PHOENIX (CN) — The Marshal's Office dominated by a fundamentalist Mormon sect in twin towns on the Arizona-Utah border routinely hides children involved in custody disputes from outside law enforcement, a sheriff testified Monday as the federal government tries to shut down the agency.
"When they know that we are coming, those children are moved, making it harder to find them," Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher told a federal judge.
Pulsipher testified that his agency quit notifying the Colorado City Marshal's Office of child custody disputes involving his office. The Marshal's Office oversees Hildale, Utah, in Washington County, and Colorado City, Ariz.
The Department of Justice sued the two cities in 2012 for discriminating against residents who do not belong to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The sect is run by its "prophet," Warren Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence in Texas for sexually abusing two underage girls he called his "spiritual wives."
A jury granted six residents $2.2 million in damages in March, finding the cities denied them housing, police protection and water hookup. Now the Justice Department is asking the court to disband the Colorado City Marshal's Office.
Sheriff Pulsipher testified that he supports effort, based on his agency's "experience, working relationship and what we see." He said his department could take over policing in Hildale if the Marshal's Office is disbanded.
James Schoppman, special counsel for the Mohave County Sheriff's Office, also wants the Marshal's Office dismantled. He testified to a "history of abuse" by the Marshal's Office, and said appointing a receiver or a monitor would not be sufficient.
"This is nothing new, this is something that the Sheriff's Office and law enforcement have been dealing with for years," Schoppman testified. "If it's just a receiver or a monitor, we'll be here next week."
Schoppman said the Mohave County Sheriff's Office would be willing to take over policing if the Marshal's Office is disbanded. Colorado City is in Mohave County.
U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland asked Schoppman who would pay for police services. Schoppman said it would be Colorado City.
"What if they refuse?" Holland asked.
"The court can ensure that they are paying for that," Schoppman said. "Probably nobody else would think this would happen, but in no other place would this happen than in Colorado City."
Schoppman said the sheriff's and marshal's offices had a "strained" relationship.
Blake Hamilton, an attorney for Hildale, seized on that phrase, asking Schoppman if the relationship was strained because Mohave County Sheriff Jim McCabe has a "religious bias" against the FLDS church.
In 2014, McCabe told the Today's News-Herald of Lake Havasu City, "If you haven't already heard, we put Colorado City up for sale on Craigslist last night. They've been a thorn in our side for years."
Schoppman called that comment "tongue-in-cheek."
The court also heard testimony that all deputies in the Marshal's Office are under investigation for possible decertification by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board.
Travis Meadows, a detective with the Arizona Department of Public Safety, testified that he began investigating the Marshal's Office in November 2015, after receiving complaints that the marshal was not investigating property damage claims by the United Effort Plan Trust. The trust owns most of the property in the two cities.
"The Marshal's Office acted in a biased way," Meadows said.
Meadows reviewed more than 150 police reports completed by the Marshal's Office, a number of which were not timely completed.
"There are a few reports here that were over 450 days [old]," Meadows told the court.
The hearing is expected to continue through Thursday.Follow @jamierossCNS
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