Arizona seeking a federal probe of polygamist town's police force

The Associated Press/October 1, 2005

Phoenix - After following the lead of their Utah counterparts by moving to lift the law enforcement certifications of some police officers in a polygamist community, Arizona authorities are seeking a federal civil rights review of the entire Colorado City, Ariz., police department.

Attorney General Terry Goddard said complaints from other law enforcement officials and citizens prompted him to ask U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to have the Justice Department conduct a preliminary inquiry, a step that could lead to a formal investigation.

''I believe that the officers of the Colorado City Police Department have engaged in a pattern of practices of conduct that deprives individuals of their constitutional and civil rights,'' Goddard wrote in a letter to Gonzales.

There are reports of young men being forced to leave Colorado City by being threatened with arrest at the same time as they fell out of favor with the polygamist sect that dominates the community, and reports that police turned a deaf ear to the complaints of women who were forced into marriage or subjected to violence, Goddard said in an interview Friday.

Police officers ''seem to be aiding and abetting criminal activity,'' Goddard said. ''They seem to have, under church direction, a very selective view to enforce the law. These are allegations. I'm not saying that any have been proven, but I think we've heard enough to think that some of the complaints are pervasive and are credible.''

Colorado City Police Chief Fred Barlow did not immediately return a call for comment Friday.

A Justice Department spokesman in Washington, Eric Holland, said he wasn't familiar with the Aug. 23 letter and didn't know the status of the request.

The Justice Department has conducted numerous reviews of other law enforcement agencies around the country.

For example, Detroit settled two federal lawsuits by promising in 2003 to make significant reforms in how it uses force, detains prisoners and questions witnesses.

Goddard's request for a federal inquiry is among several steps taken by Arizona and Utah authorities against the polygamist sect that dominates Colorado City and adjacent Hildale, Utah.

The polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints broke away from the Mormon church.

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