Followers of Christ case exposes shift in law-enforcement relations

USA - The manslaughter trial of Dale and Shannon Hickman exposed a shift in the uneasy relationship between the Followers of Christ and Clackamas County law enforcement.

Several years ago, the church and law enforcement reached an agreement that called for church officials to report deaths to the state medical examiner's office and to preserve the scene until law enforcement officers arrive. The church has followed the agreement, but officials in the Hickman case found church members less willing to talk to police or cooperate with investigators.

When deputies arrived at the home where the Hickmans' baby died, a church official told them there would be no one-on-one interviews with witnesses. Dale Hickman was the only person who spoke to detectives and he did so in the presence of his family. The Hickmans' relatives also withheld evidence -- cameras that contained video footage and photographs of David -- sought by detectives. Prosecutors later won access to the images through a subpoena.

Church officials decline to speak to the press, but one reason for the change might be that prosecutors in recent cases have used such interviews with church members to win convictions.

District Attorney John Foote said a lack of cooperation would present little obstacle to prosecution.

"The District Attorneys Office is accustomed to dealing with defendants who are charged with a crime and may decide to refuse to cooperate, or hide evidence or lie about their guilt," Foote said. "We were simply not prepared for some members of the Church to also act this way. But we are fully prepared to deal with that if it happens."