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Phoenix • Patrick Barlow was trying to dig up dirt on a family of outsiders.
In court Thursday, Barlow said he spied on Ronald and Jinjer Cooke after they moved to Colorado City, Ariz., with their three kids in 2008. Barlow was a part of a security detail working for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, whose leaders wanted to drive the Cookes out. Barlow's assignment was to look for evidence that Ronald was faking several disabilities.
Barlow never found anything, but the case eventually mushroomed into a federal civil rights lawsuit. The Cookes, who filed the suit, say the local government denied them utilities because they weren't members of the FLDS religion. Attorneys for the local government disagree. The trial to settle the question began Jan. 28 and is expected to last as long as eight weeks.
In his testimony, Barlow shed light on the complexity of the FLDS security program a program the Cookes' lawyers believe is deeply intertwined with the municipal governments of Colorado City and neighboring Hildale, Utah. Attorney William Walker, who represents the Cookes, went so far in his opening arguments as to call the FLDS a "rogue" religion that runs the two towns.
Barlow who has since left the FLDS Church explained Thursday that years ago he was called to serve on his church's security team. Much of his work on the team involved spying on members of his church; security cameras watched the faithful in meetings "to find fault in them. Something, I guess, that would incriminate them."
If members were caught taking notes in church, security personnel would confront them and confiscate whatever they might have written, Barlow said.
The security team also had access to city surveillance cameras, Barlow said. From a control room in the FLDS meeting house, security team members could access the municipal cameras using a "remote desktop" feature. Barlow added that when team members spotted "unfriendlies" an FLDS security term for outsiders they could run their license plates and retrieve vehicle registration information. Barlow said he was not aware of any tools the FLDS Church would have had to obtain that information on its own.
In 2009, another member of the FLDS security team ordered Barlow to begin spying on the Cooke family, who moved to the community in 2008 to be closer to friends and family. Barlow knew the family was trying, unsuccessfully, to get water and other utility hookups to their home. The Cookes' utility requests were being made to the city, but the work Barlow did on the church security team was supposed to help the municipal government deny the Cookes' request.
"They moved into the community and they needed water and we were watching them to somehow prevent them from getting water," Barlow said.
The Cookes eventually obtained electricity and sewage hookups, but they still haven't obtained water.
During Barlow's testimony, Walker also showed a series of photos. Barlow took the images during his time as an FLDS security, and they showed the Cookes and their vehicles, among other things.
The images are similar to those obtained by the Tribune last year that also appear to have come from FLDS security and which show members of the religion in Short Creek.
Attorneys for Colorado City and Hildale have argued that the family never complied with city utility policy expressly so they could sue. The city attorneys believe the family sued to help Salt Lake City accountant Bruce Wisan a judge-appointed accountant who manages much of the area's land sell property and make money.
Thursday afternoon, Hildale attorney Blake Hamilton also called into question the alleged relationship between the FLDS security team and the city. Through a series of questions, Hamilton pointed out that city leaders weren't the ones who ordered Barlow to spy on the Cookes.
Hamilton went on to ask Barlow how FLDS security team members got access to city surveillance cameras. Barlow didn't know specifics, but Hamilton used the word "hacked" and implied the team could have broken into the camera system. Hamilton's point seemed clear: whatever the FLDS Church might have been doing, the city governments were not working against the Cookes.
Later Thursday afternoon, Guy Timpson testified as well. Timpson, a former FLDS security team member who has since left the church, similarly talked about a close relationship between the FLDS church and the municipal government. And like Barlow, he said the FLDS Church watched it's own members with security cameras.
Timpson also discussed Pure Ph8, a water bottling company he helped start in the community in 2010. The company came up previously in court when the Cookes' attorneys pointed out that FLDS members were bottling and selling water even as the family had too little "to flush a toilet." The Cookes say they were told a water shortage meant they couldn't obtain a new water hookup.
Timpson said Pure Ph8 water came from a spring in the town contrary to information on the bottle with tests showing that it was some of the highest quality water in Utah. Plans included distributing the water up and down Highway 89, Timpson added, as well as sending it to the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Texas.
Richard Holm also testified Thursday morning. Holm has said that he was discriminated against and denied utility connections after leaving the FLDS Church, but Jeff Matura, an attorney representing Colorado City, challenged that story Thursday as being "not truthful." Matura then went through a series of properties that Holm owns and which received water connections just as Holm requested. Holm acknowledged that the properties received water even though he had become an "apostate" from the FLDS Church.