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Agents 'trashed' home, traumatized kids during search, Shurtleff says

(Tom Smart, Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — An angry and emotional Mark Shurtleff says agents who searched his home Monday used "Dirty Harry" tactics and traumatized his teenage daughter.

"I don't care what people think I may have done, and the truth will come out on that," the former Utah Attorney General said Tuesday. "But there was nothing that justifies what they did yesterday in my home."

The Utah Department of Public Safety and the FBI served search warrants at the Sandy houses of Shurtleff and his successor John Swallow late Monday afternoon. The agencies, along with Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings, are conducting a criminal investigation into alleged wrongdoing during their tenures in the attorney general's office.

Shurtleff, who is in Washington, D.C., said his 17-year-old daughter was in the bathroom when investigators entered the house. He said they ordered her out of the room with her hands in the air. Four agents wearing body armor pointed guns at her, including one who had a laser sight trained on her chest, he said.

"These John Wayne wannabes, freakin' Clint Eastwood 'Dirty Harry' tactics were absolutely unacceptable and unneeded," he told KSL Newsradio's "The Doug Wright Show."

"How do you give back innocence to a 17-year-old? She's tiny. She's no threat," Shurtleff said. "She'll never get that out of her mind."

Shurtleff's and Swallow's houses were among three that investigators searched simultaneously Monday in the ongoing investigation.

Sources confirmed Tuesday that the third home belongs to Renae Cowley, a former Swallow campaign staffer who now works as a Salt Lake lobbyist.

Cowley's attorney Jim Bradshaw said she has cooperated with the investigation from the start and Gill and Rawlings granted her immunity. She feels "extremely violated" by the search, he said.

"It's really puzzling to us why they would execute a warrant on her home. It doesn't make any sense," Bradshaw said.

Tactics used by FBI in search 'common across the board,' former agent says
by Andrew Adams
SALT LAKE CITY — Mark Shurtleff said he's "outraged" over how agents executed a search warrant at his Sandy home, but a former FBI agent who has served search warrants in the past with the former Utah Attorney General said Tuesday Shurtleff should know better about how those operations are done.

"He knows our procedures, he knows how we operate — this should come as no surprise to Mark Shurtleff," said Juan Becerra, now the director of investigations with KORR Defense Group.

Becerra said officers are always trying to be safe as they search for what's included in the warrant.

"What you don't know is what's on the other side of the door," Becerra said.

Becerra said police enter a home generally "with authority"— often wearing bulletproof vests with guns drawn — to establish occupancy.

"You're trying to secure the individuals and put them in a safe place, so that you're safe and they're safe, while I'm searching," Becerra said, as he illustrated the process inside a home. "I address the individual as I'm going in, 'I'm with the FBI, I have a search warrant.' My team members are going to come in behind me and they're going to go farther into the home."

In interviews Tuesday, Shurtleff even called the raid on his home "unlawful."

On KSL NewsRadio's "Doug Wright Show," Shurtleff became emotional as he described how his teenage daughter was treated when she was confronted in the bathroom.

"There is nothing that justifies what they did," Shurtleff said.. "They burst (in on) my little girl — my 17-year-old — going to the bathroom, screaming at her to get out of there. When she steps out there are four men in body armor with weapons pointed at her chest."

Becerra described the tactics Shurtleff was criticizing as largely routine.

"He knows what all law enforcement procedures are because they're common across the board," Becerra said.

Becerra said a dangerous felon believed to have a weapon would be treated with a higher state of alert, but he said the procedure is generally the same.

"We always secure the premises first and then we proceed with our legal obligation of executing the search warrant, regardless of who the person is," Becerra said. "It could be a person that's illegally in the country to a person that is a high-profile politician. It does not matter. We do it the same way every single time."

Swallow's attorney, Rod Snow, again Tuesday declined to comment.

Gill wouldn't discuss the specifics of the search at Shurtleff's house but said agents handled themselves professionally and consistent with protocol for serving a search warrant and securing the premises.

"There are certain things that you have to do when you go into an area that is unfamiliar to you," he said. "This is what every citizen out there is subjected to when it comes down."

Gill said given Shurtleff's law enforcement experience, "he has a pretty good idea of what's involved here."

Utah Department of Public Safety spokesman Dwayne Baird said no guns were drawn to his knowledge. Agents, he said, didn't treat the search warrants differently than they would in any other case.

"From what I understand, it was calm and peaceful at both places. There wasn’t any contention in the home," Baird said Tuesday.

But Shurtleff said Baird is either misinformed or lying.

"There is nothing that justifies what happened in my home," he said.

DPS later issued a statement that said, in part, agents used the "minimum force necessary to execute the warrants and ensure officer safety in an unknown environment."

Shurtleff said agents "trashed" his house. He said they took his children's computers and memory cards from his wife's camera. He said his adult son gave agents computer passwords and the key to the gun safe.

"They had to know I was out of town," he said, adding that his attorneys met with Gill and Rawlings last week.

Shurtleff said he intended to meet with the county attorneys next week and still wants to tell them his side of the story.

Shurtleff said investigators are "recklessly negligent" and intentionally misleading judges and twisting facts to get search warrants. He said he has tried to let the process unfold — but no more.

"When I'm cleared of these charges, and I will be cleared, there will be accountability and there will be liability on the part of these people," he said.

Prosecutors have not charged Shurtleff or Swallow with any crimes.

"I'm done standing back and being quiet," Shurtleff said, adding that the investigation has ruined his public image, hurt his job opportunities and damaged his family.

"I think if they’ll do that to me, with my entire life and career in service to law enforcement and public safety, they'll do it to anybody," he said.

Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, who headed the Utah House Special Investigative Committee, said he wasn't surprised by the search warrants at Shurtleff's and Swallow's homes. He also said he wouldn't be surprised if the investigation leads to formal charges.

"We gave a wealth of information to the district attorneys," Dunnigan said, adding he has talked with the FBI and DPS since the House ended its investigation in January.

"We've had some straggling bits of harvest from the ground we plowed previously," he said. "We do believe they are following some of those paths."

Dunnigan said the committee tried to be fair and thorough in its investigation and believes Gill and Rawlings are doing the same.

The Alliance for a Better Utah issued a statement saying Shurtleff and Swallow try to deflect attention from their wrongdoing at each stage of the investigation.

"If the police acted improperly, that should certainly be investigated, but the issuance and execution of search warrants are routine in criminal investigations, and Mark Shurtleff of all people knows that," spokesman Isaac Holyoak said.

Better Utah filed the complaint last year that led to a state elections office investigation that found Swallow violated campaign finance law.

Contributing: Richard Piatt

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