Trial begins against polygamous Utah, Arizona towns in discrimination case

A pedestrian walks past the Sandra Day O'Connor United States District Court where a federal civil rights trial against two polygamous towns on the Arizona-Utah border is set to begin. The jury selection is set to begin Tuesday at the trial that will examine allegations that the towns discriminated against people who aren't part of the communities' dominant religious sect, Jan. 19, 2016, Phoenix, Arizona |AP Photo by Ralph Freso, St. George News

PHOENIX (AP) — Two polygamous towns in Arizona and Utah are corrupt communities where people are spied on and routinely denied basic services as a way to root out nonbelievers, federal lawyers said Wednesday during opening statements in a discrimination trial.

Hildale, Utah, Mayor Phillip Barlow, center, arrives at the Sandra Day O'Connor United States District Court where a federal civil rights trial against the polygamous towns of Hildale and Colorado City, Ariz., which are located on the Arizona-Utah border, is set to begin, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, Phoenix, Arizona. | AP Photo by Ralph Freso, St. George News
Hildale, Utah, Mayor Phillip Barlow, center, arrives at the Sandra Day O’Connor United States District Court where a federal civil rights trial against the polygamous towns of Hildale and Colorado City, Arizona, which are located on the Arizona-Utah border, is set to begin, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, Phoenix, Arizona. | AP Photo by Ralph Freso, St. George News

An attorney for one of the towns, Colorado City, Arizona, countered that the case was filed because the government finds the dominant religion in the towns to be distasteful and wants it eradicated.

“Who is discriminating against who?” attorney Jeff Matura asked jurors.

The case marks one of the boldest efforts by the government to confront what critics have said is a corrupt regime in Colorado City and Hildale, Utah, where the dominant religion is the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

The sect broke away from mainstream Mormonism when the religion disavowed polygamy more than 100 years ago.

The trial will focus on allegations that the towns systematically denied housing, water services and police protection to people who do not adhere to polygamous-driven beliefs.

U.S. Justice Department lawyers contended in their opening statement that both towns remain beholden to sect leader Warren Jeffs, even as he serves a life sentence in a Texas prison for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered wives.

The lawyers also depicted the church’s security operation and local police as paranoid entities that work in lockstep and violate the civil rights of nonbelievers.

Attorney Jessica Clark described how security officers have spied on people with cameras placed around Colorado City and Hildale, and staff members have been positioned on the outskirts of the towns to keep an eye on people arriving.

She said the city cites a water shortage while denying building permits to nonbelievers but allows other buildings to be constructed for believers.

“All the entities work together seemingly for the benefits of FLDS and its leaders,” Clark said of the church.

The communities deny the allegations and say religion isn’t a motivating factor in decisions.

Lawyers for the towns tried unsuccessfully to get a judge to bar evidence of polygamy, underage marriage and church teachings.

Jeffs is not in the courtroom, but his presence loomed over the proceedings. The government says city officials assisted him while he was a fugitive and still follow his directives. A judge has said the Justice Department has evidence suggesting officers dropped off packages, letters and other items for Jeffs while he was a fugitive.

“His control of the cities and police continues today,” Clark said.

Matura told jurors the U.S. Justice Department case was based on the false assumptions that religious people can’t function properly in government jobs and that everyone who works for the towns is a member of the sect.

Experts believe the trial will provide a rare glimpse into towns that for decades have been shrouded in secrecy and are distrustful of government and outsiders.

Some witnesses are expected to invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, as they did during depositions.

The federal government wants a ruling that the towns have violated a fair housing law, and it seeks unspecified changes to prevent discrimination.

Written by Jacques Billeaud, Associated Press

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGNews

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!

13 Comments

  • ladybugavenger January 20, 2016 at 3:55 pm

    Guilty

  • IDIOT COMMENTERS January 20, 2016 at 4:02 pm

    so it finally takes the feds coming in to try and change things up. The Utah mormon gov’t has an unwritten respect for those pligs and has always let them molest and rape kids in peace. thanks utah and mormons

    • NotSoFast January 20, 2016 at 7:22 pm

      Lets face it. Some commenters are arm chair idiots, some are afraid to get involved, some voice their verdict before they hear the evident and some (myself included) fan the flames just to get the folks to vote for TRUMP for president. Now you watch how fast the word spreads about my comment here and the Black Lives Matters groupies start typing. Stand back, here they come!

      • ladybugavenger January 21, 2016 at 12:11 pm

        Trump for President!

    • .... January 21, 2016 at 12:30 am

      Couldn’t of said it any better !

    • .... January 22, 2016 at 11:57 am

      TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT !

  • radioviking January 20, 2016 at 9:20 pm

    Child molesters can’t get any sympathy? Aw… sad. 🙁

  • .... January 21, 2016 at 12:36 am

    HILLARY FOR PRESIDENT !

    • ladybugavenger January 21, 2016 at 12:12 pm

      Barf

      • .... January 22, 2016 at 11:55 am

        I Just said that so I wouldn’t get.NotSoSmarts panties in a knot !

  • .... January 21, 2016 at 11:47 am

    Ah poor little NotSoSmart is all upset because we’re not being nice to his child molester Friends

  • .... January 22, 2016 at 11:56 am

    TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT !

Leave a Reply