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Polygamist Towns Found Guilty of Discrimination

March 7, 2016 — A jury has awarded $2.2 million to six residents of Short Creek after finding that the polygamist community violated the constitutional rights of non-FLDS residents by denying them basic services such as police protection, building permits, and water hookups.

Due to a partial settlement, the towns will pay only $1.6 million. Federal judges may impose other punishments, such as disbanding the Colorado City Marshal’s Office and giving their duties to Mohave County.

The towns deny the charges and say the government is persecuting their religion. However, the Justice Department says the towns were structured to be an extension of the FLDS church, in violation of the U.S. Constitution, and routinely used their power to discriminate.

According to Vanita Gupta, who heads the Justice Department’s civil rights division:

“When communities deny their residents critical services simply because of where they worship, they violate our laws and threaten the defining values of religious freedom and tolerance that are the foundation of our country.”

During a 7-week trial in Phoenix, residents and former FLDS members testified that the Marshal’s Office carried out orders from Jeffs, acted as “security guards” for the church, ignored crimes against non-believers, harassed outsiders, and used surveillance cameras to spy on the town.

Examples include an instance in 2000, when Warren Jeffs ordered the return of an underage bride who ran away from the home of her new husband. Three Marshal’s deputies confronted a church member who was harboring the girl and returned her to the abusers.

In 2001, Marshal’s deputies carried out another edict from Jeffs banning pet dogs. The deputies went house by house, collecting dogs, and shot and killed them outside the towns.

Early in the trial, former City Marshal Helaman Barlow admitted that law enforcement ignored underage marriages and tried to protect Warren Jeffs before he was imprisoned for sex crimes with 12- and 15-year old girls.

The civil rights lawsuit was filed by Roger and Jinger Cooke, a family that moved to Short Creek in 2008 with their three children. Barlow testified that he knew the family was trying unsuccessfully to get water, electricity, and other utilities. The church ordered Barlow to spy on the family and look for evidence that Mr. Cooke was faking his disabilities. Barlow never found anything, but his work was supposed to help the municipal government deny water hookups.

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