Former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff on Tuesday accused law enforcement agents of using “Dirty Harry” tactics when they searched his house, breaking through his door and pointing automatic weapons at his children who were home at the time.
Agents with the Utah Department of Public Safety and the FBI executed search warrants Monday evening on the Sandy homes of Shurtleff and his handpicked successor, John Swallow, as part of a sweeping, months-long criminal investigation that appears to be nearing its end.
“It was way overboard, a horrific abuse, an extremely improper abuse of force, given the nature of the alleged charge, the fact there were minors in the home — there was no reason for it,” Shurtleff, who is in Washington, D.C., told The Salt Lake Tribune.
A third warrant was served at the home of Renae Cowley, a former key campaign staffer for Swallow and Shurtleff, who has been cooperating with investigators. Her attorney, Jim Bradshaw, confirmed Tuesday her home had been searched and called the move puzzling.
“She’s been fully cooperative since the inception of this investigation and was given a grant of immunity,” Bradshaw said, “and we fully anticipate that immunity and status will continue, and she’ll continue to cooperate.”
Bradshaw had not seen a copy of the warrant, but said officers took papers and various other items during their search.
Swallow’s attorney has declined to comment on the search. His client has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.
Shurtleff lashed out Tuesday at the conduct of investigators who searched his home Monday evening. He said the raid traumatized his teenage daughter, who was in the bathroom when officers in body armor pounded on the door and ordered her out, a laser sight pointed at her chest.
“To go in and point a gun at 5-foot-3, 117-pound minor who was coming out of the bathroom, for crying out loud, is absolutely wrong,” Shurtleff said. “How do you get that out of the mind of a 17-year-old who is innocent of everything. I don’t care what you think of me or what you’re looking at me about.”
Shurtleff said he taught search and seizure and the proper use of force and has been on raids of drug houses. In this instance, he said, there was no need for a search warrant, no need for weapons, and agents knew he was out of town when they came. He said he had offered to come in next week and meet with prosecutors, who instead went ahead and secured the warrants.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said the state officers and FBI agents on the scene behaved professionally.
“Nobody mistreated anybody. There were multiple witnesses down there and, in fact, all you have to do is look at the photographs” from the scene, Gill said. “People are not in combat gear or rappelling down the house or anything like that.”
The Department of Public Safety declined to respond directly to Shurtleff’s individual allegations, except to say that DPS and FBI personnel followed proper procedure “and lawfully and legally served search warrants in conjunction with the ongoing Shurtleff/Swallow investigations.”
“These situations are stressful for all parties involved,” the statement said. “All subjects in the warrant service locations were compliant and cooperative. Law enforcement personnel acted in accordance to policy and utilized the minimum force necessary to execute the warrants and ensure officer safety in an unknown environment.”
Shurtleff said a neighbor took the kids to her home and that he learned of the search in a text from his wife. They took computers, memory cards from cameras and other papers. They also loaded boxes into cars at the homes of Swallow and Shurtleff.
“When I’m cleared of these charges, and I will be cleared, there will be accountability and there will be liability in this case,” Shurtleff told KSL Radio’s Doug Wright on Tuesday, singling out DPS investigator Scott Nesbitt, who has signed previous warrants in the case, accusing him of misrepresenting the facts to persuade a judge to approve the searches.
“These John Wayne wannabe, Clint Eastwood, Dirty Harry tactics are unacceptable and unneeded,” Shurtleff told Wright.
Investigators have executed at least 14 warrants, including the three served Monday, and amassed a mountain of computer data that they have been poring over for months. Previous warrants have said officers are searching for possible evidence of bribery, obstruction of justice and misuse of public funds.
Gill — who, along with Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings, is heading the criminal probe — said the “investigation is open, active and robust.”
“Our state and federal law enforcement partners continue to work around the clock,” Gill said. “We’re beginning to get our arms around this and hope to bring it to some conclusion.”
Gill had said previously that the investigation could be wrapped up as early as this month. He said Tuesday the time frame remains sometime between June and September. He would not say if more criminal charges are likely to come.
So far, the Gill-Rawlings inquiry has led to felony charges against one man: Tim Lawson, a Shurtleff confidant.
“Have final conclusions been made? Absolutely not,” he said. “Are there some theories and concerns we feel need to be addressed? Yes.”
Tom Harvey contributed to this report.