Arizona, Utah plan justice court, sheriff offices for polygamist towns

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Arizona and Utah are a planning a justice court with room for sheriff’s officers from both states that would serve the polygamist communities straddling the states’ common border.

Some polygamy opponents are opposed to the plan to locate the facility in Colorado City, Ariz. They contend it should be nearby but not where members of that community and adjoining Hildale, Utah, could be seen going for help.

Douglas White, a Bountiful lawyer who represents Tapestry Against Polygamy, which is fighting to stop abuses in the polygamous community, said the plans are positive steps, but the substation should be where residents could go without being spotted.

He also contends the polygamist law enforcement officers in the two towns should be fired.

”People don’t think of them as law enforcement,” White said. ”They think of them as bodyguards for the prophet” of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Most of the 6,000 residents of Colorado City and Hildale are members of the FLDS church, which embraces polygamy.

”If they’re looking for a place where victims could come for safe haven, they need to do more study,” Mohave County (Ariz.) Supervisor Buster Johnson said.

He fears there could be a backlash if the county builds a center big enough to accommodate all the offices and residents don’t come for help because they fear being seen and forced to return home, where they could be punished for trying to leave.

Under tentative plans, deputies from the two states would be stationed at the court, which would be authorized to help out on both sides of the border.

The plans would allow Utah to beef up its law enforcement patrols in the area, Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith said.

Plans for a new justice of the peace court in Mohave County have been in the works for several years, according to Mojave County Supervisor Pete Byers, who represents the northern Arizona district that includes Colorado City.

He said supervisors want to put the new court in a more convenient location for county residents than the current one, which is in a doublewide trailer in Moccasin.

The substation agreement is a recent addition to the court plans and came out of a summit in August at which Utah and Arizona officials discussed how to tackle problems related to polygamy, such as welfare fraud, forced marriages and child and sexual abuse.

During the efforts to gain statehood for Utah, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned polygamy, and plural marriage was banned in the Utah Constitution. The Mormon church now excommunicates those who openly advocate or practice it, but there are believed to be tens of thousands of polygamists in the region.

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