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Ex-Polygamist Church Man Alleges Civil Rights Violations

A former member of a southern Utah polygamist church has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming police handcuffed him and tossed him out of his Hildale home last year because he was no longer loyal to the faith.

Andrew Chatwin said he filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City because police and other city officials in Hildale and Colorado City, Ariz., are more loyal to leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints — who have long dominated both communities — than to the U.S. Constitution.

"The police department and really the whole Colorado City-Hildale government is a theocracy government. They're run by the church," Chatwin said Tuesday. "That's really the appropriate word for what's going on down there and we're exposing that theocracy."

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are Colorado City-Hildale police officers Fred Barlow, Helaman Barlow and Jonathan Roundy. They were served notice of the lawsuit on Monday. Hildale City is also named as defendant and Hildale Mayor David Zitting was served notice last week, said Sam Brower, a private investigator hired to serve the notices.

Colorado City-Hildale Town Marshal Fred Barlow was out of town and not available for comment, said David Darger, the Colorado City deputy clerk.

"We turned this over to our insurance and attorney, so I'm leaving it up to them to handle it," Zitting said.

The lawsuit was filed in April, but it has taken several months to get the papers served on various parties, said Chatwin's lawyer, David Holdsworth. The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and asks the court to award Chatwin "full and exclusive possession" of his Willow Street home.

If granted, Chatwin would join only a handful of former members of the FLDS faith to hold the deeds to their residences.

Historically, property and homes in Hildale and Colorado City have been the community property of the United Effort Plan Trust, a church trust set up during the 1940s. Church elders ran the trust, assigning vacant lots to FLDS men who then built their homes, but were not given deeds to the land or structures.

Church leaders have also traditionally controlled where FLDS families live, ordering families in and out of residences based on their obedience and faithfulness to church tenets, which include the practice of polygamy.

Chatwin built his 6,000-square-foot home in 1992. When he voluntarily left the church and the community in 1995, he entrusted it to his father, who lived there until last year.

Twice Chatwin said he's tried to move back, but both times he was blocked by police or family members who said they were acting on orders from church leader Warren Jeffs, who is now a fugitive.

Court documents say that in August 2004 followers of the FLDS church barricaded Chatwin's home, preventing him from entering.

In September 2005, Chatwin also made moving plans — his father was moving out — but was handcuffed by police and accused of criminal trespass when he visited the home and was told by a half-brother, Sam Chatwin, to leave. Officer Roundy said he was acting at the request of "the board of trustees of the UEP," court papers say.

Chatwin was never charged with a crime, but maintains that police were out of line. By September 2005, a Utah judge had stripped FLDS leaders of control of the trust. Only court-appointed accountant Bruce Wisan has the power now to say who can inhabit or visit trust homes. Wisan has since given Chatwin permission to return to his home.

Holdsworth said the case is significant because it tackles the too-close relationship often alleged between police and the FLDS church.

"Either you have an allegiance to the FLDS church, or you have an allegiance to the oath you took as a law enforcement officer," Holdsworth said. "It seems like the religious allegiance tends to trump the constitutional allegiance, and I think that's dangerous."

Hildale and Colorado City are about 315 miles south of Salt Lake City.