Hoax caller Rozita Swinton, who may have set off polygamist raid, pleads guilty to unrelated charge
The 35-year-old Colorado Springs woman, who authorities believe made a hoax call that triggered a massive raid on a breakaway Mormon polygamist sect in Texas in April 2008, pleaded guilty today to one charge of false reporting on an unrelated charge stemming from another call she made in the Springs two months earlier. Swinton, whose attorney says she suffers from multiple personality disorder, was given a two-year deferred jail sentence, with the understanding that she continue treatment for her condition.
The hoax call that landed the soft-spoken Swinton in court was one of many she made from 2006 to 2008, according to her arrest warrant.
During that time, she called crisis hotlines, school counselors and family shelters. Though she gave different names, her story was always similar: She was a teenage girl who was being sexually abused. Sometimes the perpetrator was her father. Other times it was a youth pastor. She occasionally said she'd been made to have abortions against her will. One time, she said she'd had a baby by her uncle and needed to drop it off at a fire station.
On February 26, 2008, she called the Colorado Springs police and told them she'd been locked in her basement for five days because she'd gotten in trouble. She said her name was Jennifer and that she was four-years old. The cops staged an extensive search but never found Jennifer.
By that time, the police had responded to several calls from Swinton -- although they didn't know it. A former counselor with TESSA, a Colorado Springs agency that assists victims of sexual assault, helped them connect the dots.
When the counselor heard about the search for Jennifer, she called the police and told them she knew who they were looking for. For four months, the counselor had been getting calls from someone calling herself Dana Anderson. Dana said she was thirteen and had been sexually abused for years by her youth pastor and by her father, who had locked her in the basement and drugged her.
One time, Dana told the counselor that her "other personality," a 33-year-old black female named Rozita, had gone to the TESSA safe house, a fact that the counselor confirmed. Dana explained that she and Rozita were "in the same body, but just different personalities," according to the arrest warrant.
Swinton had never been arrested for any of the calls she made in Colorado Springs, though she had been arrested in Castle Rock in 2005 for false reporting. That charge stemmed from a call she made to an adoption agency; she told them she was a sixteen-year-old girl named Jessica who had just given birth to a baby by her father and was holed up in a Best Western hotel with a gun, contemplating suicide. The adoption agency called the cops.
Nearly two months after the call from four-year-old Jennifer, the Colorado Springs police heard from the Texas Rangers. They said they had traced a phone number to someone in Colorado Springs -- someone who called a family shelter in Texas in late March and identified herself as sixteen-year-old Sarah Barlow, a resident of a polygamist ranch called Yearning For Zion who had an eight-month-old baby by a 49-year-old man and was pregnant again.
Sarah told call-takers that she'd married her husband, Dale Barlow, when she was fourteen and that she was his third wife. She said he was physically and sexually abusive. She also said she'd recently been assigned to a new husband named Merrill and that her "sisterwives" told her to claim she was their daughter, not Merrill's wife. She said they threatened to take away her baby if she told anybody what was truly going on.
The shelter contacted the Rangers, who also talked to Sarah by phone. When they tried to offer her help or set up a time and place to meet, Sarah would hang up, claiming the "sisterwives" were coming or that she had to pray about whether to meet them.
In early April, Texas law enforcement officers and child-abuse investigators raided the Yearning for Zion ranch near Eldorado, Texas and removed a total of 416 children. Authorities told the media that the raid was triggered by complaints of abuse made by a sixteen-year-old girl who had not been identified.
In court today, Swinton's lawyer, David Foley of Colorado Springs, told Judge Daniel Wilson that, "as far as I know, there are no charges from Texas." After Swinton's plea and sentencing, he elaborated, saying that Swinton had no criminal involvement in the Texas raid. The word "criminal" is key, he said.
"The phone call in Texas resulted in some people being prosecuted for sexually assaulting young women," Foley said. "If anyone felt that Miss Swinton was involved in that, that's a good thing."
Swinton herself didn't speak much in court. Dressed in a silky-looking pink shirt, a black-and-white plaid jacket and black pants, she answered the judge's questions about whether she understood her rights with nearly-whispered "yes"s and "no"s. Her voice was sweet, and she sounded younger than her thirty five years. News stories in the wake of her arrest described a difficult childhood: The daughter of a convicted murderer she claims sexually abused her, she wound up in foster care in her native Tennessee. In the mid-'90s, she moved to Colorado Springs and began working for an insurance agency, a job her lawyer says she still holds.
Swinton's sentence includes several conditions, such as that she continue with treatment for what her lawyer called "difficult medical issues" and that her doctor give quarterly reports to the district attorney and the court. She is only allowed to have two phones -- a home phone and a cell phone -- and she must tell the court both phone numbers. Though she'll serve no more time in jail, she can't leave Colorado without permission.
The judge called the sentence a "fair" resolution to a "long and difficult" case.
"This serves the interest of justice," he said.