COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A 33-year-old Colorado Springs woman who may have sparked a massive child-protection raid at a polygamist compound in Texas kept a steady job and gave no hint of her activities to those closest to her.
“She is the last person I would expect to do something like this,” said a woman in her mid-20s who described herself as the roommate of Rozita Swinton. Speaking at the door of their apartment, the roommate described Swinton as a steady, soft-hearted person.
But growing evidence indicates Swinton repeatedly made calls to authorities in multiple jurisdictions, setting off large emergency responses that sometimes involved dozens of police officers.
The Texas Ranger Division of the Texas Department of Public Safety confirmed Friday that Swinton was a person of interest in calls placed to a crisis hotline by someone claiming to be Sarah, a 16-year-old girl who had been sexually abused and beaten by a 50-year-old polygamous husband.
The reports in late March led to a raid that began April 3 at the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, in which 416 children were taken into custody.
The roommate said Saturday that she was stunned to learn Swinton may have been involved. The two have been longtime friends.
Swinton, who often did kind deeds for many different people, allowed her to move in April 4, said the roommate, who declined to give her name because she said her boss had warned her not to speak to the media.
Swinton has never married and has no children. She works for a Denver insurance company, the roommate said.
Swinton is also listed on the El Paso County Democratic Party’s website as her neighborhood precinct’s delegate to the state Democratic convention in May, supporting Sen. Barack Obama.
The roommate said they never spoke about the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints group, and she did not know anything about false distress calls.
The last time she saw Swinton was Wednesday after police arrived at the apartment. Colorado Springs police, accompanied by Texas Rangers, arrested Swinton in a local case, and Texas officials searched the home.
The Texas Rangers found items of interest during the search and the investigation is continuing.
In June 2005, Castle Rock police arrested Swinton after she posed as the teen mother of a newborn and told an adoption agency and police she was considering suicide and leaving the baby at a fire station, Castle Rock police Sgt. Scott Claton said.
Authorities charged her with filing a false police report. She is currently serving a one-year deferred sentence in that case.
In February, dozens of Colorado Springs police searched for a girl claiming to be locked in a basement. Again, it turned out to be Swinton.
Flora Jessop, a former polygamist-sect member who now runs a crisis center, says Swinton repeatedly called her posing as a young abused girl and could be the same person whose complaints led to the April 3 raid on the Texas ranch.
Jessop said she first received a call March 30 from a woman, since identified as Swinton, claiming to be an abuse victim named Sarah.
But the hotline call that led to the raid wasn’t publicized until after Jessop spoke with Sarah, leaving Jessop to speculate that she could have been the same person making the calls.
“It does kind of indicate (Swinton) made those calls,” Jessop said. “There was no press on it at the time.”
Jessop, who operates a rescue mission for teenage girls trying to escape the sect, said she recorded between 30 and 40 hours of phone conversations with Swinton, who alternately claimed to be Sarah; Sarah’s twin sister Laura; and Laura’s friend.
Swinton would call Jessop after 8:30 p.m. and speak in a subdued voice because she said that is when others in the compound were sleeping.
“She was very convincing,” Jessop said. “She very much thought this out.”
The person obviously had studied the FLDS culture, she said.
Jessop became suspicious and contacted the Texas Rangers after the same person, who sounded like a frightened young girl, called saying she was Sarah’s sister and lived in Colorado City.
Jessop sent recordings to the Texas Rangers, who traced the calls to Swinton’s phone.