Claiming new evidence of a pattern of misconduct, Attorney General Tom Horne on Tuesday asked a federal judge to dissolve the police department that patrols the polygamous twin communities of Colorado City and Hildale, Utah.
In legal papers filed here, Horne says the chief marshal for the department confessed to lying under oath while testifying in a case accusing officials of the town of housing discrimination in refusing to rent a property to a couple who were not members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A federal court eventually found in favor of the couple.
More alarming, Horne said, is that Helaman Barlow, after being offered immunity, admitted to a host of other acts over a longer period of time that show the police department effectively functioned as an arm of the church.
“The police actively protect members of the church and seek to harm non-members of the church,” Horne said. He said the confessions of perjury prove the department "has operated for decades, and continues to operate, as the de facto law enforcement arm of the FLDS,'' not only in matters of housing but “life in general in the FLDS-controlled towns.”
Horne is using that information from Barlow, now on leave, to ask U.S. District Court Judge James Teilborg to dissolve the police department and turn the duties over to the respective county sheriffs in each state, with the taxpayers in the communities picking up the tab.
Jeffrey Matura, attorney for Colorado City, said he is still reviewing Horne's filing.
“However, it appears that the request exceeds the scope of allowable relief and may be unconstitutional,” he said.
But Horne said federal judges have extensive equitable powers to make orders to right wrongs. He compared what he wants to federal judges in prior decades ordering the busing of students to deal with racial segregation in schools.
Among the admissions Barlow made according to court documents are:
- the FLDS church played an active role in deciding who would attend the police academy;
- municipal surveillance cameras were tied into the FLDS Church and that church security had access to the cameras;
- his agency stopped using the Internet at the direction of the church even though that compromised its ability to conduct investigations.
- the department fed information from other law enforcement agencies to FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs who had been on the run from law enforcement officers before being captured.
Barlow also admitted that, even after acquiring personal knowledge that certain men had married underage girls, he never investigated. That includes someone who had worked at his department.
Horne told Capitol Media Services that just begins to show the role the police have played in the communities. And he said that is why he is asking for such an extraordinary order of abolishing the agency.
“This is the worst government abuse in the world,” he said.
“This is the police capturing women and dragging them back as slaves to these guys that have the harems,” Horne continued. He also said the police department has been a participant in expelling young men from the community so they do not compete with the church elders for the young women.
“This is the worst kind of government oppression you can imagine,” he said.
Horne acknowledged the claims of officers capturing run-away underage brides and driving off young men are not part of the record being presented to Teilborg. Instead, he said, it came out of testimony presented to state lawmakers in a prior unsuccessful bid by Horne to get permission to abolish the police department
That 2012 measure would have allowed county supervisors to have the sheriff's department take over law enforcement where at least half the local police officers over an eight-year period have had their peace-officer certifications revoked. That would have applied to Colorado City/Hildale where officers have been stripped of their authority, some for misconduct with minors and others after declaring that their loyalty to Jeffs is more important than state law.
While the measure passed the Senate, it died in the House after opposition from the area's two representatives.
Rep. Nancy McLain, R-Bullhead City, said it was unnecessary because the community now has new officers of certified. She said it would be wrong for the community to lose its local police force now because of the actions of prior officers.
“Things have been changing in Colorado City,” she said.
But Horne said the record — now including what Barlow admitted — shows otherwise.
Horne also said Teilborg needs to abolish the department outright because simply revoking the peace officer certification of those who ignore the law or their duties is not sufficient protection.
“They tried that for many years,” he said.
“Every time they took someone's certification they just replaced him with a clone,” Horne continued. “You've got to deal with the system. Dealing with individuals doesn't solve the problem.”