On Thursday, a jury in Phoenix’s U.S. District Court awarded a family $5.2 million for suffering years of religious discrimination at the hands of city officials in the town where they lived. A story in The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Ron and Jinger Cooke won their suit against Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah. The jury agreed those towns are controlled by the leadership of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
The trial began in January, according to KTVK of Arizona, and centered around the Cookes' inability to get city water service hooked up to a home they were building near the towns on the Utah-Arizona border. The couple claimed that since the towns, which are subject to a joint water agreement, were run by leaders closely linked to the FLDS, city officials conspired to prevent their new home from getting utility connections because the Cookes were not members of the church.
"They're bullies,” Jinger Cooke told KTVK.
While the Cookes were eventually able to get electricity and sewage connected to the house, they never did get a water connection. They endured for five years by living in a small trailer near the home and trucking water in to the property.
Furthermore, the Cookes claim that they were the subject of threats and intimidation from FLDS security officials.
The FLDS is a polygamous breakaway sect of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Their leader, Warren Jeffs, has been locked in a Texas prison following a 2011 conviction for sexually assaulting two underage girls.
The jury in the Cookes' case sided with them after attorneys exposed letters exchanged between Jeffs and city officials, including the mayor and police chief. The letters, the attorneys claimed, proved that the church was pulling strings in the communities.
Other members of the church, Guy Timpson and Patrick Barlow, testified that they had knowledge that the cities and the church were sharing resources. Barlow testified also that he had been ordered to spy on the Cookes for the church.
In the end, the jury awarded the couple more than they had been seeking. Their attorney, William Walker, had only asked that the jury award the couple $2 million each, saying that a high sum would send a strong message to the cities.
"I’m thrilled," Walker said following the verdict. "I’m particularly thrilled for the Cookes, who have withstood this discrimination for five and half years and have finally been vindicated by a jury of their peers.”
The decision will also allow the Cookes to finally get water service connected to their home.