Legitimacy of search warrants questioned
In a court filing made public in Kingman, Ariz., on Thursday, Jeffs’ criminal defense attorneys complain that Texas law enforcement officials forbade any inquiry into the apparent hoax call that sparked the raid, where hundreds of children were taken into state protective custody.
“This is all part of what has become a pattern of obstruction on the part of Texas law enforcement authorities,” attorneys Richard Wright and Michael Piccarreta wrote. “The state of Texas simply would not allow any questions showing that the Texas law enforcement authorities now know that their search warrant affidavits were full of lies.”
Jeffs’ attorneys are seeking to prevent evidence taken from last year’s raid from being used in his upcoming trial in Arizona, where the 53-year-old is accused of performing underage marriages. He was convicted in Utah of rape as an accomplice for performing an underage marriage.
Jeffs’ defense team questioned Schleicher County (Texas) Sheriff David Doran, one of his deputies and Texas Ranger Brooks Long. But when the attorneys started asking about Rozita Swinton, the woman suspected of making the phony phone calls, interview transcripts showed that Texas authorities objected.
In a filing last year defending the search, Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith said law enforcement acted on information they had at the time.
Swinton, 34, is considered a “person of interest” in the calls that launched the raid. Someone claiming to be a pregnant, abused 16-year-old girl named “Sarah” called family crisis shelters and an anti-polygamy activist, prompting law enforcement and child welfare authorities to go to the ranch. “Sarah” was never found, but authorities in Colorado arrested Swinton in connection with a hoax call there. Law enforcement affidavits say phone numbers linked to Swinton also match those used by “Sarah.”
The Texas Attorney General’s Office has said its investigation into Swinton is “ongoing.” Swinton herself has been undergoing mental health treatment, putting a halt to a pair of criminal cases pending against her in Colorado.
Texas raid triggers federal investigation of polygamous sect
A Texas raid on a polygamous sect’s ranch last year has apparently spurred a federal grand jury investigation of members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, according to information in a new court filing.
The filing, made in the Arizona case of FLDS leader Warren S. Jeffs, includes a partial transcript of interviews with Texas law officers, who refused to answer questions about calls that triggered the raid and state informants because of the grand jury proceedings.
Defense attorneys Michael Piccarreta and Richard Wright, of Las Vegas, interviewed Texas Ranger Brooks Long and Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran in December about events that led to the April raid on the sect’s Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas.
But Long told Piccarreta he could not answer certain questions related to the April raid because he is on a federal grand jury witness list.
Eric Nichols, prosecutor for the Texas Attorney General’s Office, advised both men to not answer certain questions because of the ongoing federal and state investigations.
Long did acknowledge that authorities never located the girl named in two search warrants used to enter the ranch and the sect’s temple. They also never located anyone who claimed to have made the calls, Long said.
“I don’t think that you’re gonna have somebody stand up and say, ‘I made the call,’” Long told the defense attorneys.
Jeffs’ attorneys argue that the Arizona case against their client, based on underage marriages, has been tainted because state investigators reviewed information seized during the “unlawful” search at the ranch.
They want a Mohave County Superior Court judge to suppress use of that information or order the Texas law officers to answer questions about the “falsity of the search warrants” and failure to investigate the calls, now believed to have been a hoax staged by Rozita Swinton, of Colorado.