- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Two towns on the Utah-Arizona border run by a polygamist sect on Monday were found guilty of violating the rights of non-believing residents by denying them basic services, such as police protection and access to utilities like water.

The verdict marks the end of a tumultuous seven-week trial and one of the government’s boldest efforts to take on the secretive regime comprising Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah.

The towns, which make up the 10,000-member commune known as Short Creek, have been accused of public corruption in service to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism.

The government alleged town leaders discriminated against nonbelievers by denying them access to public water utilities and intentionally delaying police response times to their emergencies.

Witnesses also testified that newcomers were monitored with surveillance cameras and from lookouts, with their movements relayed along more than 30 radios spread throughout the compound.

“Our goal was to somehow identify something that was going on with them, to see if we could get something over on them,” former church security officer Patrick Barlow testified, according to the Los Angeles Times. “It was harmful. We were trying to figure out a way to get them to go.”

Six residents of the towns were awarded $2.2 million in damages, but the towns will only have to pay $1.6 million because of a settlement reached during jury deliberation.

Town leaders had previously pledged to make improvements for the well-being of nonbelievers, but trial evidence suggested they had only streamlined their exclusionary practices. U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland will now hear from the cities and the U.S. Justice Department about where to proceed in the case.

Attorneys for the towns claimed their clients are victims of a government witch hunt that aims to extinguish their unique way of life.

Short Creek is not affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which banned polygamy in the late 19th century.

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