations.

The town governments were accused of acting as de facto agents for the Fundamentalist LDS Church and its leader, Warren Jeffs.

“In its advisory verdict, the jury found that the Colorado City Marshal’s Office, the cities’ joint police department, operated as an arm of the FLDS church in violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment; engaged in discriminatory policing in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and the establishment clause; and subjected individuals to unlawful stops, seizures and arrests in violation of the Fourth Amendment,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

Blake Hamilton, the attorney for Hildale, told FOX 13 he was disappointed in the verdict but respected the jury’s decision.

“I think you have to respect the process and the jury was out for over three days deliberating on this matter,” he said.

The Justice Department and attorneys for Hildale and Colorado City will have to meet within the next 10 days to see if they can agree on appropriate injunctive relief. If they cannot, the judge will schedule a hearing to decide what happens.

Hamilton said no decision had been made about an appeal.

“We’ll have to address the injunctive component before we address any appeals,” he told FOX 13.

The Justice Department called it a victory for “equal and fair treatment.”

 

“Today’s verdict reaffirms that America guarantees all people equal protection and fair treatment, regardless of their religious beliefs,” Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in the statement. “When communities deny their residents critical services simply because of where they worship, they violate our laws and threaten the defining values of religious freedom and tolerance that are the foundation of our country.”