TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Federal authorities for months suspected a humanitarian group of harboring immigrants, eventually resulting in felony charges against a volunteer who says he was simply being a good Samaritan, according to recently released court documents.
A jury in June was unable to reach a verdict against Scott Warren on charges of conspiracy and harboring and transporting immigrants. Federal prosecutors plan to retry Warren, of Ajo, Arizona, on two counts of harboring in November.
Warren says he was fulfilling his humanitarian duty by helping two injured migrant men at a facility known as “The Barn,” where members of the humanitarian group No More Deaths are based. Prosecutors say he was helping them evade authorities.
Documents unsealed in the case show the timeline for the investigation that led to Warren’s arrest while also revealing how locals and officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked closely with Border Patrol agents.
In April 2017, an anonymous Ajo resident contacted Border Patrol saying she suspected No More Deaths members were harboring immigrants in “The Barn.”
The relationship between No More Deaths members and federal officials, who view them as a nuisance for leaving water jugs on federal land and who had increasingly taken action against them, was already strained.
The group said it did not have any members available to comment, though it has repeatedly noted its mission is to help migrants who might otherwise die in the desert.
The U.S. attorney’s office also declined to comment on the documents.
In July 2017, Border Patrol agents along with sheriff’s deputies and Fish and Wildlife personnel detained members of No More Deaths for allegedly vandalizing a camera at Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, where the group regularly left water jugs. Fish and Wildlife officials had banned them from getting permits to enter the wildlife refuge. Warren was among those who had a lifetime ban, according to text messages between a Fish and Wildlife employee and a Border Patrol agent.
Then in November, agents interviewed residents who said they’d noticed more traffic and littering outside No More Deaths site.
Agents eventually encountered a migrant man who said he had traveled across the desert with two other men who were picked up by a van. Suspecting they might be at the No More Deaths building, agents began watching “The Barn” on Jan. 17, 2018, arresting Warren and the two migrant men, both from Central America, that same day.
The men were deported after providing video testimony.
Earlier this month, a federal judge ordered several court documents to be unsealed at the request of the news organization The Intercept and others, including The Associated Press.
Prosecutors argued that the unsealed documents should never have been filed in court, and contended they should be kept under seal because they weren’t relevant to the outcome of the case.