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Colorado City wants out from under some oversight of FLDS past

Posted at 4:59 PM, Aug 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-18 19:50:19-04

Colorado City, Ariz., is asking a federal judge for changes in a long-running lawsuit alleging discrimination in policing and government services by members of a polygamous church.

In a recent court filing obtained by FOX 13, Colorado City said a policing consultant has completed his tasks and his services should no longer be required.

"Nothing else remains. And because all the tasks are now complete, the Consultant has moved into a monitoring role, in which he periodically meets with various individuals at the CCMO [Colorado City Marshal's Office]," wrote Jeffrey Matura, an attorney representing the city. "While Colorado City appreciates the Consultant’s monitoring efforts, that work is not cheap and costs Colorado City several thousands of dollars in fees payable to the Consultant each month. Colorado City is a public entity; therefore, it is the residents of Colorado City who ultimately bear the financial burden of the Consultant’s continuing monitoring efforts."

Matura wrote that the city's police force has had a 100% turnover since 2017 and supervisors within the agency have no ties to the Fundamentalist LDS Church.

But in a response to the motion, a court-appointed monitor for the community suggested Colorado City hasn't changed all that much since a jury found the border town's government discriminated against non-members of the FLDS Church.

"The historical challenges and corruption that arose from the CCMO were largely due to the direction given by town and church officials. Although there would be hope that this would not occur again, it should be noted that several current town officials were part of the previously convicted administration, including the chief elected officer," Roger Carter wrote in another filing obtained by FOX 13.

Hildale's government has changed completely with a secular council being elected in by voters. Colorado City, however, has been slower to change, Carter claimed.

"While Hildale town officials saw the Order as a way to bring stability to the community, the feeling among Colorado City officials has been one of 'tolerance' for the Order," he wrote. "Occasionally this is demonstrated in passive-aggressive comments by public officials, such as when will they be done with us, aren’t we are tired of being in the community, and are we ready to move on. On several occasions, through comments and conduct, I have felt town officials see the imposition of this Order as the greatest miscarriage of justice on the community and not the underlying reasons for the Order."

Carter urged the judge to keep the policing consultant in place. In its own filing, the U.S. Department of Justice also opposed Colorado City's request.

The federal government sued Hildale and Colorado City's governments in 2017, accusing them of discriminating against non-members of the FLDS Church. Among the allegations, the police force was more loyal to polygamist leader Warren Jeffs than the residents they were supposed to serve and protect.

A jury ruled against the communities after a trial and a federal judge in Phoenix put them under 10 years of oversight. That included the hiring of the policing consultant to institute reforms within the Colorado City Marshal's Office.

Once the stronghold of the FLDS Church, Hildale has overturned its entire political leadership including electing its first woman and ex-FLDS mayor, Donia Jessop. Colorado City has seen some changes to its political leadership, but ex-FLDS member Andrew Chatwin said the mayor and members of the council are still devout members.

Chatwin himself sued Colorado City in 2006, accusing the police department of violating his civil rights during an arrest and received a settlement.

"That’s why the monitor, in my opinion, is so important," he said in an interview with FOX 13. "Because the church was running the mayor, the judges and the police department. We needed that monitor there to make sure that they’re not continuing to violate people’s civil rights."

The communities remain a patchwork of devout members of the FLDS Church, ex-FLDS and non-FLDS. But both communities have seen significant cultural shifts in recent years away from the once-rigid controls of the FLDS (fundamentalist Mormonism is a belief system that is an offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). For example, Colorado City opened its first bar.

"We've seen huge changes in how the community is responding, how the theocracy isn’t as strong anymore," Chatwin said, adding that he believed the footprint of those still members of the FLDS Church "has downsized to maybe 10%."

Warren Jeffs is serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for child sex abuse related to underage marriages.