Justice Department sues two FLDS townsPosted: Updated:
COLORADO CITY, Ariz. -- The federal government is suing two towns that are dominated by the fundamentalist, polygamous, FLDS Church and its jailed leader Warren Jeffs.
According to the Justice Department sect members in Colorado City, Ariz., and Hill Dale, Utah have been forcing nonbelievers out. The feds call it discrimination and they want it to stop.
They say it's happening because FLDS members control everything that counts in these places from the town hall to the tap water.
CNN's Gary Tuchman recently visited Colorado City where the word of Warren Jeffs is akin to the word of God and where his cult-like religion is the law.
Colorado City, Arizona is a very unusual place. The desert town is the religious seat of the FLDS Church, which promotes and practices polygamy. And whose leader has been convicted of raping underage girls.
"The police force in Colorado City is, without a doubt, the most crooked police department in the country," said private investigator Sam Brower.
Brower is a private investigator who has dug into FLDS allegations for most of the last decade. He says the cops make the community increasingly unstable.
"I've never seen the tension so high," said Brower.
Tuchman wanted to ask the police about their support and allegiance to convicted pedophile and polygamist Warren Jeffs, but they didn't want to talk.
Mohave County is where Colorado City, Arizona is located. Tom Sheahan is the sheriff. He says his deputies can't trust the local police.
"They are doing only what the church wants to do and what their leaders tell them to do," said Sheahan.
When asked if their religion and their prophet is far more important than the laws of the state of Arizona Sheahan said, "That we know for sure."
With that in mind, the Arizona legislature took up a bill to dissolve the department known as the Colorado City Marshals Office and leave enforcement up to the sheriff.
Under the law, any Arizona police department in which more than half the officers were decertified by the state for corruption or crime in an eight year period would be dissolved.
Colorado City currently has six cops. Six other cops have been kicked off within the past eight years.
The state says each of those cops was decertified for different reasons, such as felony sexual conduct with a minor, bigamy, refusal to testify and answer questions at a grand jury and a deposition and seeking advice from a fugitive.
That fugitive being Warren Jeffs when he was on the FBI ten most wanted list. A letter recovered when Jeffs was arrested written by the former chief declared, "I am praying for you to be protected and yearn to be with you again."
The Arizona Senate passed the bill unanimously, but then something very surprising happened in the Arizona House. Representatives Nancy McClain, R-Bullhead City, and Doris Gooddale, R-Kingman, non-FLDS members who represent Colorado City in the legislature, took up the church's cause to keep the police department intact.
With their leadership, the bill died in a close vote. McClain and Gooddale say the bill is unconstitutional because they claim the city is being singled out. They also acknowledge they want to support their FLDS constituents who will cast ballots for them come election day.
Rep. McClain said, "things are changing up there and it just doesn't seem fair to go backwards in time when things are finally opening up."
That directly contradicts what Gary Engels sees. He's the primary investigator of the FLDS for the county prosecutor's office.
"Things are getting much worse up there. It's getting worse by the day. It's getting more fanatical," said Gary Engels, Mohave County investigator.
So where is Representative McClain getting her information?
"There's more commerce there. They are more willing to talk with people who are not members of the community so I see that as opening up, said Rep. McLain.
Tuchman reports that people come to him and say they're scared, there's no one to talk to. They want to get out. They're trapped. Their children are being taken away from them. The cops are doing nothing.
Tuchman asked Rep. Gooddale about that and she responded by saying, "No. No one has said that to me in any of the times I've been up there."
But it does happen, repeatedly.
This past February, Tuchman reported the story of David Bistline. Warren Jeffs had kicked him and many other men out of the church for not being faithful enough.
In the middle of the night Bistline's wife and seven children were told to leave him and they left the house with the local police standing by.
"Just about killed me. I just closed my eyes and I felt like my soul is out there just floating around somewhere," said Bistline.
When Warren Jeffs kicks people out of the church, their families are taken away from them. And the cops helped take their families away from them.
"That was five years ago," said Rep. Gooddale.
When Tuchman told Goodale that that was a few months ago because he had just covered a story about it Goodale said, "Well, we never heard about it."
Rep. Goodale testified to the other legislators that this is a very open community. One of her quotes was "when we come here. We go to the baseball games, the Little League games."
