Former Police Chief Testifies He Lied Under Oath Due To FLDS Church Pressure
PHOENIX – On Wednesday, Helaman Barlow entered the Phoenix federal courthouse and took an oath to testify truthfully in front of a jury.
There would seem to be nothing exceptional about Barlow taking that oath, since all witnesses do, and Barlow is the former chief of the joint police department serving the twin cities of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, on the state border.
But on Wednesday, Barlow told the jury he had lied previous times he was questioned under oath about the very matter before them — whether his former police department was controlled by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) and whether the city government and police discriminated against church outsiders.
“I have admitted to perjury and other things I’m not real proud of,” Barlow told the jury on Wednesday.
Barlow acknowledged he gave false testimony in front of a federal jury in a previous civil rights trial against the twin cities, and in a deposition leading up to this case. He said he did so under pressure from the FLDS church.
Barlow — formerly a defense witness for the cities — is now a key witness in the U.S. Justice Department’s case against Colorado City and Hildale.
The towns were settled by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a polygamous sect that broke off from the Mormon religion over a century ago. Over the last three weeks, the Justice Department has called witnesses who testified the city governments are under the control of the FLDS church, and discriminate against church outsiders by denying them housing, utilities and police protection.
Barlow said he lied under oath in the past because he feared the church would expel him from the community and permanently separate him from his family if he said anything in court that could be damaging to the church.
In the last dozen years, the FLDS church began to aggressively excommunicate members and banish them from the community. When men are kicked out, the church typically reassigns his wives and children to other men.
Barlow told the jury he had seen relatives permanently lose their families after being exiled from the church. He said the fear of losing his wife and 11 children, as well as his two-decade career as a police officer, kept him from answering questions truthfully.
Barlow is a large man with white hair past his shoulders and a long horseshoe mustache. He grew up in the twin cities area, known as Short Creek, and was born into the FLDS church.
The polygamous community has long had a tense relationship with outside law enforcement. In 1953, Arizona law enforcement officers raided Short Creek and arrested church members for bigamy.
From the beginning of Barlow’s career with the local police, also known as marshals, Barlow’s law enforcement role was intertwined with his church duty. He went to police academy with the blessing of the church’s then-prophet, Rulon Jeffs.
Barlow told the jury the church’s prophet gave him this advice when he first became a marshal in 1994: “Your job is to stand between church and all harm. That is your calling.”
When the next FLDS prophet, Warren Jeffs, was accused of arranging underage marriages and became a federal fugitive on the FBI’s most wanted list, Barlow and other police officers remained loyal to Jeffs.
Barlow said he and other local officers had ways of communicating with Jeffs but never revealed that to outside law enforcement.
“We were all FLDS — that would be like attacking our own church,” Barlow said in court.
Barlow now admits that when the FBI contacted him about its search for Jeffs, Barlow secretly recorded the conversation and sent the audio to Jeffs.
Barlow said he began to turn away from the church when he went to Texas and became convinced Jeffs was guilty of child sexual abuse. Jeffs was convicted in 2011 in Texas of sexually assaulting two girls he took as spiritual wives.
Jeffs is currently incarcerated but is still considered to be the church’s prophet by his followers.
Barlow said he read Jeffs’ personal papers in Texas, including a confession that he had committed child sex abuse.
“Suddenly that one immovable rock you tie your faith to isn’t something you want to be tied to,” Barlow said.
Barlow said he quietly stopped following the church in July 2012 once his wife indicated she also wanted to out. He still kept working as a marshal and served as the police chief.
Beginning in 2011, Barlow and city leaders were deposed in a civil rights lawsuit accusing the cities of discriminating against non-church members. Barlow said at that point he still wasn’t ready to cross the church because he feared retaliation. So he lied when the truth would be damaging to the church. He did the same in the 2014 trial for that case, and when he was deposed by Justice Department attorneys for their lawsuit in 2013.
Under oath, Barlow claimed not to know who the FLDS prophet was, since it was a secret the church was following Warren Jeffs. He pretended not to know the church had its own private security force, even though he worked closely with church security and had even trained the squad how to impede outside law enforcement in case they came to raid the church.
