In a federal civil rights lawsuit against two towns in Arizona and Utah, prosecutors allege that local officials vowed loyalty to Warren Jeffs, the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, even as he was charged with arranging marriages between girls and older men.
The Department of Justice alleges that the towns of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, are essentially extensions of FLDS, the Associated Press reports, a breakaway Mormon sect that still practices polygamy. (Mainstream Mormonism disavowed polygamy more than a century ago.) On Monday, FBI Agent Robert Foster, who participated in the search for Jeffs when he was a fugitive, testified about letters in which local police officers expressed their solidarity with the sect leader.
“I view Colorado City, Hildale and FLDS as one in the same,” Foster said. The lawsuit alleges that the towns discriminate against anyone who is not a member of the sect. From the AP:
On the stand, Foster said Colorado City officers claimed to have no information on Jeffs’ whereabouts while he was a fugitive. A handful of the officers later were decertified, including one who refused to answer a grand jury’s questions about Jeffs’ whereabouts.
Attorneys for the towns have acknowledged past problems with the police department but pointed out that the officers who didn’t cooperate in the search for Jeffs are no longer working in law enforcement. They say no officers have been decertified since then.
Foster testified that a number of Colorado City officers denied any knowledge of Jeff’s whereabouts when he was on the run in the early ‘00s. One even refused to answer a grand jury’s questions. Those officers have since been decertified.
Prosecutors also called Jennifer Smith, who oversees inmate mail for the prison system in Texas, where Jeffs is being held. When he first arrived, in 2011, he was getting between 1,000 and 2,000 letters per day, Smith said. Now, he only gets 300 letters per day. The rest of the prison, in Palestine, Texas, gets about 2,000 pieces of mail per day.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Smith authenticated two letters sent to Jeffs in 2012, one from Colorado City Mayor George M. Barlow and one from Curtis Cooke, a deputy marshal in Hildale and Colorado City, which are together known as Short Creek:
In the letters, which were in the court record before the trial started, Barlow and Cooke expressed their loyalty to Jeffs. Cooke described his family life to Jeffs while Barlow asked Jeffs for counsel about some town business, including whether to change Colorado City’s legal name to Short Creek.
The Justice Department alleges the towns and their police force collude with the FLDS Church to discriminate against non-members. Neither Jeffs nor the church is a party in the lawsuit.
“I want my work in the town government, as town clerk, to be an extension of priesthood,” Joseph Allred wrote to Jeffs in 2005, at which point he was Colorado City Town Clerk. Jeffs is serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting one of his 24 underage brides.