KINGMAN – Mohave County law enforcement personnell are left scratching their heads to why a U.S. district court judge would rule not to disband the marshal’s office serving Colorado City.
In the case of United States vs. Town of Colorado City, U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland issued an order Tuesday requiring instead of disbandment that an independent mentor would be appointed to advise the towns’ marshal’s office on how to revise police procedures.
Improper ethical practices of the marshal’s office in the largely polygamous community run and controlled by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints weere at the core of the U.S. Department of Justice suit against the town.
The department wanted the Colorado City Marshal’s Office dissolved after a March 2016 verdict found the towns denied nonmembers of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints police protection, building permits and access to city water and electricity.
While Mohave County Sheriff Doug Schuster respects Holland’s decision, he said his department will stand behind the ruling, but he was “personally” disappointed in the ruling.
“I thought disbandment was more than appropriate for that department,” Schuster said.
“Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board have pulled certification from several of their officers for violating AZPOST rules and constitutional issues. Some of the actions taken by their law enforcement personnel were egregious. If those officers had worked for me, they would have been terminated on the spot. I’m concerned if they are not able to separate the church from the state, which has been a problem for many years, they will revert back to the mentality of the past.”
Schuster added that he is pleased a mentor will advise the marshal to ensure “some of the poor policing practices do not occur in the future that have occurred in the past.”
“I think it should have been a lot more stringent, but for lack of better words they are now on significant probation,” Schuster said. “I think someone needs to make sure they adhere to Arizona law and the constitution. I don’t believe anyone should be held to a different standard.”
The argument that Colorado City’s Marshal’s office was a strong-arm unit that enforced church edicts resonates with Schuster.
“I would use this term, but I would do it in the past tense simply because I have not had any involvement with them since taking office,” he said. “When I worked for the sheriff’s office in the past, I patrolled that area and I’ve been followed by a marked patrol car by the Colorado City Marshal’s Office. That type of paranoia and control from any law enforcement agency is disheartening, and they weren’t following me to make sure I was safe, I can tell you that.”
Former Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan was also unsettled by Holland’s ruling.
“I was really disappointed when I heard the marshal’s office was not disbanded,” Sheahan said. “They have history of noncompliance and a history of noncooperation with surrounding law enforcement agencies. I think someone needs to go in and review all the documents, all the reports and all the history of the officers. I have no doubt there are things hidden based on our prior experiences with them.”
Jeff Matura, representing Colorado City, was pleased with the ruling.
“Disbandment was always an extreme request and an extreme remedy,” Matura said. “For the judge to deny this action is a great statement that there are benefits to local policing with officers who interact within their own community.
“The order reaffirms that these changes need to be made, and if the town doesn’t comply and slides back into their old ways there are mechanisms within this order to stop that from happening. This is a 10 year injunction with the court holding jurisdiction.”
Matura also disagrees with the marshal’s office being a strong-arm police force.
“I don’t think that is a relevant question any longer because we’ve had a trial. This case was filed in 2012, so there has been five years of litigation on this exact issue. Now we have the end of the story, which … ensures there is an appropriate separation between church and state,” Matura said.
“Whether someone wants to argue they are an arm of the church is not the relevant inquiry anymore. The relevant inquiry is whether the police department and other municipal functions are complying with the order.”