We can tell you from talking to people who were in the church that there has never been a Little League here in Colorado City. As a matter of fact, one woman in the church currently says she doesn't even know what the term Little League means.
After this story aired on CNN on June 26, 2012, 3TV's Mike Watkiss (who has covered Colorado City and Warren Jeffs extensively) joined Gary Tuchman for a discussion.
That segment can be seen here. This is the transcript:
O'BRIEN: Earlier tonight, I spoke with Gary Tuchman as well as Michael Watkiss, an investigative reporter for our Phoenix affiliate KTVK. He joined us by phone.
So, Gary, let's start with you. The way you describe it, it's almost as if a religious sect is actually running these towns. Describe what it's like when you talk to the residents.
TUCHMAN: Well, that's right, Soledad. Many of the people I talked to in these towns remind me of people I've talked to in Afghanistan and Iraq. Religion is more important to them than anything.
If their prophet, Warren Jeffs, who's now in jail tells them something, they do it. Including in the past when he's told 13-year- old or 14-year-old girls they have to marry men in their 60s, 70s or 80s. They do it.
Their families make everything move to make it happen. So it's the kind of situation we go there and try to talk to the people who are members of the FLDS. They run away from us.
They run away from us because they're scared to be seen with us. Because they could get in trouble if they talk to an outsider like myself.
O'BRIEN: Mike, I know you actually interviewed a couple who say that they were discriminated against. What story did they tell you?
MICHAEL WATKISS, KTVK TV INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER (via telephone): They got a home -- a young man was classic case. He worked as a young man working on work crews when he was about 8 years old. He left the community, was never compensated.
Finally, he was given a home when they started taking over the land trust. He was badly disabled on a work related site down in Phoenix. So he's disabled. He was never compensated for his work as a child.
He and his family were given a home. They're non-FLDS. The FLDS community didn't want them there and they refused to turn on their water and power. They've had this home for nearly four years and they still don't have water.
They have to haul water to their home. This while FLDS families can go in and get their water hooked up in a matter of hours. The community has started bottling water and selling it as a commodity while they tell this family they don't have water to give them to their homes.
It is the most egregious. You know, again, people who don't understand this or haven't followed this think this, you know, is this community run by a religion? It's absolutely run by a religion. People who are not of that religion are persecuted from sun up to sun down.
O'BRIEN: So Gary, we saw you trying to get the attention of the police chief who didn't seem to be coming to the door. What's your experience with the police departments in these towns?
TUCHMAN: Well, in years of going there, Soledad, I've tried to talk to the police and to government officials. They have never, ever consented to an interview except one time, the mayor of Hilldale, Utah, talked to me.
A few months later, he was kicked out of the church. I will tell you, it's very, very different as Mike says than any other place in the United States.
One encounter I had with one of the police officers there. I was trying to interview one of the residents near the post office in a public spot. The officer said, stop interviewing people.
I said, no, this is a public street. He said, stop interviewing people. I said, not this is public. He says, I will arrest you and take you in if you don't stop trying to do an interview.
I don't know where he would take me if he arrested me, but that put an end to that. That is not something a cop would normally say when you're doing interviews in a public street. But in the FLDS land, that's what they say.
O'BRIEN: Mike, I'm going to give you the last question if I can. Warren Jeffs, he's behind bars, but it seems like you're saying he is not out of commission.
WATKISS: Well, and Gary can attest to this. He's done some stories for your network. He has been kicking families, people, out just in the most brutal -- the disruption of families that he continues to orchestrate.
He's thrown hundreds of people out, just torn families apart and I think this shows you the power that he yields. He's behind bars and he continues to rip families apart.
They were screaming about the abuse of the Texas Rangers when they went and raided that compound in Texas. I would argue that Mr. Jeffs has done more damage to the family -- his own families in his own community than 30 raids on the compound could have done.
You know, this is a brutal man. It is a misogynistic culture. The core it abuses women and children and these guys have been policing the government forever. The cops are corrupt. Every layer of government is corrupt. The feds should have done this a long time ago.
O'BRIEN: Mike Watkiss and Gary Tuchman this evening. Thanks, gentlemen. Appreciate it.