By David Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 24, 2008
SAN ANGELO, Tex., April 23 -- The phone calls that triggered a massive raid on a polygamist compound in west Texas -- in which a quavering girl's voice described being forcibly married at 15 -- have been linked to a Colorado woman with a history of making false claims of sexual abuse, according to an affidavit filed in Colorado Springs.
The affidavit says calls that allegedly came from "Sarah Barlow" -- a teenage girl at the Yearning for Zion Ranch outside Eldorado, Tex. -- actually came from numbers connected to Rozita Swinton, 33, of Colorado Springs. The affidavit also notes Swinton's possible involvement in a series of separate but similar reports in which the young caller described being abused by a pastor, an uncle or her father.
Texas authorities yesterday said they have not determined whether the calls about the Yearning for Zion Ranch were a hoax and that they plan to press on with their investigation of possible sexual abuse there. More than 400 children are now in state custody, as authorities try to sort out what happened at the ranch run by a polygamist group called the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
"Until she's actually been charged" with a crime related to the phone calls, Swinton's role "is still an open question," state Department of Public Safety spokesman Tom Vinger said.
But the revelations about phone calls to shelters for abused women in Colorado, Washington, Utah, Arizona and Florida cast doubt on the dramatic scenario that led Texas authorities to investigate and ultimately to raid the compound April 3. The raid made the insular sect the subject of one of the most complex child-custody cases in recent U.S. history.
The calls that launched the Texas case started coming in to a family shelter in San Angelo, about 45 miles from Eldorado, on March 29. The caller said that she was 16, and that she was bound in a "spiritual marriage" to an older, abusive man. The girl said she had given birth to one child and was pregnant with another.
The caller paused often, documents say, and talked quietly, so no one would know she was calling for help.
On Wednesday, officials at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said that the facts surrounding the first phone call had become irrelevant because the raid turned up independent evidence that underage girls had been impregnated.
"The removal was based on our investigation. It was not based on the initial call," spokesman Patrick Crimmins said.
The affidavit made public Wednesday, which was provided to The Washington Post by the Associated Press, indicates links to Swinton even though she has no apparent connection to the Eldorado ranch.
One phone number used to call the San Angelo shelter is registered to a Courtney Swinton, with an address in Rozita Swinton's apartment complex. The affidavit said authorities had "several reports regarding Rozita Swinton making false reports" with another number that had also been used to call the shelter.
The affidavit said that in previous years, Swinton had been linked to other tales of terrifying abuse. In one, a woman calling herself Dana Anderson phoned a hotline to say that she was 13 years old and had been locked in a basement and sexually abused by her father. In another, a girl calling herself Dana said she was abused by a youth pastor at a Colorado church.
The affidavit described these events as part of a request for a warrant for Swinton, charging her with false reporting to authorities. It said she had already pleaded guilty to false reporting last year in Colorado. Attempts to reach Swinton yesterday were unsuccessful: One number listed on the affidavit was disconnected, and a call to another was not returned.
The affidavit does not put forward any motive Swinton might have had for allegedly making the calls, but it hints at a possible personality disorder. The document quotes a former worker at a shelter for abused women in Colorado Springs who may have received calls from Swinton in February. In one, Swinton allegedly said, "Rozita and Dana are in the same body, but just different personalities," and that the "Dana personality is there to protect Rozita from being hurt."
Staff researcher Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.