COLORADO CITY, Ariz. (AP) – After a five-hour standoff with police, his family and the court-appointed attorneys who oversee the trust of a polygamist church, Patrick Pipkin got his home back.
Pipkin, 23, arrived at the house at 12:30 a.m. Thursday to find the entry blocked by his uncle, Taylor Bistline. A call came in on a cell phone from Lyle Jeffs, the local leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which controls the towns of Colorado City and Hildale, Utah. Colorado City is in far northern Mohave County.
‘‘He asked me: Are you with Warren?” said Pipkin, referring to Lyle’s older brother, Warren Jeffs the FLDS church leader who is in hiding.
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‘‘I said no,” Pipkin said, describing a rare instance when a church member has used the new trust leadership to defy a church eviction. ‘‘I made my decision.”
Pipkin’s story is not unique, said friend Merril Stubbs. For nearly three years, church leaders have moved to evict those who are not been deemed worthy. Mostly men are booted from the community, with their wives and children often reassigned to other men, he said.
Since the state took control of the United Effort Plan trust and legal pressures have mounted, church leaders have demanded even greater obedience from members.
And those with questions, like Pipkin, are vulnerable. His stepfather was sent away eight months ago, and Pipkin himself was recently demoted as the church-appointed family leader, in favor of Bistline.
‘‘Total power totally corrupts,” said Stubbs, who is party to a lawsuit that sought to stop the liquidation of the trust by FLDS church leaders.
Pipkin’s decision to defy the church eviction effort came just hours after he attended a community meeting held by Bruce Wisan, a court-appointed accountant in charge of the church trust. Church leaders got word of his attendance at the meeting and moved to punish him, Pipkin said.
The United Effort Plan trust was created in the 1940s to hold the collective property, including homes and buildings, of church members. A judge last summer gave Wisan control of the trust, saying church leaders had mismanaged it.
Warren Jeffs has not been seen publicly in nearly two years and is wanted on criminal charges in Arizona and Utah for allegedly arranging marriages between underage girls and older men. Jeffs is considered a fugitive by federal authorities and is on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
Between 6,000 and 10,000 people live in Colorado City and Hildale, most of them members of the church and the majority of them loyal to Warren Jeffs.
Warren Jeffs has reportedly told church members not to cooperate with Wisan, including refusing to pay property taxes on their homes that are past due. Wisan has begun asking residents to pay taxes and sign temporary occupancy agreements while he works on a survey of the community. He said he’s stepping up the pressure on residents to pay the taxes and will evict those who refuse.
Pipkin left his house after the confrontation with his uncle, but returned again at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, this time to find a town marshal now with Bistline at the door. Most of Pipkin’s belongings had been removed from the home and piled in the back of a pickup truck or strewn across the front lawn.
Marshal Heileman Barlow refused to answer questions about the role police played in the standoff.
‘‘I will say this, I’m here to keep the peace,” he said.
The impasse ended after Pipkin signed one of Wisan’s occupancy orders and agreed to pay the roughly $1,500 property tax bill. Attorneys for Wisan also explained to Bistline that church leaders no longer have the authority to control where people live, but attorney Jeff Shields said Bistline declined to sign an occupancy order.
Bistline refused to speak with reporters.
Pipkin shares the home with his mother and five siblings. Bistline and his family, a wife and five children, also live in the home, but it’s unclear if they’ll stay.
The occupancy order doesn’t force out anybody, Shields said. But church leaders could, Pipkin said.
Pipkin’s mother won’t likely be back, he said. Taped to one of the boxes of his possessions were two letters that express her disappointment with his decision to stand against Warren Jeffs and stated her belief that he will no longer have a place in heaven.