Court Roundup

Court OKs sale of polygamous church assets

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A federal appeals court ruled Monday that a polygamist sect on the Utah-Arizona border waited too long to challenge a court-ordered takeover, clearing the way for state authorities to break up a church trust and sell assets including homes, businesses and farms in two small towns.
A three-judge appeals panel overturned a federal judge in Salt Lake City, who ruled nearly two years ago that Utah’s takeover violated the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ constitutional rights. U.S. District Judge Dee Benson’s decision froze the sale of church assets in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, and put Utah’s takeover in limbo.
Utah seized control of the community trust in 2005 amid allegations of mismanagement by church officials, including now-jailed polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs.
The appeals court panel didn’t rule on the constitutionality issue. Instead, it determined the FLDS waited too long — nearly three years — to take legal action.
Real estate and other assets in the border towns are held in the United Effort Plan, a charitable trust established long ago by the church. Church members are allowed to live and work on church property, but some have lost everything in periodic purges conducted by Jeffs.
Utah’s decision to take control of the FLDS trust was backed by Arizona. After the takeover and mismanagement allegations, Jeffs and other FLDS leaders and some church members moved to a remote West Texas ranch. But authorities there raided the compound in 2008, bringing numerous child-bride charges against a string of leaders.
Jeffs, 56, is serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting two underage girls he considered his brides.

West Virginia
Fired cop: Ex-boss spoiled federal lawsuit evidence

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — A former Sophia police officer who says he was fired because he’s black has added a new charge to the federal lawsuit against his former chief — deliberately spoiling evidence.
An amended complaint filed last week in U.S. District Court in Beckley claims that Sophia Police Chief Tomi Peck produced what she said was an investigation report on officer Damon McDowell for his unemployment hearing in May.
But McDowell alleges she then failed to preserve the computer records that would show whether the three-page document was created before or after she fired him, effectively denying his lawyers the chance to confirm whether the document was “forensically sound.”
Rather than protect the computers, Peck allowed them to continue being used, creating the probability that the relevant files would be deleted or overwritten, the complaint said. In fact, the defendants now say the report and other documents “are no longer believed to exist” on those computers.
“With their conduct in failing to preserve evidence for more than six months,” the complaint says, “defendants have intentionally spoliated evidence.”
Peck says she fired McDowell after he left an Applebee’s in Beckley without paying his bill, but McDowell claims he’s the victim of a conspiracy cooked up to force him to resign.
McDowell, the only black officer on the Sophia force, was fired earlier this year after just six months on the job. He contends it was the culmination of harassment schemes that included hiding paperwork so he’d miss court appearances, drawing penises on his papers and telling jokes with a racial epithet in his presence.
The lawsuit also alleges Peck denied McDowell training opportunities in favor of white officers, even when one had already resigned and the other had less seniority.