The U.S. Department of Justice filed suit today against two rural polygamous towns, alleging that their police officers selectively enforce laws based on religion and defer to the wishes of Warren Jeffs, the imprisoned leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The suit, filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Perez of the department’s civil rights division, claims that law enforcement in the community is a “fusion of government power and religious authority” where the water utility and local government deny housing to residents who don’t follow Jeffs and prohibit them from using public parks.
The 19-page complaint describes instances of police chasing down runaway brides and returning them to their husbands, euthanizing a runaway horse of a non-FLDS follower even though they knew who the animal’s owner was, chasing off children of non-followers from a park by threatening them with arrest and rounding up family dogs for a massive slaughter after Jeffs outlawed pets.
“Religious freedom is a cherished principle of our democracy,” Perez said in a press release. “City governments and their police departments may not favor one religious group over another and may not discriminate against individuals because of their religious affiliation.”
The lawsuit claimed that an “underground railroad” of non-FLDS followers gives safe haven and helps people when police fail to help them.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne championed a bill last legislative session that would have set up a process for the Mohave County Sheriff’s to take over police duties in Colorado City, but the measure failed when Speaker Andy Tobin deemed it wasn’t germane to legislation it was tacked onto.
Horne announced June 7 that he is providing $420,000 to the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office to pay for overtime for deputies to patrol Colorado City in the meantime.
Horne and Rep. Michelle Ugenti said they will bring the measure back next year.