HILDALE, Utah (AP) — A former police chief in the polygamous community led by Warren Jeffs says he took direction from sect leaders and ignored underage marriages.
Helaman Barlow said in a rare interview that he tried to balance being loyal to sect leaders while also doing police work you would expect in any town, The Salt Lake Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1INYoQV ).
“This community,” Barlow said, “has always been a theocracy.”
He said he didn’t report men who married 16-year-old girls. He tracked people who left the sect by looking up their driver’s licenses. He made it difficult and obstructed the FBI when the agency came to the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona.
Attorneys for the towns deny allegations that church leaders control police chiefs and officers, pointing to the fact that no officer there has been decertified by the state. Blake Hamilton, attorney for Hildale, has questioned Barlow’s honesty since Barlow told prosecutors he lied under oath during a March trial in Arizona.
Barlow, 49, was put on administrative leave in April 2014 and fired several months later. He has now left the sect and in exchange for immunity, is working with state and federal officials who are investigating a group known as The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Former Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne asked a federal judge last year to disband the police department in the town, citing Barlow’s testimony as new proof that the agency is the splinter religious group’s de facto law enforcement arm.
But U.S. District Judge James Teilborg denied the request, saying handing power over to county sheriffs would burden the twin cities and the states with a layer of bureaucracy extending into potential perpetuity.
Barlow told prosecutors that church leaders choose who goes to the police academy, have access to surveillance cameras around town and ordered officers to follow a church edict that bars Internet use even though it inhibits police work, court records show.
During a recent interview with the Tribune, Barlow was asked about the worst thing he did as the town marshal.
“I better not tell you that,” he said.
Barlow’s family has been part of the polygamous community going back several generations. His grandfather was one of the founders and the sect’s prophet from 1935 until he died in 1949. His father was a police officer and spokesman from the group in the 1980s.
The sect is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism whose members believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven. Polygamy is a legacy of the early teachings of the mainstream Mormon church, but the faith abandoned the practice in 1890 and strictly prohibits it today.
Barlow said he has never taken multiple wives, and that he and his only wife have 11 children. He still lives in Colorado City.
He first joined the town police department in 1994. Afterward, then-church leader Rulon Jeffs took him out to lunch and told him to basically stand between the church and all harm, Barlow said.
Barlow said he wanted out of the sect in 2008 after learning that Warren Jeffs had taken child brides and engaged in sexual relations with them in the temple. He found that out after Texas authorities raided the sect’s compound in Eldorado, Texas, eventually leading to Jeffs being sent to prison for sexually assaulting underage girls.
Jeffs is serving a life sentence in Texas but is thought to be leading the sect from prison with help from his brother Lyle Jeffs who lives in the community.
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com
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