Two polygamous towns on the Utah-Arizona border violated the constitutional rights of nonbelievers by denying them basic services such as police protection, building permits, and water hookups, a jury said Monday. The civil rights trial marks one of the boldest efforts by the government to confront what critics have long said was a corrupt regime in Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah. The seven-week trial provided a rare glimpse into the communities that for years have been shrouded in secrecy and are distrustful of government and outsiders.The jury awarded $2.2 million to six residents eligible for damages, but the towns will have to pay only $1.6 million because lawyers negotiated a settlement in that part of the case.
The towns were accused of doing the bidding of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism. Jurors concluded that police officers treated nonbelievers inequitably when providing police protection, arrested them without having probable cause, and made unreasonable searches of their property. The judge will now decide what other punishments to impose. Federal authorities have not specified the changes they will seek, but they could ask for the Colorado City Marshal's Office to be disbanded and for its duties to be handed over to local sheriffs. (Last year, church members were convicted of shutting down schools to supply child labor during harvest time.)