SALT LAKE CITY — The Arizona attorney general wants a federal judge to disband the police department in Warren Jeffs' polygamous sect on the Utah-Arizona border, citing what he says is new proof that the agency is the splinter religious group's de facto law enforcement arm.
In a federal court filing this week, Arizona prosecutors say the former police chief for Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, provided information that proves the agencies are influenced by sect leaders and discriminate against nonmembers of the religious group.
Chief Helaman Barlow told prosecutors in April that church leaders choose who goes to the police academy, have access to surveillance cameras around town and ordered officers to follow a church edict that bars Internet use even though it inhibits police work, court records show.
Barlow, who went to authorities after he was put on leave from his position and received immunity from prosecutors, said the agency ignores marriages to underage girls. He also acknowledged secretly taping conversations he had with the FBI and Texas law enforcement with the intent of sending them to Warren Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered brides.
Known as The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the sect is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism whose members believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven. Polygamy is a legacy of the early teachings of the mainstream Mormon church, but the faith abandoned the practice in 1890 and strictly prohibits it today.
Blake Hamilton, attorney for Hildale, told The Associated Press there's no legal basis for disbanding the agency. He refuted claims that the five police officers are under control of sect leaders, pointing to the fact that no officer there has been decertified by the state in seven years.
He questioned the validity of Barlow's comments considering the chief told prosecutors he lied under oath during a March trial in Arizona. During that trial, a federal judge ruled a family living in the communities was denied a household water connection for religious reasons.
"When was he telling the truth?" Hamilton said.
Barlow told prosecutors in the April interview that he lied at the trial out of fear that he would lose his job or be kicked out of the community.
An attorney for Colorado City didn't immediately return a request for comment.
If the judge doesn't disband the agencies, Arizona prosecutors are asking for a monitor to oversee daily operations and hiring and firing.
This is not the first time Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne has tried to take authority from the police department. He contends the agency has for a decade taken orders from church leaders at the expense of legitimate law enforcement work.
Horne championed a measure in the Arizona Legislature in 2013 that would have stripped power from the agency, but the bill stalled in the Senate. His office also has provided funds for several years to the Mohave County sheriff's office so it can patrol the polygamous community.
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