HILDALE, Washington County — Hildale Mayor David Zitting said he's surprised and baffled by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's sudden urge to fire the town's police force because he thinks the officers practice polygamy.

"I don't know what Shurtleff's doing," said Zitting, who last met with Shurtleff in Salt Lake City months ago before an Aug. 22 Polygamy Summit called by the attorney general in St. George. Despite a clear invitation then to Shurtleff to contact him if he had questions or wanted to talk about anything, Zitting said, "I haven't heard from him since. I've invited him to come down and take a tour, but he hasn't done it."

Shurtleff said in a Thursday meeting of the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council that Hildale officers are living in violation of Utah law and should be decertified. In response, the council has asked POST director Sid Groll to look into the matter.

Shurtleff apparently believes that too many people might be looking the other way, allowing fundamentalist religious tenets that polygamy is central to spiritual salvation to trump state laws prohibiting it.

Former Hildale police officer Rodney Holm was decertified after being convicted in August of felony bigamy for having "spiritually married" a 16-year-old girl when he was already married.

Shurtleff thinks Holm's fellow officers and his chief, Colorado City, Ariz., Police Marshal Sam Roundy, knew about the situation but didn't take action in deference to Warren Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist LDS Church where Holm is a member.

"It appears to me that chief Sam Roundy is not in control but that (Warren) Jeff's in control," Shurtleff told the Deseret Morning News on Thursday night. "We need to look into it and see if they are (bigamists)."

Several women who formerly lived as polygamists in Hildale but have since left the lifestyle have told the AG's office that it is common knowledge among residents there that "you don't go to the police on issues, because they are loyal to the church," Shurtleff's chief deputy, Kirk Torgensen, said.

"I realize that some of this is hearsay," Torgensen said. "I firmly believe that it's a question that needs to be looked at. Are these police officers devoted and dedicated to the constitution and the laws of Utah or are they devoted and dedicated to the (FLDS) church?"

Colorado City and Hildale blend across the state line and are populated by members of the FLDS Church. Hildale receives police protection through an agreement with the nine-member Colorado City Police Department and pays $53,400 annually for round-the-clock service, including 911, Zitting said.

During the first six months of this year, the Hildale/Colorado City police department responded to more than 2,500 calls for service. Of those, 31 percent were calls from Hildale residents, according to police records.

"The police service is great," Zitting said. "I don't know why they'd want to disrupt that."

Zitting said Shurtleff's aggressive stance toward the Colorado City/Hildale officers is only an attempt to highlight the attorney general's political agenda.

"They've been making such a strong issue of this, and saying they weren't prosecuting polygamy," Zitting said. "Now they turn right around and do the opposite. As soon as they got finality on the Rodney Holm case, they start doing what they said they wouldn't do."

Holm's attorney, Rod Parker, said Shurtleff is opening up a can of worms that won't be easy to close.

"I was hesitant to say this before, but I have no doubt now that this is politically motivated," said Parker, who also represents the FLDS church. "He really needs to think carefully about what he's doing to the psyche of the community out there. [Polygamy is] not going away. He needs to work with that community."

Roundy said he finds Shurtleff's attempts to strip his Arizona officers of their Utah certification almost laughable.

"I'll let Shurtleff do the research on whether my officers are married to more than one wife or not," said Roundy, implying that Shurtleff's investigation would prove his officers are either single or in monogamous relationships. "These officers are very professional. We do our job. We don't let anything go by. Shurtleff is making some false statements."

Shurtleff also told the Deseret Morning News that his staff tried to serve subpoenas for church records of marriages involving teenage girls but was kept waiting more than three hours while Hildale officers "called" church officials, only to say later that no one planned to respond.

"That is a total falsehood," Roundy said. "They asked us to make a call and we did. I sent a police officer with them on every one of their attempts. Nobody hindered them from knocking on a door to serve a subpoena. Arizona came in earlier and we did the same thing to try to help them."

Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith said Shurtleff is right even though he believes the police do a good job. "They're a top-flight organization out there," Smith said, "but they still have to be in compliance with the law to be a certified police officer."

Where to draw the line is a tough issue facing society, Smith added. "Do you decertify an officer who is getting a divorce and begins living with a girlfriend? There's a lot more to it than whether you believe in polygamy or not."

Former Colorado City sheriff Sam Barlow said his Arizona certification was challenged in the 1980s but he prevailed.

"The investigator and I talked a lot about whether a person can still be loyal to the U.S. Constitution and still organize his family according to his religious convictions," said Barlow. "It certainly isn't criminal conduct to raise a family, or to raise two families."


E-MAIL: nperkins@infowest.com; jdobner@desnews.com