ST. GEORGE — A petition started Monday to remove a Colorado City Marshal’s deputy from his post citing misconduct and harassment has gained more than 700 signatures.
On Monday, Levi Barlow, a resident of Hildale with a second home in Colorado, started the Change.org petition titled “Stop the prejudice. Remove officer Jessop from the Colorado City, AZ police department.” He delivered it to Colorado City Chief Marshal Jerry Darger, Colorado City’s Mayor Joseph Allred and City Council.
With interest to Public Safety and wanting a safer community. Officer Jessop has shown himself to be prejudice against non-FLDS. And with his past history, it is urgent that he be removed from the department.
The petition targets deputy Shem Jessop of the Colorado City Marshal’s Office which, by contract, polices both Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona. The region, known as Short Creek, is home to more than 7,000 residents, including members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, former members of the FLDS church and nonmembers.
Jessop had been with the Marshal’s Office for more than 15 years until a few years ago when he “went away,” Levi Barlow said, but he returned several weeks ago “with a vengeance.”
There weren’t any problems with the deputy’s return at first, he said, but now there are allegations of harassment, mistreatment and other forms of misconduct.
“The main issue is that he’s going after people that are non-FLDS,” Levi Barlow said.
When St. George News contacted Jessop regarding the petition, he said his job is to protect the community. While some individuals may not like the way he does his job, it’s a role that he takes very seriously, he said.
Besides the 700 signatures on Levi Barlow’s petition, comment fields indicate he is not the only person taking issue with the deputy.
One commenter posted that Jessop is “the most crooked officer,” while another wrote that the deputy needs to find a different line of work “before something bad happens.” Another commenter wrote that he has “forgotten that he is a public servant for the people,” alleging he has a reputation for “acting as though he is above the law.”
Although issues evidently taken with Jessop are several, one recent example of alleged misconduct and discriminatory policy that Levi Barlow gave St. George News has to do with the deputy impounding several ATVs from various residents – all non-FLDS, he said.
Jessop disputes the allegation. Claims that he impounded the ATVs as a form of harassment or that he selected only individuals not affiliated with the FLDS church are false, he said, adding:
My actions were focused on safety and had nothing to do with religion whatsoever. For the people who have requested help from the police regarding the ATVs that are driving through their streets, I’m doing a good job, but for those who have had their ATV impounded, they have a very different perception of how I do my job.
Most of what is being alleged against him comes down to perception, Jessop said, and how law enforcement is viewed by the public in general.
“People don’t necessarily like being told they can’t do what they are doing, especially from the police,” he said, “but in order to have a society where people are protected, sometimes you have to tell people to stop doing what they are doing because it’s unsafe.”
Once Darger, the chief marshal, became aware of the situation, all the ATVs were released back to their owners in an attempt “to right the issue, or maybe to not make a bigger issue out of it,” Levi Barlow said.
Darger characterized the return of the impounded ATVs differently. The vehicles were released back to their owners, he told St. George News, only after fines were paid, the legal owners presented proper documentation or 30 days if there was a 30-day hold on the vehicle, which is required under certain circumstances.
Darger became chief marshal in the region in 2009. At the time, Jessop had been an active duty officer with the Marshal’s Office for some time and not long after switched to part-time reserve, Darger said. Jessop then took a job out of state before returning to the area a few weeks ago. He hired back on as a part-time deputy and has since been assigned more hours given current deputy understaffing.
Accounts vary as to why Jessop originally went to part-time and whether it was voluntary. One account, given by Helaman Barlow in April 2014 in connection with a civil rights lawsuit against the Marshal’s Office, said Jessop was demoted to part-time on claims of misconduct to make room for one of FLDS leader Lyle Jeff’s handpicked followers to take the position.
Levi Barlow’s petition has garnered the attention of officials beyond the immediate agency.
Although he did not yet have specific details regarding the petition, Colorado City Mayor Joseph Allred said, “… I have heard there is one circulating.” Once he is able to review it, he said, he will discuss the matter with Darger.
“I assure you that the matter will be thoroughly investigated,” Allred said.
Hildale Mayor Philip Barlow said he has heard the “rumblings of a petition.” While he also had not been informed of the specifics, he said that if it is based on valid claims, it should be investigated.
Typically, the chief marshal is responsible for maintaining oversight of his deputies, including sanctioning or dismissing an officer for misconduct, and such actions generally involve members of city government.
As outlined in the Colorado City Marshal’s Office General Orders, investigations relating to officer conduct are carried out by internal affairs, with the stated goal: To ensure the integrity of the department, all alleged or suspected personnel misconduct observed or suspected by supervisors, department employees or citizens will be thoroughly investigated.
Darger said the internal affairs department within the Marshal’s Office would conduct the investigation if one is warranted, adding that the agency considers claims of misconduct very seriously.
Utah Attorney General’s Office spokesman Dan Burton said these matters are generally handled by officials in the local jurisdiction, but much of that depends on whether a complaint is filed. The Attorney General’s Office becomes involved at the request of the local law enforcement agency when a conflict arises or if a complaint is filed directly with their office. At this point, Burton said, they are not involved in this matter. Levi Barlow starting a petition isn’t the same as filing an official complaint, he said, but added, “It is certainly a means that would get some attention.”
Levi Barlow said he believes the matter will be handled by the Marshal’s Office, which is why he delivered it to Darger directly instead of going to an outside agency.
“Darger is a good man,” Levi Barlow said, “and is a man that is fair in his decisions, even when they are difficult decisions.”
Jessup said he will stand behind his actions. He summed up his view of the situation, stating:
Put simply, perceptions change, depending on whether an officer is responding to their call for help or if they are on the receiving end of a citation.
Levi Barlow’s petition comes in the wake of a long history of controversies related to policing and other practices in the community, including alleged discrimination against non-FLDS residents of Short Creek.
In recent years, two federal civil juries in Phoenix have found the Short Creek towns have discriminated against non-FLDS members, forcing Colorado City and its insurer to pay millions of dollars in settlements and legal fees.
Included in those actions was the Justice Department’s request to disband the policing force of the Short Creek communities. U.S. District Judge H. Russell Holland said he was unpersuaded by the government’s request and called full disbandment “a last resort that should be employed only if less drastic remedies fail,” according to court documents.
In his April 2017 order, Holland affirmed jury findings of longstanding abuses and, rather than ordering disbandment of the agency, ordering a permanent injunction that, among other things, required the retraining of officers, new internal affairs and hiring practices. He also ordered the Marshal’s Office to hire both a police-practices consultant and an independent mentor for the chief.
Colorado City, Hildale and the Twin City Water Authority are appealing Holland’s April 2017 order. On July 19, 2017, the three co-defendants filed their joint notice appeal the order and permanent injunction to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
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