COLORADO CITY, Arizona – A group of about 50 people gathered in the El Capitan High School auditorium in Colorado City, Arizona, Monday night, where representatives from the Utah Attorney General’s Office, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office and the Washington County Attorney’s Office were all in attendance to both disseminate and gather information about alleged discrimination taking place in the border towns of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah.
“We need your help to stop the discrimination,” Sandra Kane, assistant Arizona Attorney General and executive director of the Arizona Civil Rights Advisory Board, told the assembled crowd.
The meeting was held just days after details were released regarding a settlement being reached in the discrimination case of Cooke v. Colorado City, as made public by the Salt Lake Tribune in a report published Friday. Residents Ronald and Jinjer Cooke signed an approximately $3 million settlement agreement in July after battling housing and utilities discrimination in the twin cities of Colorado City and Hildale, collectively known to local residents as “Short Creek.”
During the first portion of Monday night’s meeting, Kane discussed the Cooke case and how the results of the case will affect other discrimination claims against the Colorado City/Hildale municipal governments going forward.
“We want people to know that we have proven that the cities and the utilities are involved in a pattern of practicing discrimination based on religion,” Kane said after the meeting. “ … We want them to know that the judge has issued a permanent injunction and is prepared to hold people in contempt if they continue discriminating.”
The “heavy lifting” of proving discrimination has taken place in the towns has already been done, Kane said. As a result, she said, relief for others who come forward to report discrimination will be quick, without the need of a new lawsuit.
Evidence in the Cooke trial showed there has been religious favoritism in Short Creek when it comes to housing and obtaining utilities services from the city, which has “a discriminatory effect upon non-FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) residents,” according to an overhead exhibit presented by Kane during the meeting.
When it comes to housing and utilities matters, the federal judge who ruled in the Cooke case ordered the twin city governments not to discriminate, intimidate, threaten or retaliate against anyone based on religion for a period of 10 years. Kane said the judge has warned the cities that if they do not abide by the injunction, he will be prepared to go forward with charges of civil and even criminal contempt – meaning city officials could face jail time if the discrimination continues.
Anyone in the Short Creek area who experiences discrimination in matters of housing and utilities is urged to come forward and report it, Kane said.
“We want to hear from those people, and we want to bring evidence to the judge,” she said.
Laying down the law
Seated on the stage next to Kane during the meeting were: Lt. Nate Brooksby, of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office; Sgt. Mike Hoggard, of the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office; and Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap.
Addressing the audience in turn, the representatives from the sheriff’s offices discussed an ongoing problem non-FLDS Short Creek residents face when it comes to seeking help from local law enforcement. Brooksby said the Washington County Sheriff’s Office is conducting its own investigations into alleged corruption within the Colorado City-Hildale Marshal’s Office, which has become known as the enforcement arm of the FLDS church, with officers allegedly perpetrating discrimination and aggression against non-FLDS citizens.
“Just to reiterate,” Brooksby said, “we are conducting those investigations independent of the Marshal’s Office.”
When Short Creek residents dial 911, Brooksby said, their calls are routed to the dispatch center in Colorado City, meaning the local marshals will be the ones responding to any nonmedical emergency calls made through 911. He urged community members who feel uncomfortable or unsafe dealing with the Marshal’s Office to call the Washington County and Mohave County sheriff’s offices directly when they need help.
Uniformed deputies from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office are responding to Hildale calls several times a week now, Brooksby said. Hoggard said his office is also responding to more direct calls from Short Creek residents.
“We’re getting a lot more calls than what we started out,” Hoggard said, “so people are getting a little more used to calling us.”
During the meeting, Kane and Belnap each alluded to a recent failed attempt by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office to have the Marshal’s Office disbanded altogether in Short Creek. The federal judge wasn’t ready to take that step, Kane said, but Belnap said the Department of Justice is conducting investigations into the Marshal’s Office, and the Peace Officer Standards and Training divisions in both Utah and Arizona are investigating individual officers within the Marshal’s Office.
“There are numerous investigative fronts moving forth on that,” Belnap said.
The presenters at the meeting urged anyone experiencing discrimination or civil rights violations at the hands of the city government to report it.
On the Utah side of Short Creek, residents should report discriminatory acts to investigators with the Utah Attorney General’s Office. Confidential reports can be filed by calling 801-281-1200, or confidential complaints can be submitted online on the “Victims Advocacy” page of the Utah Attorney General’s website.
For those living on the Arizona side of the community, city discrimination and other violations of the court’s injunction should be reported to the Civil Rights Division of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office by calling 602-542-5263 or 877-491-5742.
Evidence of other types of illegal activity being committed by the city governments should be reported directly to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office at 435-656-6500.
Short Creek community members who are in need of law enforcement assistance and do not want to call the local marshals should call the Washington County Sheriff’s Office nonemergency dispatch line at 435-634-5730 or the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office dispatch line at 800-526-1911.
In life-or-death matters, Hoggard said, the two Sheriff’s Offices will cross state lines, if necessary, to make sure help is rendered.
- To report fair housing and utilities discrimination in Utah, call 801-281-1200 or click on the “Victims Advocacy” dropdown menu on the Utah Attorney General’s website
- To report fair housing and utilities discrimination in Arizona, call 602-542-5263 or 877-491-5742
- To report suspected criminal activity being perpetrated by the Colorado City/Hildale town governments, call the Washington County Sheriff’s Office at 435-656-6500
- To receive help from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, call the nonemergency dispatch line at 435-634-5730
- To receive help from the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office, call the nonemergency dispatch line at 800-526-1911
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- Colorado City police chief admits corruption; AG calls for disbandment of FLDS marshals
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