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Regulators in Arizona have moved closer to issuing sanctions or revoking the police powers of seven cops from the polygamous communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., though a similar investigation in Utah has apparently ended without finding wrongdoing.
A subcommittee from the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) board last week voted to forward results of an investigation to the full board and recommended it initiate disciplinary proceedings against the officers or marshals, as they are referred to in Hildale and Colorado City.
However, one of the officers, Curtis L. Cooke, has quit and is retiring, said Jeff Matura, a lawyer representing the marshals and Colorado City's municipal government. Matura said Wednesday that he didn't know why Cooke was retiring and that the accusations against him were no worse than for the other six marshals.
"There's not one specific allegation," said Matura, who attended the POST subcommittee's Sept. 20 meeting in Phoenix. "It was a hodgepodge of incidents that were presented to the subcommittee."
Hildale and Colorado City are home to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. There have been accusations for years that the town governments and the police force they share serve the interests of the church and discriminate against nonmembers. The marshals are certified as peace officers in Utah and Arizona.
If the six remaining officers are stripped of their police powers, there would be only one marshal left on the force, Matura said, an officer who was hired earlier this year and who was not under suspicion.
According to minutes from the subcommittee meeting, the marshals are accused of "improper application of the law, biased policing, unlawful detentions/arrests, and [falsified] record keeping." The investigators' report and presentation were not made available Wednesday.
The accusations are a result of an investigation that began in November. That was shortly after the marshals arrested two men at an old zoo in Colorado City. The men had an agreement from the zoo's owner to lease the property and were trying to take possession. But FLDS members were raising vegetables in the zoo, and one member appeared to be living in an outbuilding. The marshals arrested the two men for trespassing. Charges later were dropped.
The Arizona investigation went beyond what happened at the zoo. Matura said the presentation by investigators raised issues going back as far as 2002.
Arizona investigators are thought to have looked at some of the same accusations levied by the U.S. Department of Justice during a civil trial held in Phoenix last winter. Witnesses testified about the marshals failing to investigate reports of vandalism, theft or child sexual abuse. The former chief marshal, Helaman Barlow, testified for the Justice Department that he and other marshals obstructed the FBI and altered police reports.
The jury found that the towns and the marshals discriminated against people who did not follow or were out of favor with FLDS leaders. The jury also found the marshals had a practice of unreasonably seizing property and people and making arrests without probable cause.
A four-day hearing is scheduled to begin Oct. 24 in Phoenix, where a judge will hear arguments about what changes he should order in the towns, including whether to disband the marshals office.
The Arizona POST Board meets again Oct. 19, but it could be months before there is any resolution for the marshals. If the board votes to initiate discipline proceedings, any of the officers can request a hearing before an administrative law judge. Both sides can present evidence to the judge, who will then issue findings.
Once the Arizona POST Board has the findings, it can make a decision ranging from no action to termination of the marshals' police certifications. Matura said his clients plan to contest any effort to discipline or decertify them.
Besides Cooke, the marshals facing discipline are Chief Jeremiah "Jerry" H. Darger and deputies Samuel E. Johnson, Hyrum S. Roundy, Daniel R. Barlow, Jacob L. Barlow Jr. and Daniel N. Musser.
The Arizona POST case is proceeding even though a similar investigation by Utah regulators has apparently ended.
Matura said he recently received written notice that the Utah Peace Officers Standards and Training Council was ending a four-year investigation of the marshals. No wrongdoing was found, Matura said.
"It's just inconsistent to have two police licensing agencies reach two dramatically different decisions," Matura said.
The different outcomes may have to do with each state's laws. Arizona POST can take action against "malfeasance, misfeasance, or nonfeasance," according to its regulations.
Utah once had similar language. Then, in 2010, the Utah Legislature changed the law to limit police discipline cases to a few specific offenses, including criminal conduct, sex on duty, and drug and alcohol problems.
"It's quite possible both of these bodies looked at the same acts by these officers, but one had authority to recommend decertification and the other didn't," said Bill Walker, the attorney representing the men arrested at the zoo.
Despite a jury verdict and Arizona investigators finding the marshals made unlawful arrests and discriminated, Utah appears unable to do anything about it, Walker said with frustration Wednesday,.
"Clearly, the state of Arizona has a better process," he said.