Aug. 9, 2007 12:00 AM
COLORADO CITY - One by one, police officers in
Colorado City are being stripped of their
law-enforcement certification because they cannot
serve two masters: a polygamous church and their oath
to uphold the law.
In a police department normally staffed with just six
full-time officers, four have lost their badges in
recent years. Two more, including town Marshal Fred
Barlow, are awaiting decertification rulings from the
Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, or
All the ousted officers belong to the Fundamentalist
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a sect
that teaches salvation is attained through plural
marriage. Authorities from Utah and Arizona have
cracked down on FLDS child marriages and fraud in this
isolated red-rock country.
Warren Jeffs, church president and prophet, garnered
most of the news coverage as a federal fugitive
charged with acting as an accomplice to child rape.
Now in custody, he is awaiting trial in September.
By contrast, the policing woes in this community of
6,000 attracted little attention, even as the
standards board began moving against some deputy
marshals. Some officers were decertified after
admitting bigamy. Others failed to assist in the
nationwide manhunt for Jeffs or allowed looting by
FLDS church crews.
"How many police departments, even large police
departments, do you know that have had this many
officers decertified for misconduct?" asked Gary
Engels, a Mohave County investigator assigned to the
town. "It's gotta scream to the people in charge that
there's something wrong here."
Engels said the town replaces decertified officers
with other church members, so the police force remains
fully staffed with certified officers.
The community operates as a "theocracy," he added, and
marshals abide by religious leaders rather than law.
"That's the problem here. It's totally controlled by
the church, and anybody outside the church is going to
have a hard time," Engels said.
'Everybody . . . is related'
Last names suggest the insular nature of life in
Colorado City: Most of the lawmen who have faced
Arizona decertification hearings are named Barlow.
During one deposition, when Fred Barlow was asked if
Deputy Micah Barlow was related to a church official
named Dowayne Barlow, the marshal said, "I suppose.
Everybody around here is related."
The other common denominator is a conflict between
religion and the constitutional oath of sworn peace
officers. Under questioning by state officials last
year, Fred Barlow asserted that Colorado City is
locked in "a religious battle" with government. He
complained that investigators violated his First
Amendment rights by asking questions about his faith.
He agonized about being torn between constitutional
and spiritual duties.
Investigator: "If you saw Warren Jeffs come in this
town (as a fugitive) today, what would you do?"
Barlow: "I'm not gonna answer that question. . . . I
don't think I should answer any questions about my
Investigator: "What if Warren Jeffs gave you direction
not to do something that you had to do by law?"
Barlow: "I don't believe that, uh, you should put me
in a position . . . where I have to choose between my
church and my job."
By appearances, Barlow made that choice last year in a
letter written to Jeffs while the prophet was on the
"Dear Uncle Warren: I would first like to acknowledge
you as the one man that was and is called of God to
stand at the head of his priesthood and the Kingdom of
God on earth in this day and time. I rejoice in the
peace that comes over me when I follow the directives
that you have sent to me. . . .
"I love you and acknowledge you as my priesthood head.
And I know that you have the right to rule in all
aspects of my live (sic)."
It was signed, "Your servant, Fred J. Barlow Jeffs."
Barlow told investigators he would alienate the
residents of Colorado City if he helped track down
"The community honors and respects him. And for us to
go looking for him, particularly for him, would be
very detrimental to my job," Barlow explained. "The
community would not accept me anymore."
Authorities with the state Attorney General's Office
and Arizona POST answered that they were not attacking
the FLDS church but ensuring the rule of law would not
be compromised by religious influences.
In other interviews, Barlow went mum when asked about
his faith. One such exchange occurred during a
deposition by Zachary Shields, an attorney for the
fiduciary overseeing properties in an FLDS trust.
Shields: Why do you answer some questions and refuse
to answer others?
Barlow: Some questions I don't feel like are relevant.
Shields: So you're making a determination as to what
is relevant and what is not?
Barlow: To me.
Shields: Did the subpoena say you only have to answer
questions that you feel are relevant?
Barlow: (No response.)
Shields: Let the record show the deponent refuses to
answer. . . . Do you understand that your silence is
violating the oath you took (as a peace officer)?
Barlow: (No response.)
The dilemma is hardly new here. Sam Barlow, town
marshal in the 1990s and one of Jeffs' closest
associates, overcame law-enforcement revocation
hearings for polygamy 15 years ago. More recently,
officers have been less successful.
Arizona POST is expected to rule on Fred Barlow's
police certification later this month.
Police did nothing
A light breeze flits through Colorado City as
thunderheads form overhead. Girls in long dresses
harvest vegetables from a garden, then run away at the
sight of a camera. Children play on a rope swing in a
hay barn. Men in a gray truck follow strangers through
town. Otherwise, all is calm.
At City Hall, a clerk says Marshal Fred Barlow is
away. So is the mayor. Nobody else is authorized to
speak for the town.
Until 2005, most of the community was owned by a
church trust known as the United Effort Plan. Then a
Utah court removed FLDS trustees and appointed a
public fiduciary, Bruce Wisan, to oversee the
properties. The trust contains more than $100 million
in assets, including many of the homes and businesses.
Isaac Wyler, a former FLDS member who was hired by
Wisan to look after things, says police refused to do
anything when crews of townspeople began taking
buildings and equipment from trust properties. He
points out an 83-foot-tall grain elevator that,
according to testimony, was dismantled and removed
with police looking on. An 18,000-square-foot log
building was taken apart and hauled off. Modular
classrooms vanished, as did irrigation pipes and
coolers from a potato pantry.
Wyler drives to a cave built into the red rock by
church members years ago as a fallout shelter. The
property, with several grain silos, is owned by the
trust. Wyler said he was inspecting the site two years
ago, when church members accosted him, then called
police. An officer arrived and threatened to put Wyler
in jail for trespassing, even though he had legal
authority to be there.
"He got right up in my face, so dang mad his lip was
quivering," Wyler recalled. "I held out my hands and
said, 'OK, cuff me.' " That confrontation ended
quietly, and police are less aggressive now, Wyler
said. But he is convinced Colorado City marshals
remain loyal to their religion before the law.
"There's not one officer who would be able to answer
that question honestly," he said.
In depositions about stolen property, Fred Barlow
tried to dodge the issue repeatedly, claiming court
rulings against his church were absurd and
unenforceable. A typical exchange went like this:
Question: Isn't it true that people who were not
followers of Warren Jeffs, like Bruce Wisan, will not
receive the same treatment from you as a police
Answer: (No response.)
Reach the reporter at (602) 444-8874.