ST. GEORGE — The police department in a polygamous community along the Utah-Arizona border is facing new claims of discrimination in a lawsuit filed by two men arrested on allegations of trespassing at a former city zoo.
The men said they were trying to take court-ordered possession of the property in Colorado City, Arizona, but the town marshals sided with a man who the plaintiffs say was squatting there, according to court documents.
Andrew Chatwin and Patrick Pipkin said they were arrested again a few days later in October 2015 after calling to report that people who had set up an herb growing operation were removing things from the property.
Chatwin, Pipkin and leaseholder Claude Seth Cooke, the operator of business enterprise Prairie Farms, claim they were granted authorization to work on the property by the owner, a once-communal trust known as the United Effort Plan, the Spectrum newspaper in St. George reported.
The arrests came because they aren't members of the Fundamentalist LDS Church, the men argued in the lawsuit filed last week.
"The arrests of Chatwin and Pipkin and the charges made against them were illegal, in clear violation of Arizona law and were clearly discriminatory," the lawsuit states.
Though the charges were later dismissed, Chatwin and Pipkin said the October 2015 arrests violated their constitutional rights, harmed their reputations and cost them money.
A lawyer for the marshals disputed their account, saying legal ownership of the property was unclear amid a long-running court case over property once held communally by the sect and later taken over by the state of Utah.
Attorney Blake Hamilton told the Associated Press the men were arrested because they refused to leave, not over religion.
"There was no arrest because they weren't FLDS. They were arrested because they weren't obeying the lawful commands of the officers," Hamilton said.
The lawsuit comes as federal prosecutors in Arizona argue the marshals should be disbanded after a jury found the sister towns of Colorado City and Hildale, Utah, violated the constitutional rights of nonbelievers by denying them basic government services such as police protection, building permits and water hookups.
A hearing in that case is set for Monday.
Justice officials contend the slate needs to be wiped clean because of the deep-rooted control of the town marshals by leaders of a polygamous sect run by imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs.
The towns fiercely oppose the idea of disbanding the department, saying problems at the agency don't require such a drastic step.
They say other departments targeted in federal civil rights investigations haven't faced disbandment. The towns say they can resolve their problems through policy changes and employee training, and should be able to demonstrate their compliance through reports and documents.