Positioned on the northern Arizona border, Colorado City straddles the state line and shares its metropolitan identity with Hildale Utah. Patrolling the area are the Colorado City Marshals, a law enforcement agency some have deemed, “America’s Most Corrupt Police Force.”
Formerly known as “Short Creek”, Colorado City Arizona was founded in 1913 by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), a breakaway sect of the Salt Lake City based The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).
The FLDS membership desired a remote location where they could practice plural marriage – a practice publicly abandoned by the LDS Church in 1890.
On July 26, 1953, Arizona Governor John Howard Pyle sent troops into the settlement to stop polygamy in what became known as the Short Creek raid.
A two-year legal battle followed and it became a public relations disaster that ultimately damaged Pyle's political career and set a hands-off tone toward the town for the next 50 years.
Since then the Colorado City/Hildale area has obtained the dubious distinction of having the world's highest incidence of Fumarase Deficiency, an extremely rare genetic condition which causes severe intellectual disability. Also known as Polygamist downs, for those afflicted their average IQ is 25. Geneticists attribute the syndrome the prevalence of cousin marriage between descendants of two of the town's founders, Joseph Smith Jessop and John Y. Barlow; at least half the double community's roughly 8,000 inhabitants are descended from one or both.
The area first made national news a decade ago when Warren Jeffs, the local fundamentalist leader, expelled 20 men, including the mayor and assigned their wives and children to other men. Jeffs, a convicted sexual predator, stated he was acting on the orders of God, while the men expelled claimed they were penalized for disagreeing with Jeffs.
For women attempting to flee the town or the lifestyle, many reported being forcibly returned to their arranged marriages by the Colorado City Marshals – a ten member agency whose members were hand selected by Jeffs.
While the department is a certified police agency, and its members are peace officers, they are far from clean. The State of Arizona has decertified seven members of the department for crimes ranging from child abuse to sexual assault. However, according to state officials, whenever one is removed “Warren Jeffs hand picks a clone to replace him.”
In May 2006, Warren Jeffs was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution for his arrangement of illegal marriages between his adult male followers and underage girls.
Despite being a fugitive from justice and on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list, two Deputy City Marshal’s remained in contact with him and went so far as to declare their allegiance to him over the law.
Jeffs was ultimately arrested in August 2006 in Nevada and agreed to be taken to Utah for trial.
In 2007 Arizona charged him with eight additional counts including sexual conduct with minors and incest.
Texas then joined in with criminal charges for acts committed in their state. In the end Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years.
On April 6, 2010, law enforcement officials in Mohave County, Arizona, and Washington County, Utah, served five search warrants seeking records from town officers. The warrants were served on government officials and departments including the Town Manager David Darger as well as Colorado City's fire chief.
As a result of the initial warrants the Hildale- Colorado City Department of Public Safety was shut down and emergency responders were prohibited from responding to calls without the approval of county officials.
When asked whether or not he thought the Colorado City Marshals were a legitimate law enforcement agency, Arizona Attorney General Thomas Horne answered, “Absolutely not. They’re under the thumb of the dominant church. They remain the greatest injustice happening in Arizona under my watch."
The Arizona legislature ultimately voted 52-7 to disband the Colorado City Marshal however the bill died without a vote when it went before the senate. State Senator Chester Crandall, the chair of the Public Safety Committee, stated he did not allow the bill onto the floor because it didn’t go far enough. Critics cast the action as sweeping the entire problem under the rug.
The United States Department of Justice has also tried to intervene.
In response to a civil rights lawsuit by the USDOJ alleging unconstitutional policing and that the Colorado City government, including law enforcement, was taking orders from the FLDS, Arizona Attorney General Horne announced in July 2012, that he was allocating $400,000 for his office budget to allow the Mohave County Sheriff's Department to provide daily patrols in the town. One deputy was ultimately assigned to patrol the region. Unfortunately, the special patrol funds were only for one year and no additional funding was provided as a follow up.
Flora Jessop, a woman who escaped the church more than 25 years ago has written a book entitled “Church of Lies.” In interviews Flora said her younger sister Ruby was married at 14 in a ceremony orchestrated by Jeffs. By age 15 she was pregnant. Each time Ruby attempted to escape she was, according to her, “returned to the town by the Colorado City Marshals and placed back into the abuse.”
It was during the time of the special patrols that 25 year old Ruby Jessop was finally able to escape and speak out. She said had it not been for the assistance of the Mojave County Sheriff, she wouldn’t have managed to escape with her children.
For now the Colorado City Marshals office still exists as the towns police agency.