Woman linked to calls that triggered FLDS raid claims life of abuse
The largest child custody case in U.S. history - discredited last week by the Texas Supreme Court - was prompted by soft-spoken Sarah Barlow's pleas for help.
That Sarah doesn't exist. But the caller may have been a woman who, like the fictitious girl, claims to have endured childhood sexual abuse.
Police have linked the calls that triggered the Yearning for Zion Ranch raid to Rozita Swinton, a 33-year-old Colorado Springs woman who they say has assumed at least nine different personalities since 2005, among them "April," "Dana," "Ericka" and "V."
All are girls who called for help claiming to have been sexually abused - by a father, an uncle or a husband, court records show. Rozita has explained the girls' presence to shelter workers by saying that they are there to "protect" her.
Rozita has worked full-time for an insurance company for seven years, attends community college part-time for general study courses, and is a practicing Mormon. She is her neighborhood's delegate to the state Democratic convention. And a person diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder who blanks out chunks of time and unplugs from the world around her - like she did the week of the April 3 raid, her roommate Becky Hoerth told Colorado Springs police.
Hoerth, who moved in with Swinton the day after the raid, described Rozita as quiet, gripped by a mental state that is "not anything you can even break into." It wasn't until a week later that Rozita "started coming around," joining Hoerth for dinner and mountain biking, she said.
"Rozita just disconnects from everything," she told police.
Hoping to rescue Sarah, Texas authorities flowed onto the ranch, then decided to remove more than 450 children from its residents, members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The polygamous sect shares historical roots with the Mormon church, which has disavowed its former practice of polygamy.
A troubled childhood
Born in Nashville, Rozita was placed in Tennessee's foster care system at 14. She attended several high schools before graduating from Pearl-Cohn Magnet High School in 1992.
That year, the Tennessee Department of Human Services obtained a restraining order blocking her father, Clarence, from contacting her. Rozita had reported that her father had sexually abused her and she remained afraid of him, the state said.
After turning 19, Swinton lived with a Tennessee woman who was caring for foster children. "One of the counselors working with [Rozita] knew me and called to ask if I would take her in," the woman wrote in her book, After Disclosure, under the pen name Kate Rosemary.
Contacted by The Salt Lake Tribune, Rosemary declined to be interviewed, citing the safety of her current foster children. But in her book, she wrote Rozita, who also rejected interview requests, was "tragically abused" and had been diagnosed with multiple personality disorder.
The company that distributes Rosemary's books also publishes a Westview newspaper. With a recent article about Rozita, it included a photo of her during a trip to El Salvador.
It also quoted "a Nashville source very close" to her as saying Rozita "has flashbacks to a time when she was an abused child and teenager, and to times when she had been locked up and kept hostage."
But Rozita's father, Clarence Swinton, says the allegations of sexual abuse are untrue.
"When she brought this stuff up, she was in a ... state institution, a reformatory for juveniles," he said. "She had run away from home and the state had custody of her. ... I had no contact with her whatsoever."
"Negative and bitter"
Clarence met Rozita's mother during his 12-year stint in a Tennessee prison. He was convicted of first-degree murder in 1965 for shooting the owner of the Outlaw Grocery in Murfreesboro during a robbery.
The robbery was the last in a string of crimes committed by Clarence, then 25, and Robert Winchell, 22, both soldiers stationed at Fort Campbell. Clarence bought a bag of cookies in the store, left, and then returned and opened fire on a customer, who survived, and the store owner, who died three days later.
The pair was sentenced to 99 years, but in 1976 Swinton was granted a clemency hearing before the Board of Pardons and Parole. It recommended commuting his sentence with parole supervision for 15 years.
Clarence said his early parole was not connected to Tennessee Gov. Ray Blanton's cash-for-clemency scandal in the 1970s. "I was not in on that," he laughs. "I was not that blessed. I had nobody doing nothing for me."
He said he earned his way out of prison, first as a counselor among his fellow inmates, and later as a trusty.
It was during the first job that Clarence met Rozita's mother, who was a parole board clerk. As a trusty in the last three years of his sentence, Clarence worked outside the prison. It was then that the couple - who never married - had Rozita, then son Courtney. They stayed together until the children were 8 and 6. Rozita's mother had an older son from another relationship; he would later be gunned down in the Nashville projects.
A year after the couple split, Courtney left his mother to live with Clarence. Rozita, Clarence said, became "negative and bitter and she wanted to come, too."
A chronic runaway, Rozita eventually stayed in three different institutions for juveniles, he said. Her abuse allegations against him were "bald face lie," and state employees, knowing Rozita was not credible, never investigated him, he asserts.
Clarence said after Rozita moved to Colorado Springs - sometime between 1992 and 1996, after she briefly worked as a nanny in Utah - she called him to apologize for "all of the grief she started," he said. "She [said] she saw a movie that led her to do that."
"I didn't lie"
Colorado Springs police appear to have first investigated Rozita for false calls in June 2005 - after a desperate 16-year-old named Jessica told an adoption agency she wanted to abandon her newborn son and kill herself. The agency called police - who traced Jessica's phone number to Rozita.
"I didn't lie," she said during a videotaped interview with a detective, letting out a drawn-out sob. "I called you because I wanted you guys to help me," she explained, wringing her hands.
Rozita said she thought she had been asked to come to the police station to "do a report [on] her dad" - not to be questioned about making a false report and obstructing justice.
The detective walked out. Rozita's sobs intensified. "I just want my baby," she said in a barely audible voice. Rozita later admitted there was no baby to be concerned about, but claimed she bore a daughter by her abusive father.
Rozita was put on probation. But police say she continued to make a blizzard of calls, including one in February 2006 that prompted Colorado Springs police to conduct a door-to-door search for "Jennifer," a young girl claiming to be locked up in a basement.
Sarah Barlow started calling for help in late March, contacting shelters in Washington state and Texas, and anti-polygamy activist Flora Jessop in Phoenix. Convinced the she was abused and in danger at the YFZ Ranch, Texas authorities launched the raid.
As Sarah remained missing, police connected the cell phones used to make the calls to Rozita. On April 16, officers searched her apartment and asked her to come to the Colorado Springs Police Department. Around 10:30 p.m., she was placed under arrest in connection with a false call in Colorado.
Two hours later, a close friend posted her $20,000 bail.
"Person of interest"
Nearly two months later, two Texas appellate courts have said authorities did not have adequate evidence of abuse and the sect's children are headed home.
A spokeswoman for the Texas Rangers repeated Friday that Rozita remains a "person of interest" in connection with the YFZ Ranch calls as they await unspecified test results.
Charged in Colorado with one count of false reporting, Rozita is scheduled to appear in El Paso County District Court for a pre-trial conference Friday - the same day her brother Courtney appears in a Nashville court on charges of possessing and selling cocaine.