PHOENIX (CN) — Disbanding a police department along the Arizona-Utah border may further alienate members of a fundamentalist Mormon sect there, but it looks like the best option, a former Phoenix police chief testified Tuesday.
The Department of Justice wants to dismantle the Colorado City Marshal's Office, which polices the twin towns of Colorado City, Ariz. and Hildale, Utah. The towns and the marshal's office are dominated by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose leader and "prophet" Warren Jeffs is serving life in prison for sexually abusing two girls.
The United States sued the towns in 2012 for discriminating against residents who do not belong to the sect by denying them police protection and other services. A jury awarded six residents $2.2 million in March after finding that the towns denied them police and water services and housing. Now the United States wants the towns' Marshal's Office dismantled.
The Justice Department hired Jack Harris, who was Phoenix police chief for seven years, to present options that U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland can use to overhaul the Colorado City Marshal's Office.
"Is there a problem with disbandment?" Judge Holland asked Harris on Tuesday, the second day of the evidentiary hearing.
"Any option is going to have issues," Harris said, "issues within the community, because there is going to be change."
Harris said he considered replacing the entire staff of the Marshal's Office, or placing a monitor or receiver to oversee it, but disbanding the office is the best way to stop the discrimination.
"All options have some possibility of success," Harris said, but issues with the hiring process and chain of command make disbandment the best option.
"The police chief is currently reporting to his brother, who is the city manager," Harris said. Colorado City Manager David Darger is the brother of Jerry Darger, the chief marshal.
"This situation is very unique because of the allegations of biased reporting based on religion," Harris testified. "The resolution is getting good policing."
Sheriff's departments in Mohave and Washington counties could respond to calls in the two cities if the Marshal's Office is disbanded, Harris said. He said similar police services are used in the Phoenix area.
"Many people here don't know if they are getting Maricopa County Sheriff's or Phoenix P.D.," Harris said.
Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher testified Monday that he supported dismantling the Marshal's Office, and that his department could take over policing. An attorney for the Mohave County Sheriff's Office echoed Pulsipher's statements during the Monday hearing.
Some members of the FLDS church may never trust the sheriff's offices, but outreach could build their relationships, Harris said. "Both sides have assured me they have unbiased policing now," he added.
Pulsipher said his deputies are regarded as outsiders by members of the FLDS, but that relationships with church members improved after a flash flood in September 2015 that killed 16 people.
City Manager David Darger testified during the jury trial in February that he was a victim of religious discrimination by the Justice Department.
"They want to take me and smear me and try to make me look bad for their ulterior motive," Darger said. "The federal government wants to come in and usurp and trample on state rights."
The church gained notoriety in the 2000s after Warren Jeffs was placed on the FBI Most Wanted list for sexual abuse charges in Arizona and Utah. He is serving life in prison plus 20 years for sexually abusing two girls he called his "spiritual wives."
Attorneys for the two cities on Wednesday were to lay out their arguments against dismantling the Marshal's Office. The hearing is expected to last through Thursday.