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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Towns’ Marshal Ignored Underage Weddings

PHOENIX (CN) - The former chief marshal of two towns run by a fundamentalist Mormon sect testified Wednesday that he looked the other way when men in Colorado City, Ariz. and Hildale, Utah took underage girls as their "spiritual wives."

The Department of Justice sued the twin towns in 2012, claiming they denied non-church members police protection, water and housing. The towns are dominated by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose leader, Warren Jeffs, is serving life in prison for sexually assaulting 12- and 15-year-old girls, whom he called his spiritual wives.

A federal jury trial against the two towns began in January and is expected to last through the end of February.

The government accuses the Colorado City Marshal's Office of selectively enforcing "laws and regulations against non-FLDS individuals on the basis of religion."

On Wednesday, Helaman Barlow, chief marshal from 2012 through 2014, acknowledged in court that the Marshal's Office did not investigate claims that members of the FLDS church, including Colorado City Mayor Joseph Allred, were marrying underage girls.

"If it was a church marriage, I as a church member saw it as a valid marriage," Barlow testified.

Barlow was born and raised in Colorado City, in the FLDS faith, until he left the church in 2014. He acknowledged that the Marshal's Office did not take action on claims that a marshal, Jonathan Roundy, married a 16-year-old.

When a Mohave County investigator began looking into child abuse allegations in the community, Barlow said, he felt anger.

"It felt like he was there to attack our marriages, our beliefs," Barlow said.

When Barlow became a deputy marshal in 1994, he said, he asked Rulon Jeffs, Warren Jeffs' father, if he had advice for a new cop.

"He told me, 'No. 1, you aren't a cop. You are a peace officer. No. 2, your calling is to stand between the church and harm,'" Barlow testified.

Rulon Jeffs, referred to as a "prophet," led the FLDS church from 1986 until he died in 2002. His son, Warren Jeffs, then assumed command. According Jon Krakauer's 2004 book "Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith," after Rulon died, Warren Jeffs married most of his father's more than dozen widows, thereby becoming the stepfather of as many of his 60 siblings and half-siblings.

Barlow testified that over the years he and other city marshals did protect the church. For example, he said, he would submit names to incarcerated FLDS leader Warren Jeffs and his brother, Bishop Lyle Jeffs, to pick who should be called to serve as deputy marshal.

Warren Jeffs was arrested in 2006 and sentenced in 2011 on two felony counts of child sexual assault.

Applicants needed a high school diploma or a GED to be hired by the Marshal's Office, but the agency hired three FLDS applicants who had not yet received a GED, Barlow said. Two of the three were on church's security team, which tracked members and former members and kept an eye out for visits from outside law enforcement.

Hildale's attorney Blake Hamilton objected: "Nowhere there does it say you have to meet the criteria to apply. To actually hold the job they would need to have a GED."

Barlow testified that he had to act in the best interests of the church, for fear of excommunication from the community.

"The church had total control of me and my family," Barlow said. "I was very aware that to implicate the church was to lose my family."

Barlow and his wife, Enid, have been married for 27 years and have 11 children.

Barlow acknowledged that he committed perjury during a number of depositions in the lawsuit, falsely claiming he had no knowledge of underage marriages or any other illegal acts by church members.

"I've admitted to perjury and other things I'm not too proud of," Barlow said.

Just before he was fired by the Marshal's Office, Barlow reached out to the Justice Department with information about the FLDS, and was granted immunity.

"I only have immunity in regard to this proceeding," Barlow said. "Even then it's limited to if I tell the truth."

The trial continues today.

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