Monday, March 18 2013, 10:44 PM MDT
Lawmakers Target Polygamous Police On Utah/Arizona Border
By Ladd Egan
(KUTV) After failed attempts in years past by Utah and Arizona lawmakers to disband the police force in the polygamous-controlled cities of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, the Arizona Legislature is giving it another try.
Arizona lawmakers are using a softer approach this time around with House Bill 2648, which passed the House on a 52-7 vote and is currently being considered by the Senate.
The proposed legislation is designed to deal with police officer misconduct and does not specifically mention the polygamous cities.
The bill does not target the polygamous enclaves directly, lawmakers in support of the bill say, it simply sets the framework for dealing with “systemic misconduct or mismanagement” in any city’s police force.
A shared Marshal’s Office polices Colorado City and Hildale. The area is home to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints which is run by imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs.
Jeffs, 57, is serving a life sentence in Texas on convictions of sexually assaulting two underage girls.
In January, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne called on the Arizona Legislature to pass legislation to shut down the cities’ Marshal’s Office. He also made allegations that officers take orders from FLDS leaders and keep women and children captive.
“It’s the biggest injustice that I know of in the State of Arizona,” Horne said of the Marshal’s Office. “Women who’ve wanted to escape have been forcibly held by the marshals against their will.”
The allegations came during a press conference Jan. 22nd in Phoenix to announce that Ruby Jessop and her six children had successfully escaped the FLDS Church.
During the press conference, the local county sheriff, whose deputies help extract Jessop from the cities, also called on lawmakers to strip the Marshal’s Office of its powers.
“They are corrupt,” said Mohave County Arizona Sheriff Tom Sheahan of the police officers. “They work only for Warren Jeffs and the FLDS and we need legislation badly to put them out of business.”
Under proposed HB 2648, the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board will investigate any police force after a certain percentage of officers lose their law enforcement certification.
If the board finds significant problems with the police department, the bill calls for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office to confirm the allegations and then notify the board of supervisors in the respective county.
With a supermajority vote, the county board can strip the municipality of its law enforcement authority and appoint a “neutral third-party municipal law enforcement administrator who has experience in law enforcement management,” the bill reads.
For Colorado City to trigger the new law, half of its police officers would need to be decertified. That scenario has happened before, with half of the force’s officers stripped of state certification for misconduct ranging from marrying minors to helping Warren Jeffs.
“I think this will be a great step moving forward and it could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” said Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson of the proposed legislation. “They’ve used the Marshal’s Office to keep their people in line.”
Johnson alleges that officers with the Marshal’s Office utilize access to law enforcement databases and other police resources to control women and children.
“They can get any information that any other law enforcement agency would get,” Johnson said. “They get grants just like anybody would get from the Federal Government. They get bulletproof vests, they get sniper rifles, they get all that same equipment and it’s used by the church.”
But attorneys for Colorado City and Hildale deny allegations that the Marshal’s Office follows orders from FLDS leaders.
“We’ve asked for any single piece of evidence to support those allegations and we have yet to receive any,” said Jeff Matura, attorney for Colorado City.
Matura said the bill is unnecessary because Arizona already has procedures in place to deal with police officer misconduct.
“We do feel like it’s unfairly targeting Colorado City,” Matura said. “Colorado City is the municipality brought up in every hearing.”
The original version of the bill called for problem police departments to be completely disbanded. The revised version that passed the House keeps remaining officers in place under the leadership of an outside manager.
(Copyright 2013 Sinclair Broadcasting Group)