SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Federal prosecutors plan to bring a mix of law enforcement leaders and ex-sect members to a hearing in which they’ll ask a judge to disband the police department in a polygamous community on the Utah-Arizona border.
The disintegration of the town marshals is a proposed remedy after a jury concluded the sister towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, violated the constitutional rights of nonbelievers by denying them basic government services such as police protection, building permits and water hookups.
The towns fiercely oppose the idea, saying problems at the agency don’t require such a drastic step.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s list of 17 possible witnesses for a four-day hearing set to begin Oct. 24 hearing in Phoenix, submitted this week, include four high-ranking leaders in the counties in Utah and Arizona that would assume policing duties under the proposal.
Sheriff Cory Pulispher from Washington County, Utah, and chief deputy Rodney Head from the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona will testify about why the town marshals need to be eliminated and their agencies’ ability to take over the law enforcement duties, according to a court filing.
Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap is scheduled to discuss incidents with the town marshals and current efforts to coordinate policing and dispatch duties.
Former Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris will be used as an expert witness to discuss why disbandment is the best option to ensure reforms rather than less harsh measures that would be costly and unsuccessful.
Three former sect members who now sit on a community board that oversees the redistribution of homes may also be on called to testify: Don Timpson, Arnold Richter and Jeff Barlow.
The Salt Lake Tribune first reported the witness list.
Justice officials contend the slate needs to be wiped clean because of the deep-rooted control of the town marshals by leaders of a polygamous sect run by imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs.
Justice attorneys say less severe remedies, such as assigning an outside monitor to the department, wouldn’t be sufficient to change the culture. They say 30 percent of town marshals over the last 15 years have been decertified, including four chiefs since Jeffs took over in the early 2000s.
The towns say they can resolve their problems through policy changes and employee training and should be able to demonstrate their compliance through reports and documents.
Attorneys for the towns said police departments in other municipalities that have been targeted in federal civil rights investigations haven’t faced disbandment, citing a settlement between the Justice Department and Ferguson, Missouri, that called for changes in the city where 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer.