Friday, January 31 2014, 07:51 PM MST
Discrimination Lawsuit Against Polygamous Towns Goes to Trial
(KUTV) A jury trial is underway in Arizona for a civil rights lawsuit filed against the polygamous towns on the Utah/Arizona border.
Colorado City, Arizona, residents Ron and Jinjer Cooke and their three children say they have been waiting since May 2008 for water to be connected to their home. Without running water, they make several trips a week to fill a large tank in their front yard.
"We thought we lived in America and then we moved here," Ron Cooke said during an interview in Jan. 2013.
The couple claims they are being discriminated against and harassed because they are not members of the area's dominant polygamous sect: the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
The church is led by imprisoned prophet Warren Jeffs, 58, who is serving a life sentence in Texas on convictions of sexually assaulting two underage girls.
The Cookes contend that the FLDS church controls the cities and uses the influence as a way to punish outsiders.
"They have to follow the church's orders," Jinjer Cook said. "They can't run it like a normal city."
The Twin City Water Authority, the joint water department for Colorado City and neighboring Hildale, Utah, has denied the family's request for water citing strict policies enacted because of water shortages.
"This case is about Ron and Jinjer Cooke's failure to comply with the towns' policy on receiving water," Jeff Matura, the attorney for Colorado City, said. "The towns have said since 2008, 'hey, comply with our policy and we'll hook you up, but if you don't comply with the policy, we're not going to hook you up.'"
Matura said new connections are only allowed if applicants contribute physical water to the cities' system that is equal to the amount the applicant will draw from the system, meaning the Cookes would need to barter for existing water rights.
"They've hooked up FLDS people and they will not hook up us," Jinjer Cooke said of the water department. "If they want something hooked up, they'll hook it up."
Attorneys for both cities deny any discrimination and say the FLDS church is not influencing decisions made by the municipalities. They say alleged mistreatments brought up in the opening days of trial were at the hands of church members, not the government.
"There's been no evidence and no testimony that this mistreatment of the Cookes or anyone else in those communities has been by either one of the city governments," said Blake Hamilton, attorney for Hildale.
The trial, being held in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, is scheduled to last two months.
By Ladd Egan
(Copyright 2014 Sinclair Broadcasting Group)