Rogue Cops

The police force in Polygamyland helps fugitive Prophet Warren Jeffs and his cult break the law

The Colorado City Marshal's Office is in a state of insurrection.

And nobody in authority -- from Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano on down -- seems to give a damn.

As the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Prophet Warren Jeffs exerts absolute control over the Colorado City marshal's office -- even as he eludes a nationwide manhunt. The polygamist prophet has been on the FBI's most wanted list since last August.

Utah AG Mark Shurtleff (left) and Arizona AG Terry Goddard have become Prophet Warren Jeffs' puppets.
Mark Poutenis
Utah AG Mark Shurtleff (left) and Arizona AG Terry Goddard have become Prophet Warren Jeffs' puppets.

The marshal's office is the police department for Colorado City and adjoining Hildale, Utah, just across the state line. The polygamist enclave on the Arizona Strip has been controlled for more than 70 years by the FLDS, a breakaway sect of the mainstream Mormon Church.

In two stunning depositions given Friday, February 17, the chief of police and another police officer both repudiated the state laws they are sworn to uphold along with the authority of a Utah judge.

Colorado City Police Chief Fred Barlow and Officer Sam Johnson made it clear that their renegade police force bows strictly to the demands of the FLDS, which of course means it answers finally to Prophet Jeffs.

"You have police officers who are sworn to uphold the law who are not willing to uphold the law if it conflicts with what their religious leaders tell them to do," says Gregory Hoole, a Salt Lake City attorney who conducted the depositions.

Hoole interviewed the officers at the request of Utah Third Judicial District Court Judge Denise P. Lindberg, who wants to know why Colorado City police stood by and allowed the removal of an expensive grain elevator from United Effort Plan property.

The UEP is a trust that owns most of the property and buildings in Colorado City and Hildale. Lindberg removed FLDS leaders -- including Warren Jeffs -- as UEP trustees last summer and turned over control of the trust to a special fiduciary, Salt Lake City accountant Bruce Wisan.

Wisan learned on December 31 that an FLDS work crew was disassembling a grain elevator worth more than $77,000 that was on UEP land. Wisan ordered Colorado City police to stop the FLDS work party until ownership of the elevator could be determined following the New Year's holiday.

Police Chief Fred Barlow assured Wisan that work would be stopped. Yet by dawn on New Year's Day, the grain elevator had been loaded onto semi trucks and whisked out of town.

An infuriated Wisan asked the court to impose an immediate injunction prohibiting the removal of property from UEP land.

Lindberg issued the injunction in early February. She also instructed Wisan to investigate what role the police department played in the disappearance of the grain elevator. Wisan issued a dozen subpoenas to determine what happened, including three to Colorado City police officers.

Hoole says Chief Barlow refused to answer many questions during the deposition, including ones about the duty of the police to follow court orders.

"The chief of police was refusing to acknowledge that Judge Lindberg even exists," Hoole tells me. "It's shocking. It's America, and you have the chief of police that is ignoring the court."

Officer Sam Johnson answered a few more questions than Barlow, Hoole says. He revealed that FLDS leaders had instructed Colorado City police to ignore last summer's court order stripping FLDS leaders from control of the UEP trust.

Since then, several UEP properties have been removed or stripped of valuable assets, including a massive potato storage shed, part of a log home construction business and several large irrigation sprinklers.

Colorado City police saw fit to arrest nobody, despite several local residents filing police reports complaining about the removal of the property.

The fact is, Colorado City police helped facilitate theft of some of the property, Wisan declares.

The bottom line:

"There is an order from the court that Colorado City officers refuse to recognize," Hoole says.

The last time I looked, Colorado City and Hildale were not part of Iran. But the towns whose population totals about 8,000 are controlled by religious extremists who rule with as much twisted fervor as the fundamentalist Islamic fanatics headquartered in Tehran.

The 50-year-old Jeffs believes he's God's chosen prophet on Earth, and, even more stunning, so do the thousands of his followers, many of whom appear willing to do anything he commands.

