Holly Richardson: The law should protect Good Samaritans

| Courtesy Holly Richardson, op-ed mug.

Teresa Todd is the city attorney for Maria, Texas and is the elected county attorney for Jeff Davis County. She was arrested in February for stopping to help some young adults in serious distress, including one with likely life-threatening problems.

Todd was flagged down by three young people on the side of the highway and after she got them into her car and started phoning and texting for help, a sheriff’s deputy drove up, followed by U.S. Border Patrol. They asked her to step out of her car, read her her Miranda rights, confiscated her phone, then hauled her to a holding cell. Why? Because the three young adults were from Central America.

Todd’s phone was kept for 53 days and she remains under investigation in a case that could lead to federal criminal charges for “transporting illegal aliens.”

Nicholas Kristof, Pulitzer Prize winning author, wrote about Ms. Todd’s arrest and included the Biblical account of the Good Samaritan.

Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.” (Luke 10:30)

We know the story: Two men of high reputation crossed by on the other side, while a Samaritan, despised of the Jews, stopped to help.

Todd has two teenage boys and said she stopped to help because, she said, “If my son was by the side of the road, I would want someone to help.”

Sadly, she is not the only Good Samaritan to be punished for trying to help.

Dr. Scott Warren lives and teaches college classes in a tiny Arizona desert town. His response to finding dead bodies (and partial bodies), was to gather volunteers and provide access to water, food, socks and blankets to people crossing the harsh Arizona desert. He works with an organization called No More Deaths. Since the 1990s, more than 7,000 people have lost their lives, with almost 3,000 in southern Arizona alone.

In January 2018, No More Deaths published a scathing report, complete with video, implicating the Border Patrol in the destruction of thousands of gallons of water left in the desert for migrants. Warren was arrested later the same day. Coincidence? It seems unlikely.

His felony trial begins later this month and he faces up to 20 years in prison.

Earlier this year, four humanitarian aid volunteers were convicted of misdemeanor charges for leaving food and water in a wildlife refuge and four others had their charges dropped to civil infractions. One defendant, Logan Hollarsmith said: “People continue to die and disappear every day in the desert … As long as border policy funnels migrants into the most remote corridors of the desert, the need for a humanitarian response will continue.”

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Todd noted that arresting Good Samaritans was “all about trying to chill the willingness of people to help others” and plans to work with her Congressional representatives on federal legislation that exempts Good Samaritans from federal prosecution.

As representatives of a Utah population that favors the principles of the Utah Compact, I believe Reps. Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart, John Curtis and Ben McAdams and Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney should jump on board this legislation, both co-sponsoring and shepherding it through both houses. Surely we can agree that one should not be arrested for saving a life.

“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not … Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.” (Matthew 25:41-43, 45)

We need more elected officials, including state and local officials, who recognize the humanity in others, especially those of marginalized groups and who refuse to allow Utah, especially, to engage in the inhumane treatment of any human being, including people who are “the least of these.”

Holly Richardson is a contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.