Arizona’s law enforcement certification board voted unanimously Wednesday to revoke the certifications of two police officers accused of practicing polygamy in a community dominated by a church that encourages multiple wives.
The Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board acted after a state attorney said the officers’ practice of polygamy undermines public trust in law enforcement.
“This can’t be tolerated,” Assistant Attorney General Diana Stabler said. “The state can’t engage in benign neglect.”
Even though many or most of Colorado City’s residents embrace polygamy, the standing of law enforcement statewide is at stake when questions are raised about law officers turning a blind eye to forced marriages and marriage-like unions involving underage girls, Stabler said.
“You have to take a broad view of the public trust and what community we’re talking about,” Stabler said.
Stabler acknowledged that a predecessor agency to the Arizona POST Board refused in 1990 to decertify Colorado City’s then-marshal on the basis of his practicing polygamy, instead deciding that it amounted to cohabitation – something being practiced by law officers in communities across the state.
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“It was really a naive time back then,” the attorney said.
Specific grounds for the decertifications of Vance Walker Barlow and Samuel L. Roundy included violating the Arizona Constitution’s ban on polygamy and an Utah board’s finding that both men engaged in bigamy, a felony in that state.
A Utah board on March 22 revoked both men’s law-enforcement certifications in that state.
The Arizona board’s action is the latest in a series of steps taken by authorities in Arizona and Utah against members of the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The sect, which broke away from the Mormon church, dominates Colorado City and neighboring Hildale, Utah.
Roundy is the former chief of the Colorado City marshal’s office, which also provides law enforcement in Hildale. Roundy stepped down as marshal after he lost his Utah certification, said Gary Maschner, an investigator for the Arizona board.
Roundy and Barlow both requested a hearing to contest the decertification proceedings but admitted during official interviews to practicing polygamy, state officials said.
Neither man showed up for the requested hearing, an omission that amounted to legally admitting the allegations, Stabler said before Wednesday’s meeting: “I think they saw the writing on the wall.”
Neither man immediately returned messages left by The Associated Press on Thursday, but Roundy told a Utah newspaper in March that polygamists were being unfairly targeted because of their religion.
“We grew up in this culture and we’re part of it,” Roundy told the Desert Morning News. “It’s religious persecution going after polygamy, that’s all it is.”
The current marshal, Fred Barlow, also did not immediately return a call for comment.
The Colorado City force will have five officers after Roundy and Vance Barlow are officially notified that they may no longer work as law officers.
State Attorney General Terry Goddard has asked the U.S. Justice Department to conduct a civil rights review of the entire Colorado City Police Department.