Wednesday, October 4, 2023
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Fundamentalist Towns Under U.S. Scrutiny

SALT LAKE CITY (CN) - Police in towns dominated by fundamentalist Mormon leader Warren Jeffs' polygamous sect on the Utah-Arizona border altered official reports from the twin towns, the Department of Justice claims.

The Justice Department sued Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., in 2012, claiming they towns denied housing and municipal services to nonmembers of the secretive Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Federal attorneys recently said in court documents filed in Arizona that several police reports in the area known as Short Creek, home to the FLDS church, were altered before submission.

Specifically, attorneys claim, call recordings to the towns' dispatch were destroyed after a possible business burglary and home invasion.

The alleged invasion report, filed in February 2013, was recorded via In-Synch Systems software, U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland said.

Holland ordered the towns and Justice Department to work with In-Synch Systems to retrieve a list of altered reports from the software. But the company claimed a bug prevented recovery of three or four months of reports.

Judge Holland in 2012 separately denied a request to move the religious discrimination lawsuit from Arizona to Utah, ruling that the towns did not make a strong showing of inconvenience.

The Justice Department said a year ago that members of the towns' police force - the Marshal's Office - refused to investigate crimes against residents who do not follow Jeffs, who was convicted of two counts of child sexual assault in 2011 and supposedly still heads the group from a Texas prison.

The towns' municipal government, police force and utility companies are de facto arms of the FLDS church, the government claims.

"The Marshal's Office fails to protect non-FLDS individuals from victimization by FLDS members, fails to investigate crimes against non-FLDS individuals and their property, and refuses to arrest FLDS individuals who have committed crimes against non-FLDS individuals," the 2012 lawsuit states.

"These crimes and actions include destroying crops on a non-FLDS-operated farm, vandalizing property in the control of the UEP Trust, returning at least one underage bride to a home from which she had fled, and trespassing on property occupied by non-FLDS individuals."

Before facing depositions, the towns lost a bid to exclude from discovery information on "FLDS teachings, practices, or beliefs, including but not limited to polygamy, underage marriage, 'loss of priesthood,' 'apostates,' 'lost boys,' 'repenting from afar,' 'handling' of members, prophesy, etc."

Nonetheless, in a motion to compel discovery in September 2013, the government said Marshal's Office and Colorado City's town clerk members refused to answer "many relevant questions concerning 'Religious Information,' such as who currently leads the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which government officials were FLDS members, and whether the FLDS church utilizes a security force."

Colorado City's mayor, vice mayor and the chief of the Marshal's Office also refused to answer relevant questions, Justice Department attorneys said .

The towns countered that the government was fishing, and that its allegations about the security force were similar to "contending that Boston's predominantly Irish Catholic police force has operated as an arm of the Catholic Church."

Colorado City's attorney, Jeff Matura, told Courthouse News in 2012 that the lawsuit was the anticipated result of frustration in Utah and Arizona over unsuccessful attempts to control the towns.

Both states have tried to "dismantle" the municipal governments through legislative actions, and both have failed, the Phoenix-based attorney said.

"There hasn't been a successful civil rights lawsuit against Colorado or Hildale ever," Matura said. "No one has ever taken the time to meet the communities to see if there is a problem."

The FLDS, Matura said, "think of themselves like the Amish."

"The more the government and the states try to change them, the more they will dig in their heels and refuse to change," he said.

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