SAN ANGELO, Texas A judge here has set an Oct. 1 hearing on a challenge to the law-enforcement search of the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch.
Among those who could be witnesses at the contentious hearing: the woman who allegedly made hoax calls that sparked the raid on the polygamous sect's property in west Texas. Rozita Swinton's name appears on a list of potential witnesses subpoenaed for either testimony or documents, according to court records obtained by the Deseret News.
Lawyers for the FLDS Church and one of its leaders, Lyle Jeffs, filed the subpoena request in court in late April. Their list of possible witnesses include workers at San Angelo's New-Bridge Family Shelter, Texas Rangers involved in the initial investigation into the phone call that sparked the raid, FLDS members at the YFZ Ranch, Swinton and documents pertaining to a series of cell phone numbers linked to her.
FLDS Church attorneys recently renewed their challenge to the seizure of evidence, urging the judge to set a hearing date.
"Counsel understands this Honorable Court has been extremely busy with matters relating to the children removed from the YFZ Ranch," wrote Cynthia Orr, a San Antonio attorney for the FLDS Church and Lyle Jeffs.
"Counsel knows that this Honorable Court has signed an order conditionally returning the children to their parents."
They are demanding that the search warrants and evidence be tossed, questioning the grounds for the search and suggesting that anything seized may fall under priest-penitent privilege between FLDS leaders and followers.
Nearly 1,000 boxes of evidence were seized in the April raid on the YFZ Ranch. Authorities have been poring over thousands of pages of documents, including dictations by FLDS leader Warren Jeffs in which he details alleged underage marriages. Some of that evidence has become public in court records used by Texas child welfare authorities.
Swinton, 33, is considered a "person of interest" in the phone calls that launched the raid on the YFZ Ranch. In late March, someone claiming to be a pregnant 16-year-old girl named Sarah called the NewBridge Family Shelter, activists and other crisis hotlines, claiming to be in an abusive marriage to an older man named Dale Barlow. Barlow was questioned by Texas lawmen, but not charged with any crime.
Texas Child Protective Services and law enforcement went to the ranch to investigate. They never found "Sarah," but on site, they claimed to have seen other signs of child abuse that prompted a judge to order the removal of all of the children from the compound.
The 440 children were ultimately returned to their parents after the Texas Supreme Court ruled the state acted improperly in removing all of the children. Court hearings are scheduled here today, where CPS will seek to take custody of eight children again, arguing their mothers have failed to keep them from men who have had involvement in underage marriages.
Swinton is charged in Colorado Springs with making a hoax call to police that prompted a massive search there in February for an abused 13-year-old chained in a basement. When Swinton was arrested, Texas Rangers were there. Arrest warrant affidavits suggest that phone numbers linked to her are the same that "Sarah" used to make her calls for help.
Swinton is scheduled to be in a Colorado court Aug. 28 for a hearing on her case, where she may take a plea deal on a misdemeanor charge of making a false report.
"The investigation into Ms. Swinton continues," Tela Mange, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said in an e-mail to the Deseret News.
Calls to FLDS lawyers involved in the search warrant battle were not immediately returned on Friday. Swinton's lawyer in Colorado has not responded to past requests for comment.
Prosecutors filed a challenge to the subpoena for a Texas Ranger involved in the case, noting that Ranger Shawn Palmer would be required to bring "work product on the part of law enforcement," assistant Tom Green County district attorney Allison Palmer wrote.Six men, including Warren Jeffs, have been indicted by a grand jury in nearby Eldorado on charges ranging from sexual assault to bigamy to failure to report child abuse. The grand jury is scheduled to meet again on Thursday.
E-mail: [email protected]