Polygamist Raid Prompted by False Report?

Arrest made in investigation of the phone call that started it all

Texas Rangers say they've seized evidence from an apartment in Colorado Springs, the residence of a 33-year-old woman who may be responsible for prompting a massive raid of the Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints compound in the West Texas town of Eldorado. Reportedly, the woman, Rozita Swinton, has been arrested but not yet charged with making a false report in Texas. Allegedly, she called a West Texas family violence shelter on March 29 and 30, claiming to be a 16-year-old girl named Sarah who was being forced against her will to stay at the gated Yearning for Zion Ranch; the caller also said she was the mother of an 8-month-old and the seventh wife of a 50-year-old man, Dale Barlow, who had beaten her in the past.

The calls prompted hundreds of Depart­ment of Public Safety officers and Child Protective Services investigators to descend on the gated compound, where sect members have lived since 2003; at the end of an eight-day siege, officials had removed 416 children from the ranch. The children were in "imminent" danger of abuse, the state claimed, thanks to the FLDS lifestyle, which, famously, includes polygamy – and in particular, the marrying off of underage girls to older men. After a huge and chaotic court hearing April 17-18, in Tom Green County, District Judge Barbara Walther on Friday granted the state custody of all 416 children and ordered DNA testing on all, to resolve questions of parentage.

Walther next will preside over hundreds of individual hearings before deciding whether each child will remain a permanent ward of the state. Those decisions must be made by June 5, reports the Associated Press. Still, the legality of the initial raid may now be in doubt, since it appears that the outcry that prompted the action was completely false. In fact, reports The Denver Post, the woman allegedly behind the calls, Swinton, has a history of making false reports. She was arrested for a June 2005 call wherein she claimed to be a teen mother thinking of abandoning her child, and in February, the daily reports, she allegedly called police claiming to be an abused child locked in a basement. Still, Department of Family and Protective Services spokeswoman Shari Pulliam told the Post that there may actually be an underage mother named Sarah taken from the ranch – and even if that isn't so, the fact that pregnant underage girls were found at the ranch means the state's case is still solid.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Rozita Swinton, polygamy, Yearning for Zion

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