PHOENIX – Two polygamous towns on the Arizona-Utah line are vigorously opposing a bid to disband their shared police department as a way to remedy religious-based discrimination against nonbelievers, saying problems at the agency don't require such a drastic step.
They also urged a judge in court papers Tuesday to resist the U.S. Justice Department's proposal to get an official appointed to monitor town operations in response to a civil-rights verdict three months ago against Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah.
A jury concluded that the neighboring towns violated the constitutional rights of nonbelievers by denying them basic government services such as police protection, building permits and water hookups. The police department was found to have arrested nonbelievers without having probable cause and made unreasonable searches of property.
U.S. Judge H. Russel Holland has scheduled hearings in October to consider remedies to the constitutional violations.
Federal authorities alleged the towns are operated as an arm of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism, which disavowed polygamy more than 100 years ago.
They say 30 percent of the towns' officers over the last 15 years have been decertified. Under the federal government's proposal, law enforcement for the towns would be turned over to local sheriffs.
The towns said police departments in other municipalities that have been targeted in federal civil rights investigations haven't faced disbandment.
They cited a settlement between the Justice Department and Ferguson, Missouri, that called for changes in the city where 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer. The settlement calls for diversity training, body cameras for officers and other steps.
Attorneys for Colorado City and Hildale acknowledged the police department — also known as the Colorado City Marshal's Office — has had problems in the past, but they said no officers have been decertified since 2007.
"The officers within the Marshal's Department are not killing people, raping women, stealing guns or money, running a drug-trafficking operation, or engaging in any similar misconduct," the towns' lawyers said.
The towns said the request for a court-appointed monitor to oversee the overhaul of local government would be costly and unnecessary.
Instead, they say the towns can resolve their problems through policy changes and employee training and should be able to demonstrate their compliance through reports and documents.
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