Judge denies bid to disband polygamous towns' police agency

Posted: Updated:
A judge decided against ditching a shared police department in a polygamous community on the Arizona-Utah border. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) A judge decided against ditching a shared police department in a polygamous community on the Arizona-Utah border. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The judge ruled police procedures to be revised and an independent mentor must be appointed to advise the police chief in Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The judge ruled police procedures to be revised and an independent mentor must be appointed to advise the police chief in Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The disbandment request was a response to a March 2016 jury verdict in Arizona that found the towns denied nonbelievers police protection, building permits and water hookups in the adjacent towns. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The disbandment request was a response to a March 2016 jury verdict in Arizona that found the towns denied nonbelievers police protection, building permits and water hookups in the adjacent towns. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The judge said he wasn't persuaded by the U.S. Justice Department's arguments to disband the Colorado City Marshal's Office. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The judge said he wasn't persuaded by the U.S. Justice Department's arguments to disband the Colorado City Marshal's Office. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Sandra Day O'Connor United States Courthouse in Phoenix is home to the United States District Court for the District of Arizona. (Source: Derrick Neill via 123 RF) Sandra Day O'Connor United States Courthouse in Phoenix is home to the United States District Court for the District of Arizona. (Source: Derrick Neill via 123 RF)
PHOENIX (AP) -

A judge has rejected a bid to disband a shared police department in a polygamous community on the Arizona-Utah border as a punishment for discriminating against people who aren't members of the dominant religious sect in the sister cities.

Instead, U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland issued an order Tuesday requiring police procedures to be revised and an independent mentor be appointed to advise the police chief in Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah. The judge said he wasn't persuaded by the U.S. Justice Department's arguments to disband the Colorado City Marshal's Office.

"The court deems disbandment of the CCMO as a last resort that should be employed only if less drastic remedies fail," Holland said.

The judge said other police departments accused of wrongdoing that included serious injuries and deaths weren't disbanded in the past. Holland said hiring an outside agency to police the towns also would be twice as expensive and would probably result in a lower level of police protection.

The disbandment request was a response to a March 2016 jury verdict in Arizona that found the towns denied nonbelievers police protection, building permits and water hookups in the adjacent towns.

[READ MORE: Jury finds Colorado City, Hildale guilty of discrimination (March 7, 2016)]

Holland also ordered the appointment of an official who will monitor the towns on behalf of the court. The monitor will review municipal decisions that involve housing, as well as how the towns handle utility applications and citizen complaints that affect housing rights.

Jeff Matura, attorney for Colorado City, said disbandment would have been an extreme change. "Today's ruling is a victory for municipalities throughout the country that have pushed back against overt government intrusion," Matura said in a statement.

Blake Hamilton, an attorney representing Hildale, said in an email that "we are hopeful that the tools provided in the injunction - including a monitor, mentor and consultant - will be used in a way that enables the cities to move toward a better future."

[RELATED: Non-FLDS residents optimistic about changes in wake of verdict (March 8, 2016)]

Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr declined comment on the decision.

The civil rights case marked one of the boldest attempts to confront what critics have said was a corrupt regime in both towns. It provided a rare glimpse into the inner workings of secluded towns that are shrouded in secrecy and distrustful of the government and outsiders.

The Justice Department said the towns were operating as an arm of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism, which disavowed polygamy more than 100 years ago.

The jury found the Colorado City Marshal's Office violated the rights of nonbelievers by breaking the First Amendment's promise that the government won't show preference to a particular faith and force religion upon people.

Jurors also concluded officers treated nonbelievers inequitably when providing police protection, arrested them without having probable cause and made unreasonable searches of their property.

[SPECIAL SECTION: The Polygamy Diaries: Reported by Mike Watkiss]

Authorities say the sect's activities are dictated by the commands of their jailed leader and prophet, Warren Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence in a Texas for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered wives.

Federal authorities said officers from the shared department claimed to have no information on Jeffs' whereabouts while he was a fugitive, even though it was later discovered that some of them had written letters to the church leader during that time.

The Justice Department thought the disbandment was necessary because the church has in the past used the agency to enforce religious edicts. The leader of a trust that owns most of the real estate in the twin towns has said officers work against his group in carrying out evictions on homes and commercial properties in the towns.

The towns acknowledged that the police department has had problems in the past, but they said no officers have been decertified since 2007. The Justice Department has said 30 percent of the officers over the last 15 years have been decertified, including four police chiefs.

If the disbandment request had been granted, it would have marked the first time that a police agency had been folded as a result of a civil rights case brought by the Justice Department.

© 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


  • Social Connect

  • Contact

    AZ Family

Mike WatkissMike Watkiss is a veteran reporter who has been on the frontline of some of the biggest stories of the last four decades.

Click to learn more about Mike.

Mike Watkiss

Watkiss has interviewed serial killers and super stars.

He was one of the first reporters on the scene the morning the bodies of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson were discovered.

Watkiss then covered the so-called "Trial of the Century" -- the criminal prosecution of O.J. Simpson.

During an eight year run with the show "A Current Affair" Watkiss first worked as a New York-based correspondent and then was transferred to Los Angeles to serve as both the L.A. Bureau Chief and West Coast Correspondent.

While with "A Current Affair" Watkiss covered the L.A. Riots, the Northridge Earthquake, the Oklahoma City Bombing, "Night Stalker" Serial Killer Richard Ramirez, Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss, and Figure Skater Tonya Harding.

Watkiss also traveled the world from Singapore to Switzerland covering Super-Star Michael Jackson.

For the last eighteen years, Watkiss has worked as the Senior Reporter at Phoenix TV Station KTVK.

During this time, Watkiss covered the 9-11 attack from New York City, Hurricane Katrina from Biloxi Mississippi, the Death of Princess Diana from London, the trial of American Terrorist Timothy McVeigh from Denver and countless wildfires all over the Western United States.

Watkiss has received many of journalism's major awards. In 2009 Watkiss was also presented the FBI's Community Leadership Award by then FBI Director Robert Mueller.

Because of his extensive work covering the practice of polygamy in America, Watkiss, who comes from polygamist ancestors, is recognized as one of the leading experts on American polygamy, the FLDS Church and Polygamous Prophet Warren Jeffs.

In 2005, Watkiss produced the Emmy and Edward R. Murrow Award-winning Documentary "Colorado City and the Underground Railroad."

The documentary chronicles the stories and struggles of a handful of brave women who stood up against the abusive Prophet and power structure of the FLDS community and, ended up, changing the course of history.

Watkiss has a B.A. in Anthropology from Stanford University and a Masters' Degree in Journalism from Columbia University.

Watkiss has appeared in several movies including "Dumb and Dumber," "The Positively True Adventure of the Texas Cheerleading Murdering Mom," and "Outlaw Prophet Warren Jeffs."

Watkiss is a native of Salt Lake City. He now lives with his family in Phoenix.

Hide bio