|Sect Files Massive Motions to Suppress Evidence in Criminal Cases
By Paul A. Anthony
San Angelo Standard Times
April 16, 2009
Attorneys for indicted members of the FLDS dropped a 7,000-page bombshell Wednesday on the 51st District Court, alleging that Texas Rangers misled Judge Barbara Walther into issuing a pair of search warrants that authorized last year's raid on the polygamous sect's Schleicher County compound.
In identical 61-page motions to suppress evidence filed for each of 19 charges against 10 defendants - with 300-plus more pages of evidence and attachments - the attorneys accuse Texas Ranger Lt. Brooks Long of failing to provide Walther key details that would have undermined the credibility of the initial phone calls that led to the raid.
"In short," the attorneys write, "it is clear that the authorities used a hoax phone call as an excuse for staging a massively intrusive raid upon a disfavored religious group. Under the guise of looking for a man they knew was not there and a child that did not exist, the Texas authorities conducted a general search to see what they could find."
Long was not immediately available for comment, although Texas Ranger policy generally prohibits comment during ongoing investigations.
Dirk Fillpot, spokesman for the Texas Attorney General's Office, which is heading the prosecution of the sect members, called the allegations "baseless and without merit."
"The state of Texas will vigorously oppose these attempts to exclude evidence about the multiple defendants who have been indicted for sexually abusing children, among other offenses," he said.
In their motion, the attorneys cite affidavits filed by Long asking Walther to allow entry on the ranch to seek Sarah Jessop Barlow. She was allegedly a 16-year-old girl said to be the mother of an 8-month-old child and pregnant with a second who was being sexually and physically abused by her 50-year-old husband, Dale Barlow.
The calls from Sarah are now believed to be a hoax, likely perpetrated by a 33-year-old Colorado Springs woman arrested on charges of making similar but unrelated calls in Colorado.
Comparing Long's affidavits to those written by a pair of call-takers at NewBridge Family Shelter in San Angelo, the attorneys said Long did not provide Walther such salient information as:
n The caller initially refused to give her last name, phone number or location.
n She did not volunteer the name of her supposed husband. Instead, the NewBridge call-taker supplied it among a list of names after doing an Internet search on Barlow and FLDS.
n Law enforcement had actually confirmed Barlow was in Arizona at the time, meaning he was not possibly on the premises, as Long's affidavit stated.
n Schleicher County Medical Center confirmed it had no records of treating a Sarah Barlow there, despite the caller's claims that she had been taken there when she was sick.
"The officers did not advise this honorable court that they had reason to suspect the caller's veracity," the motion states. "None of these factors, all serving to undermine any finding of 'probable cause,' were ever provided to the court."
Wednesday was the court-imposed deadline to file the motions in advance of a scheduled May 13 hearing in Eldorado.
The motion repeats many of the arguments initially stated in similar documents filed this year in Arizona, where attorneys for sect leader Warren Jeffs have asked a Mohave County judge to throw out any evidence obtained from the Texas raid.
The judge, Stephen Conn, has said he would wait until Walther ruled on the evidence before he took up the issue.
In the motion filed Wednesday, the attorneys also claim the warrant was overbroad by authorizing a search of the entire 1,700-acre ranch, which contained 19 separate dormitories, and that it violated the sect's First Amendment rights by targeting its members' religious beliefs.
It also cited the affidavit of another Ranger, Sgt. Aaron Grigsby. In that document, Grigsby said law enforcement planned on April 2, 2008, the day before the raid, "to check the safety of the juveniles at the ranch." The motion cites that as evidence that authorities entered the ranch seeking more than just the NewBridge caller.
"The wholesale search of an entire village," the motion states, "is by far the most sweeping and expansive invasion of our citizens' right to privacy since our founding fathers attempted to do away with King George's 'writs of assistance' more than 200 years ago."
The state ultimately removed 439 children from the ranch but has since returned all but one to their parents. Twelve FLDS members have been indicted on charges ranging from felony bigamy and sexual abuse of a child to misdemeanor failure to report abuse.
The motion covers 10 of the 12 defendants, excepting sect leader Warren Jeffs, who is facing similar charges in Arizona, and ranch doctor Lloyd Barlow, who faces only misdemeanor counts.
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