“I was protecting the church and my employment, also anything that would implicate the church in any wrongdoing or any misconduct,” Barlow said of that previous testimony.
Even so, Barlow's 2013 deposition with the Justice Department marked the beginning of the end of his career.
Justice Department lawyers asked Barlow to read out loud from Warren Jeffs’ private writings, believed to be sacred in the church and forbidden to church members.
Barlow complied even though it went against church teachings. He said the Colorado City manager was in the room and rushed outside to avoid breaking church rules. According to Barlow, after the city official saw Barlow's religious violation in that deposition, he began to put pressure on Barlow so he would leave his police chief position.
On Wednesday, Barlow testified about all of these events, as well as the ways in which his former department had been intertwined with the church. He described how church leaders hand-picked the marshals and utilized sworn officers as part of church security.
He acknowledged that his former department turned a blind eye to illegal church marriages between adult men and underage girls and didn’t assist Mohave County Sheriff’s Office in its investigation of underage marriages.
“We believed in our faith it was a valid marriage,” Barlow said.
Outside the courthouse, Barlow said it was liberating to tell the truth finally.
“It was the easiest testimony I have ever given,” Barlow said.
The Justice Department granted Barlow immunity from prosecution of any illegal acts he testified to as long as he was truthful. He also said he negotiated immunity from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Utah, the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office and the state of Arizona.
Barlow said he was willing tell the truth because he and his wife are no longer in the church, and they no longer fear retaliation. He left his job and is no longer certified as a police officer.
A defense lawyer for the city of Hildale in his cross-examination pointed out that Barlow and his wife left the church in July 2012 but Barlow was still untruthful in sworn testimony after that date. Barlow said he feared repercussions for extended family members and losing his job at that time.
Guy Timpson, a fellow ex-church member, was in the courtroom watching when Barlow disclosed he had committed to perjury.
“(I) totally understand his testimony,” Timpson said afterwards. “I hope the jury sees the pressure he was under.”
Timpson testified earlier in the trial about his trajectory from protecting the church as a member of the elite church security squad, to being a church outsider shunned by FLDS members. He told the jury the utility board he served on denied non FLDS church members water hookups.
Timpson said he was glad the Justice Department has given some witnesses like Barlow immunity.
“It is really helped them come out with their story and be honest with it, come out with the truthfulness of this whole thing,” Timpson said. He said he is hoping the truth will lead to solutions for the community.
But Colorado City’s lawyer Jeff Matura said Barlow’s testimony is not reliable.
“Fundamentally, a police officer who admits to lying under oath on multiple occasions, the town believes that bears upon his lack of credibility,” Matura said in an interview before the trial began.
Barlow told the jury he would advise any of his former colleagues who also lied under oath to admit it and give up their police certification. Looking back on his career, Barlow says he now realizes how much control the church had over him, his family and his fellow marshals.
“The longer I have been out of the church, or out of the cult that it turned into, the more open my mind has been,” Barlow said. “It is embarrassing how obviously we were in discriminating against non-church members.”
Other trial witnesses have testified about interactions with the marshals they claim were discriminatory.
The jury heard from Jerold Williams, a former member of the church’s high council who was expelled from the church and then arrested by marshals for supposedly trespassing at his own residence.
Williams said he and a wife returned to their home because they wanted to share evidence with other family members about wrongdoing in the church’s leadership, including Warren Jeffs’ crimes.
Williams said he was unable to have that conversation because a marshal forced him to leave and arrested him — even though Williams had an occupancy agreement for the house. The charges were later dropped.
Williams told the jury he felt like the church was using the police to “compel me to follow the edict and go away.”
The Justice Department is seeking damages for Williams and his wife and several others.
The police officers in Colorado City have the highest rate of decertification in Arizona, according to trial testimony from Lyle Mann of the Arizona Police Officers Standards and Training Board. Over the past 15 years, 30 percent of the officers have lost their police certification.
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