SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - Arizona’s attorney general has asked a federal judge to disband the police department for twin Utah-Arizona border towns that are dominated by the polygamous church of jailed sect leader Warren Jeffs, according to court papers.
The documents filed by Attorney General Thomas Horne in federal court in Arizona on Monday said police in the two towns put directives from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, ahead of state and federal law.
Horne’s request came as part of a proposed judgment in a housing discrimination lawsuit brought by Arizona against the towns - Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah - where most members of the Jeffs-led group live.
A jury ruled against the towns in March, saying two residents, Ronald and Jinjer Cooke, were unfairly denied utilities because they were not FLDS members.
“The disbandment of the .... Marshal’s Office is necessary and appropriate because this police department has operated for decades, and continues to operate, as the de facto law enforcement arm of the FLDS Church,” Horne wrote.
Blake Hamilton, a Salt Lake City attorney who represents the towns, said on Tuesday he could see no legal precedent for the move and that the Marshal’s Office would fight disbandment.
“I think it’s overreaching,” Hamilton told Reuters.
Three previous attempts by Horne to disband the department through legislative action failed.
In court papers, Horne’s office said officers discriminated against non-FLDS residents and aided Jeffs while he was a fugitive from justice. Jeffs was jailed in 2006.
Under Horne’s proposal, police services in the two communities, which have a combined population of about 7,000, would be transferred to the sheriff’s offices of Mohave County, Arizona, and Washington County, Utah.
In the absence of disbandment, Horne asks for a receiver to oversee the marshal’s department for at least a decade.
Jeffs, 58, is serving a life term plus 20 years after being convicted in 2011 of sexual assault charges related to his marriages with underage sect girls.
Reporting by Jennifer Dobner; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney