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Monday, July 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Fundamentalist Towns Hit With $2.2M Verdict

PHOENIX (CN) - Two towns on the Arizona-Utah border dominated by members of a fundamentalist Mormon sect discriminated against residents who are not members of the church, a jury found Monday afternoon, granting $2.2 million in damages to six residents.

The U.S. government sued Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah in 2012, accusing the border towns of denying police protection, water and housing to nonmembers of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church's leader, Warren Jeffs, is imprisoned in Texas for life plus 20 years for the sexual abuse of two young girls he had taken as his "spiritual wives."

The jury returned the verdict after nearly seven weeks of testimony, finding that the towns engaged in religious discrimination of nonmembers of the church in violation of the First Amendment's establishment clause. Another aspect of the verdict found that the towns' police force - the Colorado City Marshal's Office - violated the Fourth and 14th Amendments by subjecting nonmembers to unreasonable search and seizures and arrest without probable cause.

The jury also found that Colorado City, Hildale and the cities' water utility, the Twin City Water Authority, violated the Fair Housing Act.

"Obviously, we should've went a different way, but we respect the process," said Blake Hamilton, an attorney for Hildale, after the verdict was announced.

"The case is far from over," said Colorado City attorney Jeff Matura. "[The Justice Department] will have to propose what kind of injunctive relief they want."

After deliberating for three days, the jury awarded six residents $2.2 million in damages for discrimination. The amount is not binding.

During trial, the towns and the Justice Department entered into a $1.6 million settlement to cover damages suffered by the individuals, and possible civil penalties and fines.

Christopher Jessop testified that church security ran his son off the road, and that the Marshal's Office helped cover it up.

Nicknamed the "God Squad," church security is said to monitor current and former FLDS members and keep an eye out for outside law enforcement.

Jessop also testified that the Marshal's Office failed to investigate dozens of incidents of vandalism against his vehicle. The jury awarded him $1 million.

Another $1 million will go to John Cook, a man repeatedly denied a water connection on a property to park his trailer. Cook eventually received a water connection but could not afford to move his trailer onto the property since he was forced to move elsewhere.

The jury awarded former Colorado City Councilman Richard Holm $100,000. Colorado City marshals arrested Holm and charged him with felony theft after he towed a trailer that did not belong to him from his property.

Patrick Barlow also won $100,000 from the jury after an employee of the water department, Victor Jessop, participated in removing a water hydrant from a property where Barlow was building a home.

Jerold Williams, whom the Marshal's Office arrested for trespass in a home he built and for which he held an occupancy agreement, will take home $5,000.

Occupancy agreements allow residents to live on land owned by the United Effort Plan Trust, a trust formerly maintained by the FLDS church that Utah took over in 2005, amid rape charges that landed Warren Jeffs behind bars.

The Justice Department said Williams had entered the home, where his family lived, to "tell the truth" about Jeffs.

For having witnessed her husband's arrest, the jury awarded Williams' wife Elizabeth Wayman $10,000.

During trial, the Justice Department argued that the two towns fostered a symbiotic relationship with the FLDS church that included plucking members of the church's security force to serve on the Colorado City Marshal's Office.

Helaman Barlow, a former chief marshal, testified that the agency ignored claims that one of its deputies had an underage wife, and did not investigate allegations that Colorado City Mayor Joseph Allred married a 15-year-old.

The Justice Department also presented evidence that the towns refused to provide water hookups to residents who didn't belong to the church, but connected water for church projects without requiring an application.

Attorneys representing the towns claimed the evidence presented by the Justice Department did not show a pattern of police discrimination and called into question the reliability of prosecution witnesses. Barlow is among a group of witnesses who admitted to have received immunity and previously committed perjury.

The defense also called a number of water experts who testified that summer water shortages and a declining water supply accounted for the towns' supposed policy of denying residents new water hookups from 2007 through 2014.

U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland is expected to impose remedies, and told attorneys he might need more evidentiary hearings to determine what actions he must take.

Attorneys for the Justice Department declined to comment on the verdict.

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