Jeffs landed on the FBI's most wanted list after he fled in the wake of seven felony counts filed against him last June by a Mohave County grand jury in connection with his conducting polygamous marriages of underage girls to already legally married men.

Jeffs' absolute control over the police force is making a mockery not only of Napolitano -- who has disgracefully sidestepped the appalling activities of the FLDS that include the rape of underage girls -- but of Attorneys General Terry Goddard in Arizona and Mark Shurtleff in Utah.

Neither state has taken significant action to beef up independent law enforcement in the remote polygamist communities.

After claiming he was poised to arrest Jeffs three years ago, Shurtleff let the prophet slip away even after birth certificates showed that Jeffs had impregnated at least two underage girls who were not his legal wives.

Goddard, meanwhile, has yet to file criminal charges against three former Colorado City public school district officials who have been under investigation for nearly a year for using public property for their own benefit.

The flaccid legal action by top authorities in both states gives me little confidence that anything will be done immediately to stop what essentially is an armed rebellion by the Colorado City police force that is putting innocent lives at risk.

A handful of courageous former members of Jeffs' cult who still live in Colorado City and Hildale are quietly cooperating with state and federal authorities conducting criminal investigations.

These families say they can't rely on the local police force for protection if Jeffs orders his FLDS followers to do harm to them, their families or their property.

Instead, they must depend on the Mohave County Sheriff's Office, which would have to dispatch deputies from a substation in Beaver Dam more than an hour away.

"There is cause for concern because it would take the sheriff's office some time to get there," Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith acknowledges.

Mohave County has dragged its feet for years by failing to establish a police substation on the Arizona Strip to provide legitimate law enforcement not only to Colorado City but to Centennial Park, an adjoining polygamist town whose citizens are reviled by Jeffs because they refuse to worship him as their leader.

Many former FLDS members believe the potential for violence is increasing as law enforcement steps up pressure to find Jeffs.

Last month, FBI agents served grand jury subpoenas on about half a dozen FLDS leaders at a church hall where thousands of members were gathered for a Saturday-morning meeting.

Meanwhile, eight FLDS polygamists are awaiting trial in Mohave County Superior Court on felony charges stemming from their "spiritual" marriages to underage girls.

Under increasing legal pressure, Jeffs' edicts have become even more strict. Over the past two years, he has booted dozens of men out of the church for no defined reason. After their removal from the FLDS, he has reassigned their wives and children to other men.

As for the Colorado City police force, it has traditionally ignored the FLDS' illegal coercion of underage girls into plural marriages.

Colorado City police officer Rodney Holm took a 16-year-old girl as his third "wife" and impregnated her twice before she turned 18. He was later stripped of his police certification after he was convicted in August 2003 of unlawful sex with a minor and sentenced to a year in the Washington County, Utah, jail.

Former police chief Sam Roundy was stripped of his police certification last year for violating Arizona's and Utah's constitutions prohibiting polygamy and replaced with Fred Barlow, who has no more regard for the laws of the states in which he serves than his predecessor.

Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan says he plans to ask county supervisors for additional funding for two more deputies to be assigned to the Arizona Strip. But that wouldn't happen until late summer at the earliest.

Arizona AG Goddard's response to the law enforcement crisis in the polygamist enclave is to meekly seek a federal grant to fund another Mohave County sheriff's deputy to be posted in Colorado City.

While this may provide help six months from now, it does nothing to address the immediate problem: The Colorado City cops are acting as a militia for Warren Jeffs.

The state should immediately begin the cumbersome process of decertifying every Colorado City police officer who places his loyalty to religious leaders ahead of the law. And AG Goddard and Sheriff Sheahan must dispatch enough real cops to patrol Colorado City and its neighboring communities on a full-time basis.

Otherwise, it will be their fault if future property is stolen by Jeffs' followers and if citizens who cooperate with outside investigators are injured, or worse.

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