ST. GEORGE, Utah - Officials from police academies in Utah and Arizona will meet in St. George today to consider whether the town marshals who patrol a polygamist enclave on the border should be stripped of their badges.
Officers in Colorado City Town Marshal's office are all said to be members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, an insular faith of about 10,000 whose members practice polygamy and consider their leader, Warren Jeffs, a prophet of God.
An investigation launched by Utah in December accuses officers of misconduct for being more loyal to Jeffs than to their badges and oath of office. Officers are cross-deputized to work in Utah and are certified in both states. They patrol Colorado City and Hildale, Utah, where most FLDS church members live.
Police have reportedly ignored court orders related to properties held in a church trust and refused to cooperate in depositions conducted by trust attorneys.
POST officials in both states sent officers a warning letter last year reminding them of their duties as sworn officers. If Utah were to decertify the whole department, the Washington County sheriff's office would likely be asked to take over police duties for Hildale. Currently, the county has one deputy who patrols the area.
Police investigate town marshal
Utah officials are investigating the entire department of about eight officers, including Town Marshal Fred Barlow. Barlow and two officers are the subject of a parallel investigation being conducted by Arizona's Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, academy director Tom Hammarstrom said. One officer, Mica Barlow, voluntarily surrendered his Utah certification last fall, after spending three weeks in prison for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury in Phoenix.
Included in the investigation evidence is a letter from Fred Barlow to Jeffs in which he pledges his allegiance as a "servant" to the church president, referring to him as "Uncle Warren."
"I do not know exactly what we have ahead of us but I do know that I and all of the other officers have expressed our desire to stand with you and the priesthood," Barlow wrote.
He also informed Jeffs of his plans to hire an additional officer, "unless you would like us to do something different."
The letter was part of a cache of communications seized in a 2005 southern Colorado traffic stop involving a pickup truck driven by one of Jeffs' brothers. At the time Warren Jeffs was a fugitive hiding from felony charges filed in Arizona. He is currently in the Washington County jail pending an April trial on two counts of rape as an accomplice.
Barlow's attorney scoffs at letter
When read in its entirety, Barlow's letter is "really quite benign" and not proof of anything more than ecclesiastical reverence, said attorney Peter Stirba, who's been hired to represent the department in POST's civil administrative hearings and in a separate federal civil rights lawsuit involving police. "We don't believe there's anything there and any action that may be taken would be unfounded," Stirba said Friday.
Today Stirba's office is expected to present POST officials from both states with a lengthy letter objecting to the investigation and detailing the misunderstandings, misperceptions and miscommunications he believes have resulted in the current allegations.
"They have answered this (loyalty) question routinely and repeatedly," Stirba said. "They clearly acknowledge the authority of the court and their oath of office."