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Colorado City, Ariz. • The U.S. Department of Justice wants them gone.

The state of Arizona wants them gone. The sheriffs in Colorado City and adjoining Hildale, Utah, collectively known as Short Creek, want them gone and plan to take over their jobs.

But residents appear divided on what to do about the marshals of Colorado City and Hildale — the local police force that a federal jury earlier this year found discriminated against people who did not follow the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

While some residents agree with the Justice Department and the state that a judge should order that the marshals office be disbanded, another group of non-FLDS residents has petitioned to keep the office — albeit with changes.

A petition from the group, called the Short Creek Community Alliance, asks the judge overseeing the case to order that the current marshals be replaced and to appoint a monitor that will ensure the office is operated in a secular manner.

The alliance agrees that it may be necessary for the sheriffs on both sides of the state line to police the towns for up to a year while new marshals are hired, but the group wants the marshals office to remain the permanent police force.

"We have a personnel issue, not a city issue," said Terrill Musser, one of the organizers of the Alliance, in an interview. "We have the wrong people in the positions."

The petition cites concerns that the sheriffs won't be able to respond fast enough to an emergency and points out that a state-of-the-art dispatch center exists at the Colorado City town offices. The petition also expresses a desire for "culturally competent law enforcement."

That's a reference to the unique characteristics and history of Short Creek. Besides practicing polygamy, residents of the town have had a communal form of living where homes and real estate were held in a trust. The homes in that trust are slowly being given away or sold to beneficiaries of the trust, but many Short Creek residents in and out of the FLDS still live in trust homes.

Residents also have undergone family turmoil since 2002, when Warren Jeffs became the FLDS president. He has evicted hundreds of men and boys and separated parents from children. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others have left the FLDS on their own, creating further divisions among families.

Miriam Jessop is one of the people who favors keeping the marshals office. She worries about what will happen if a teenage boy misbehaves. The boy may be without one or both of his parents, and a sheriff's deputy who isn't from Short Creek might not understand that, she said.

"That kid doesn't need to go to jail," Jessop said. "He's acting out. That kid needs emotional therapy."

Jessop and other residents shared their preferences Thursday at a community meeting in Hildale with Sean Keveney, the lead Justice Department attorney on the civil rights lawsuit. Neither Keveney nor another representative of the Justice Department responded to a request for comment after the meeting.

The marshals have long been accused of being enforcers for Jeffs and the church. The Arizona Attorney General's Office asked a judge to disband the marshals after the municipal governments lost a 2014 lawsuit over a refusal to give a water connection to a non-FLDS family. The judge in that case refused the request, saying the facts didn't support such a burdensome order.

The marshals again are teetering on losing their jobs because of a federal civil trial that concluded in March. It included testimony about how the marshals did not investigate sex crimes, including underage marriages, and other crimes allegedly committed by FLDS members, coordinated with church security to help people avoid the FBI, and sent Jeffs letters and cash while he was on the FBI's list of most wanted fugitives in 2006.

The jury found the marshals office violated the rights of nonbelievers by breaking the First Amendment's promise that the government won't show preference to a particular faith and force religion upon people.

Jurors concluded officers treated nonbelievers inequitably when providing police protection, arrested them without having probable cause and made unreasonable searches of their property.

The Justice Department identified seven people as victims, who are sharing a $1.6 million settlement. One of them, Richard Holm, told The Associated Press after the trial that the verdict would be hollow unless the marshals office is disbanded.

"For there ever to be a decent community, there's got to be new faces, new control," Holm told the AP.

The Justice Department has said the FLDS corruption in the marshals office is entrenched and the office should be dissolved. Lawyers for the towns have said such an order from a judge would be unprecedented. They are offering improved training and policies to ensure a fair marshals office and town governments.

Judge H. Russel Holland has scheduled a four-day hearing for October. Among the witnesses for the Justice Department will be the sheriffs of Washington County, Utah, and Mohave County, Ariz., who are expected to testify about their abilities to assume full-time policing in Short Creek. Both sheriffs already have deputies there regularly to serve court orders or when residents call them instead of the marshals.

At least one of the victims, who is receiving $173,125 as part of the jury verdict against the towns, doesn't necessarily want to see the marshals go.

"I'm just in favor of improvement," said John Cook, who testified at the trial about the difficulty he had in obtaining a water connection in Colorado City. "I would like to see things improve to where people in that FLDS group do not have control of the city government."

ncarlisle@sltrib.com Twitter: @natecarlisle

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