Arizona AG sues Colorado City businesses for discrimination

Associated Press/June 14, 2007
By Chris Kahn

Phoenix -- The Arizona Attorney General's Office filed separate civil rights lawsuits Thursday against the owners of two Colorado City restaurants that allegedly refused to serve former members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

The lawsuits against Big Dan's Drive Thru and Vermillion Candy Shoppe accuse the owners and staff of turning away Isaac Wyler and Andrew Chatwin and other former FLDS members.

Andrea Esquer, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Attorney General's Office, said both restaurants are owned by current FLDS members.

The sect practices polygamy and arranged marriages, and has about 10,000 members on the Utah-Arizona line.

"They were refused service because they weren't members," Esquer said. "The law in Arizona says that if you operate a place of public accommodation, you cannot refuse service based on religion."

The Attorney General's Office said that Daniel Porter Steed, who owns Big Dan's, and Vermillion owner Bygnal Dutson are not currently represented by lawyers.

Two phone numbers listed under Steed's name in Colorado City were disconnected. A woman who answered the phone Thursday at Big Dan's Drive Thru said she didn't know where Steed was or how to contact him.

A man who answered the phone at Vermillion said the owner or manager of the store didn't want to talk to the media.

The Attorney General's Office wants the restaurants to be fined and is seeking a court order prohibiting the restaurants from discriminating against others. Esquer said it hasn't been decided how big the fines should be.

According to the state's complaint, Steed refused to serve Wyler, Chatwin and Chatwin's wife in July 2006. Steed allegedly turned them away, asking them to leave.

The Attorney General's Office said that staff at Vermillion also refused to serve Chatwin, Wyler and others in April 2006. The state complaint said that after the group paid for food at Vermillion, the store's staff told them they didn't have any left. When the group protested, the store's staff handed them food in "to go" boxes, and asked them to leave.

The Attorney General's Office claims that when Chatwin, Wyler and other former sect members tried at a later date to go back in the Vermillion Candy Shoppe, an employee called police. Wyler asked the shop employee if he called police because of their different religious beliefs.

"You know why," the employee said, according to the lawsuit.

Officers arrived and escorted the men out of the restaurant.

Esquer said Wyler and Chatwin were excommunicated by FLDS leader Warren Jeffs in 2004. According to the lawsuit, FLDS members are taught to shun former members, especially those that oppose Jeffs.

Jeffs, 51, is currently in a Utah jail awaiting a September trial on charges of rape as an accomplice. Prosecutors claim Jeffs had a role in the 2001 marriage of a 14-year-old girl to her 19-year-old cousin.

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