Arizona bill targets police in polygamist enclave

Associated Press/February 8, 2012

A bill advancing in the Arizona Legislature would abolish the police department in Colorado City, a northern Arizona community where state Attorney General Tom Horne says officers who are followers of polygamist leader Warren Jeffs flout the law.

The bill would set up a process for a local police agency to be abolished if at least half of its officers have lost their law enforcement certifications, and Horne said there already have been enough de-certifications of Colorado City officers to pull that trigger.

The Senate Government Reform Committee's approval of the bill on Wednesday positions it for consideration by the full Senate following a legal review by the Rules Committee. Senate passage would send it to the House.

Chief Marshal Jonathan Roundy did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the bill.

Horne said Colorado City officers who have been decertified "are simply replaced by other followers of Mr. Jeffs, who put their loyalties to what Mr. Jeffs says rather than to court decisions or to the law. He still runs things from prison."

Jeffs, head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is serving a prison sentence of life and 20 years in Texas where he was convicted of sexually assaulting two underage sect girls whom he took as plural wives.

Horne was Arizona's elected state superintendent of public instruction when Arizona seized control of the Colorado City school district based on findings of financial mismanagement. The district has since emerged from receivership.

The FLDS practices polygamy, a legacy of early Mormon church teachings that held plural marriage brought exaltation in heaven.

However, the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned the practice in 1890 as a condition of Utah's statehood and excommunicates members who engage in the practice.

Horne said there have been numerous examples of Colorado City officers "refusing to enforce the law when crimes are committed against the property or person ... of non-followers of Jeffs by followers of Mr. Jeffs."

"In fact, they're actively interfering with the law ... when a court awards property to non-followers," Horne said. "They will use the police power to give the land to other people."

Jeff Matura, a lawyer for Colorado City, acknowledged that Colorado City officers have been decertified in the past but he denied that current ones flout the law.

"There's no substance to these allegations," he said. "They do follow the law."

Matura also said the legislation sets a "dangerous precedent" by targeting a single community and is unconstitutionally vague in implementation authority it would give the attorney general.

"All communities should be concerned if that's what the state is going to do," he said.

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