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Phoenix • The most frustrating part of covering a polygamous sect whose members don't speak to reporters is trying to confirm the rumors and sometimes legends that you hear.
For years, photographer Trent Nelson and I heard rumblings about how Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Bishop Lyle Jeffs once evaded the FBI by riding an ATV out a back door of the polygamous faith's meetinghouse in Colorado City, Ariz.
But nobody I spoke with seemed to have firsthand knowledge of what transpired or wanted to share it if they did. The FBI wasn't talking about it, and testimony this week from former FLDS member Dowayne Barlow may explain why. The effort to serve a subpoena on Jeffs won't be celebrated at Quantico.
Barlow, 46, testified Wednesday and Thursday as a witness for the U.S. Department of Justice in its civil rights lawsuit against the municipal governments in Colorado City and adjacent Hildale, Utah, collectively known as Short Creek. While explaining how the towns' joint police force, called marshals, helped train church security, Barlow told the story of that 2006 FBI raid.
FLDS President Warren Jeffs was a federal fugitive, and the FBI was issuing grand jury subpoenas to people who might have known where he was. The Jeffs brothers are notorious for evading both law enforcement and process servers, so FBI agents opted to serve Lyle Jeffs and other FLDS followers at a place they knew they would find then during a Saturday work project meeting at the Leroy S. Johnson meetinghouse in Colorado City.
The FLDS were prepared for this eventuality, Barlow testified. They had trained the FLDS security force on how to handle an invasion from law enforcement and had stored two new ATVs in a basement furnace room with a concrete ramp leading to exterior double doors.
Lyle Jeffs had Barlow, he testified, buy camouflage hoods from the Cabella's store in Lehi. Two hoods were then laid on top of the ATVs.
As the service was starting, Barlow testified, Lyle Jeffs called upon a man named Jim Allred to give an opening prayer. Allred was known for giving long prayers. He also was one of the men to get a subpoena that day.
"And it really saved our bacon that day," Barlow told the court Wednesday. The statement evoked giggles from the courtroom. Even Judge H. Russel Holland chuckled.
As Allred was praying, in came the FBI. Barlow, who said he had been stationed in the corridor to watch for anything suspicious from parishioners or outsiders, quickly passed the word up through the assembly hall to reach Lyle Jeffs in the front.
The agents moved toward the assembly hall, Barlow testified, as Allred continued with his prayer.
Church security staff were telling the agents, "Give us our time" to finish the prayer, Barlow testified.
Meanwhile, church security was using training from the marshals to obstruct the FBI without being a physical threat. The security kept stepping in front of the agents, Barlow testified, to slow them down without touching them.
Between slowing to hear the concerns about Allred's prayer, and being slowed by the shadow-boxing church security, Lyle Jeffs got an extra 30 or 40 seconds to escape to the furnace room, Barlow said.
There, Lyle Jeffs and one of his assistants put the masks over their heads to obscure their faces, started the ATVs, roared up the ramp, narrowly missing the vehicle of a Mohave County, Ariz., investigator parked at the top of the ramp.
In an interview outside the courtroom after his testimony, Barlow said that after the raid, the meeting was dismissed. The FBI was able to serve four of their approximately 30 subpoenas that day, but Lyle Jeffs was never served. He went on the run that day just like his brother Warren.