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Photographer Trent Nelson and I still laugh about our first polygamy assignment together, though maybe we shouldn't

It was just about this time of year in 2006. Nelson and I were chasing the marshals in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona.


We were in our car chasing after the marshals. We couldn't get them to answer our phone calls and they weren't at their office. So when we spotted a marshal's pickup truck, we pursued it until it pulled over.

Police regulators in Utah and Arizona were on the marshal's tail back then, too — metaphorically speaking. Law enforcement had a letter one marshal wrote to Warren Jeffs while Jeffs was evading the FBI.

Mohave County, Arizona, Sheriff Jim McCabe wants on the case now, saying recently that he considers Colorado City and marshals a priority and wants their police powers stripped from them.

"They're bullies with guns," McCabe was quoted as saying in the News-Herald in Lake Havasu, Ariz.

People have taken on the marshals before — with limited success.

A few months after our slow-moving car chase, the states decertified the letter writer and another marshal for various transgressions centering on allegations the pair were more loyal to the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints and Jeffs rather than the law. The towns sent fresh marshals to the police academy.

In the years since there's been more evidence the marshals office is corrupt.

A civil trial earlier this year in Phoenix included testimony the marshals harassed Ron and Jinjer Cooke, who do not belong to the FLDS but wanted a water connection for their home. There also was testimony of how the marshals gave FLDS security access to police databases so they could look up license plates when strange cars rolled into the towns and to cameras mounted on city offices.

After the jury awarded the Cookes $5.2 million, new information emerged. Marshal Helaman Barlow gave a deposition explaining how the marshals needed approval of the FLDS just to get their jobs. Once on the job, Barlow said, the marshals obstructed other law enforcement in a number of ways, failed to investigate cases of child brides and committed multiple other episodes of malfeasance and nonfeasance.

Then you have the United Effort Plan fiduciary Bruce Wisan and his attorneys, who have long complained the marshals will not enforce court orders or otherwise cooperate with Wisan.

But the marshals have long had something in their corner — the Bill of Rights.

Every time Arizona lawmakers raise the possibility of eliminating the marshals office, or one of the agencies that regulate police officers in Utah and Arizona conduct an investigation, the attorneys for Hildale and Colorado City are there to point out — not incorrectly — that the marshals cannot be singled out for their faith and cannot be admonished without evidence each individual did something not just wrong but specifically in violation of the law.

McCabe said he wants the marshals decertified, which would be a civil case and essentially a licensing issue. That hasn't proven very effective in the past, taking badges from just two marshals. (The office is thought to currently have five marshals.)

The Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, which regulates police in the Beehive State, have investigated the marshals recently, but apparently decided to take no action.

What's curious is whether anyone conducted a criminal investigation of some of the issues raised in the Cooke trial, including the unauthorized access to police databases, and what Barlow has spoken of, including obstructing other law enforcement. Investigating the marshals as though they were civilians and not cops might make more sense.

The problems with the marshals began long before Nelson and I pursued them in 2006. A resolution does not appear in sight.

Twitter: @tribunepolygamy