Sean Reyes says he didn’t try to bully a Tim Ballard critic, was seeking consensus with ‘a few phone calls’

A lawsuit filed this week alleged the attorney general tried to silence a Utah woman who was critical of Operation Underground Railroad.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes denies that he ever intimidated critics of Operation Underground Railroad, founded by his friend, Tim Ballard, and that his actions were “appropriate and legal.”

The statement comes in response to a lawsuit filed Monday by Suzanne Whitehead, a Utahn who works with refugees, alleges that Ballard, Reyes and another supporter of OUR contacted her supervisor after she publicly accused OUR of exaggerating its accomplishments and neglecting — and at times losing track of — children who had supposedly been rescued.

The suit alleges that Reyes, acting in his official role as attorney general, intimidated Whitehead and deprived her of her constitutional right to free speech.

The suit also said that OUR tried to take credit for rescuing a girl from sex trafficking who had not been trafficked and who had not consented to have her name publicized, nor had the organization that was assisting her.

The contact between Reyes and Whitehead’s supervisor, according to the lawsuit, consists of a text message where Reyes expresses a desire that he and the supervisor could discuss “how we can work together more on the anti-human trafficking fight” and that he had just returned from the White House where trafficking was a topic of discussion.

The supervisor tried to contact Reyes but the attorney general did not return calls or texts, according to the suit.

“As the complaint itself supports, the Attorney General sent a single text and made a few phone calls seeking to find common ground between two” non-governmental organizations, a statement from his office said. “He regrets if his communication was viewed in any other way and contributed to a feeling of undue pressure. He trusts the impartial court process to prove his motives and actions were appropriate and legal.”

At the time, the plaintiffs allege, Ballard and others pressured Whitehead’s supervisor, offering the organization financial support contingent upon her ceasing her criticism. Because Reyes was so closely intertwined with OUR — having participated in overseas missions, attending galas and personally vouching for OUR’s credibility — Whitehead considered intervention from an attorney general as threatening.

Whitehead’s lawsuit was the fourth filed against Ballard and OUR — two accuse Ballard of sexual misconduct and assault, while another was filed by Bree Righter, a former Marine whose eye socket was shattered while training for an OUR mission at a Draper gymnasium run by OUR. Whitehead’s lawsuit was the first to name Reyes as a defendant.