Judge rules polygamous border towns discriminate, but he won’t break up the police force

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge has issued a major ruling in a discrimination case involving the polygamous border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

In an order issued late Tuesday and obtained by FOX 13, U.S. District Court Judge Russel Holland ruled the town governments and their police force did discriminate against non-members of the Fundamentalist LDS Church. However, he declined to enforce severe sanctions against them, including dismantling the police force.

“Those findings reflect that FLDS Church leadership insisted upon city officials and CCMO officers advancing church and church members’ interests in preference to the needs and interests of non-FLDS Church residents…” the judge wrote.

A group of girls in Hildale sit in a park before a memorial service for flooding victims on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016. (Pete Deluca III, FOX 13 News)

The ruling stems from a lawsuit leveled in Phoenix by the U.S. Department of Justice against Hildale and Colorado City, accusing the towns of discriminating against non-FLDS members in housing and services. The police force was accused of acting as de facto agents for imprisoned FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.

Judge Hilland agreed that Colorado City Marshals turned a blind eye to criminal activities, including those involving FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.

“The officers supported Warren Jeffs when he was a fugitive, ignored underage marriages, ignored unauthorized distribution of prescription drugs, ignored food stamp fraud, and failed to cite or arrest the son of a church bishop,” Judge Holland wrote.

Jeffs is serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for child sex assaulted related to underage “marriages.”

FLDS leader Warren Jeffs in a 2014 deposition from the Texas prison where he is serving a life sentence.

However, the judge ruled that he was unpersuaded by Justice Department arguments that the town governments should be dismantled. The feds, along with Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, argued the Colorado City Marshals should be replaced with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Utah and the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona.

Instead, the judge demanded outside police consultants and new hiring procedures be implemented, and ordered the Colorado City Marshal’s Office to purchase body cameras.

“The Defendant Cities shall provide yearly training to all CCMO officers regarding the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments, the state and federal Fair Housing Acts, landlord/tenant law, trespass law, and any other topics that the Defendant Cities deem appropriate. The training shall be conducted by a qualified third person or organization other than the Defendant Cities’ attorneys, and the qualified person or organization must be approved in advance by the United States,” the judge wrote.

Mohave County Sheriff’s deputies begin patrol of Colorado City in 2012. (Picture courtesy of the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office.)

For the town governments, an independent monitor will be installed, Judge Holland wrote. He also ordered the subdivision of homes and property in the FLDS towns. For years, the communities have resisted efforts by Utah and Arizona authorities to enact court-ordered reforms to the United Effort Plan, the real estate holdings arm of the church based on the early-Mormon concept of a “united order.”

FLDS faithful have long argued a religious right to consecrate their property to their faith. Judge Holland said the town governments needed to recognize it was over.

“It is now time for the citizens of Colorado City and City of Hildale
to come together and accept the fact that communal ownership of residential property in the Defendant Cities is a thing of the past,” the judge wrote. “All residents of the Defendant Cities must be afforded equal access to housing and residential services, to nondiscriminatory law enforcement, and to free exercise of their religious preferences that are not contrary to law.”

In an email to FOX 13, Blake Hamilton, an attorney for Hildale, expressed hope that an independent monitor would resolve the situation.

“As rural, isolated, communities, founded by religious pioneers, Hildale and Colorado City have always recognized that there have been some issues in their collective past.  While we do not agree with all of the Court’s findings today, we respect the Court and acknowledge that like any community there is room for improvement,” he wrote.

“The fact that the Court did not terminate any City employees or disband the Marshal’s Office as the Department of Justice requested gives the Cities hope that they can take this opportunity to improve the services they provide to all of their citizens. We are hopeful that the tools provided in the injunction, including a monitor, mentor, and consultant, will be used in a way that enables the Cities to move toward a better future.”

Read the judge’s ruling here: