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Sheriff, county attorney halt standoff in polygamous community
Salt Lake City, USA - In a sign of widening rifts and increasing tension in the polygamous sect led by Warren Jeffs, the Washington County sheriff and county attorneyresponded to Hildale this week to halt a standoff between members of the sect and those recently excommunicated.
The dispute centers on the Holm School Building, located at 1055 Carling St., which had been used as a school by Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints member Tom Holm, according to a complaint filed Wednesday in 3rd District Court by his brother Richard Holm, who obtained a temporary restraining order in the case Thursday.
Like nearly all the land and buildings in the sect’s home base in the twin border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., the building is held by a trust that was created by the sect but taken over by the state six years ago amid allegations of mismanagement.
Richard Holm was kicked out of the sect several years ago but holds an occupancy agreement on the Holm School property from the court-appointed trust administrator.
Late last week, Tom Holm was also excommunicated from the FLDS — one of hundreds who have reportedly been kicked out in the last year by those who support imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs.
Excommunication generally means men leave their families and their wives behind, taking few possessions with them. But Holm apparently chose not to leave and instead went to the school with Richard Holm the night of Dec. 16, according to court documents.
They found the locks had been changed, and "within a few minutes of being on the premises, the whole area was swarmed with FLDS," the complaint states. The FLDS men allegedly claimed it was a "priesthood property" and would not leave.
On Dec. 17, Colorado City/Hildale Police Chief Jonathan Roundy dispersed the men occupying the building, but that night a large group of young men returned, the complaint states. When Richard Holm came to the building Sunday , he found it full of FLDS men who refused to let him in. A police officer was there to keep the peace and didn’t get involved, Holm said.
The police "haven’t been fighting us, but they’ve not helped us. They’ve taken the stand that it’s a civil issue and they’re there to keep the peace," Holm said.
The situation escalated over the next several days as the men occupying the building poured concrete and installed metal fencing around it.
On Tuesday, Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap intervened, along with county Sheriff Cory Pulsipher, the county undersheriff and six to eight deputies.
"Because of the way the course of events unfolded over those four to five days, and my concerns with the Marshal’s Office, I thought it was more important I be there personally to answer questions and also demonstrate the seriousness of it," Belnap said.
The Colorado City/Hildale Marshal’s Office could not be reached for comment Thursday.
"If someone disagrees with the occupancy agreement, the [solution] is ... not to take matters into their own hands, lock the gates and create conflict and disturbance," Belnap said.
The high-profile response is unusual, but Belnap said "the sheriff’s office will act to protect holders of occupancy agreements if the Marshal’s Office can’t or won’t."
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