Authorities described Thursday how law enforcement teams on Saturday “breached” the bolted doors of the temple at the YFZ Ranch in West Texas while executing a search warrant for evidence of sexual and physical abuse of a 16-year-old girl.
FLDS leaders promised there would be no violence during the search, said Capt. Barry Caver of the Texas Rangers. Only one man, yet to be identified, stood in the way. He was arrested and later released.
Texas authorities were seeking a 16-year-old female whose calls for help sparked the raid. She has yet to be identified among the 419 children who were removed from the compound accompanied by 139 women, some of whom are said to be their mothers.
On the temple’s third level, investigators found several beds believed to be used by FLDS men and young brides following wedding ceremonies. One had rumpled linens and a single long strand of hair, believed to be that of a female.
Caver declined to provide more details.
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Taking a break?
Law enforcement authorities had asked FLDS leader Merrill Jessop if he would unlock the doors to the temple for the search, but he refused. “He believed that would be aiding us in the desecration of the temple,” Caver said.
After a locksmith was unable to move the deadbolts, the SWAT team used a hydraulic tool often used to extricate auto accident victims – with no success. In the end, the door was breached, said Caver.
No shots were filed during the search, Caver said, correcting information provided in a search warrant affidavit released Wednesday.
However, he said, residents played what he described as an “eggshell game,” moving between houses as the search was under way, he said. “We had issues with that.”
As officers entered some homes, residents would sing and carry out normal daily activities, he said.
Officers located two documented graves: those of Barbara Jeffs, a wife of sect leader Warren S. Jeffs, who died of breast cancer, and a 3-year-child who was killed in a recent vehicle accident at the ranch. Cadaver dogs searched for other buried bodies but found none.
Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran confirmed Thursday that he had been working with a confidential informant for the past four years. Information passed to him from that unidentified person – who may or may not be part of the FLDS group – aided authorities in the investigation, he said.
“I have a person that I have been communicating with and I’m not going to go any further,” he said.
Thursday was the first and last news conference to be held by Doran and the Texas Department of Public Safety. Officials said they will not grant interviews as investigators go through boxes of evidence and question dozens of sect members in an attempt to build one or more criminal cases.
Still unanswered are questions about the identity of the 16-year-old girl and why authorities have not arrested Dale Evans Barlow, 50, of Colorado City, Ariz., who is named in an arrest warrant last week.
Doran conceded that he is unaware of the girl’s whereabouts. “We very well may have her,” he said. “Everyone is diligently working on that, to identify that person.”
Doran said Barlow “is still a suspect . . . we are working on that right now.”
Sect critics familiar with the 16-year-old contend she is not married to Barlow, but to a different man with the same surname. On Wednesday, attorneys for the FLDS argued in court that the warrant should not have been issued.
“The warrant was illegally issued because the affidavit did not show probable cause sufficient to justify a search warrant,” court documents state.
Asked if police have the wrong man and will request a warrant for another man, Caver, the Texas Ranger, said he was unsure. “Until we find her, sit her down and take a complete statement, we have no way of knowing that.”
Caver and Doran said that they have completed their investigation and that 50 to 60 people – mostly men and a few elderly women – remain at the ranch. They are free to come and go as they please.
Doran and Texas authorities have scrutinized the FLDS since they arrived in the area about four years ago. Doran said he also has been working with Utah and Arizona authorities to gain a better understanding of the “polygamist culture.”
Although Texas officials believed underage women could have been married to adult men at the compound, they had no probable cause to search the ranch, the sheriff said.
Sect leader Jeffs was convicted in Utah of conducting an arranged marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. He received two consecutive five-to-life terms and now is awaiting prosecution in Arizona on similar charges.
In a related development, Bruce Wisan, who was appointed by a Utah judge to take over the United Effort Plan Trust connected to the sect after leaders were accused of mishandling its assets, has hired a San Angelo attorney. Wisan wants to look at seized documents and computer hard drives. A Utah judge signed a subpoena for that purpose on Thursday, which is to be filed today in Tom Green County District Court.
Wisan believes many of the documents may be related to trust issues, including assets he may claim to satisfy $4.6 million that remains from a $8.6 million judgement against former FLDS members who managed the UEP Trust.