Decision Put Off On Whether To Take Marshals' Badges In Polygamist Enclave

Monday, March 19th 2007, 9:52 pm
By: News On 6

ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) _ A decision on whether to strip the badges of officers in a polygamist enclave has been put off while an investigation continues into allegations that their loyalty to a religious leader is above that to the law.

Utah's Peace Officer Standards and Training council voted Monday to table its three-month investigation into the Colorado City, Ariz., Town Marshal's office, which also patrols Hildale, Utah.

The investigation began after allegations surfaced that officers had ignored court orders, refused to cooperate in depositions and were more loyal to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints than their oath of office.

Utah investigators found deficiencies with the police force but none that would require suspensions or decertification, said Maj. Rich Townsend, Utah's standards and training director.

But the Utah council decided to put its investigation on hold while its counterpart in Arizona continues its investigation of three officers.

Tom Hammarstrom, executive director of the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, said hearings should be complete by July.

Hildale and Colorado City are twin towns populated by members of the church, which practices polygamy and arranged marriages. Church leader Warren Jeffs is in jail awaiting trial on charges of rape as an accomplice. He is accused of arranging the spiritual marriage of a 14-year-old girl to an older cousin.

The roughly 10,000 church members consider Jeffs a prophet of God and think of themselves as ``fundamentalist Mormons,'' although the mainstream church disavows any connection.

Jeffs' April 23 trial was delayed Monday ``due to recent information in the case,'' Judge James Shumate said in a brief order. He did not elaborate.

The Colorado City and Hildale officers are accused of misconduct for what authorities describe as ignoring court orders related to $110 million in property held in a church trust and refusing to cooperate in depositions conducted by trust attorneys.

Bruce Wisan, an accountant appointed by a judge to control the church property trust, said progress has been made with police in the enclave.

``But I don't think the police department is at the level yet where if a young 14- or 15- or 16 year-old girl doesn't want to get married that (she) would have the confidence to go to a town marshal and get proper adjudication in the situation,'' he said.

Authorities have a fall 2005 letter written to Jeffs by Fred Barlow, who oversees officers in the two towns, describing him as ``Uncle Warren'' and expressing allegiance as a ``servant'' to a man who was on the run from criminal charges at the time.

No evidence has emerged that officers ignored criminal acts in Colorado City and Hildale.

``I've seen absolutely no evidence of impropriety or of them not acting within accordance of the law,'' Hildale Justice Court Judge Richard Carr said Monday.

Peter Stirba, an attorney for the marshals, sent the Utah council letter saying the officers acknowledge they could benefit from more training.

``However, they also hope that the ... council and the public at large understand that they do support the law of the land and that they do take their oaths of office seriously and sincerely,'' Stirba said.