TAOS – There’s a small mystery in the proceedings against five adults arrested after an Aug. 3 raid on a ramshackle compound in northern Taos County.
The adults were each quickly charged with 11 counts of child abuse, one count for each of 11 children, ages 1-15, who were found at the compound and were described by authorities as malnourished.
The Taos County sheriff and other officials who talked about the raid never mentioned trespassing charges. Then, 13 days after the raid, trespassing citations – actually traffic tickets with “non-traffic” handwritten on top – showed up in court.
Before the raid, local property owner Jason Badger had been complaining that the compound clan was squatting on Badger’s property and asked the sheriff’s office to remove the group.
Since the raid, Hogrefe has repeatedly told reporters that he didn’t send deputies to the compound sooner because the land dispute between Badger and the compound dwellers was a civil matter and not a criminal one.
On Thursday, Taos County spokesman Steve Fuhlendorf couldn’t explain why, despite Hogrefe’s insistence that there hadn’t been criminal grounds to raid the compound based on Badger’s complaints, the sheriff’s office ended up issuing criminal trespassing citations against four of the compound defendants.
“I just read you what the sheriff said, so that’s all I have,” Fuhlendorf said.
Hogrefe has said the decision was made to conduct the Aug. 3 raid after authorities obtained a copy of a message from someone inside the compound who said the group was out of money and starving.
The other issue is that while the trespass citations against Lucas Morton, 40, Hujrah Wahhaj, 37, Subhanah Wahhaj, 35 and Jany Leveille, 35, were dated Aug. 3, the day of the raid, the citations have time stamps that show they were not filed in magistrate court until Aug. 16.
That was three days after a District Court judge, in a controversial decision, ruled that the compound defendants could be released from jail pending trial without having to post a cash bond.
Fuhlendorf said Tuesday that Hogrefe told him the citations were taken to the courthouse Aug. 6, the first business day after the raid.
But on Thursday, Taos Magistrate Court manager Jacqueline Butler said that the citations were not at court until the day they were stamped received, Aug. 16.
Fuhlendorf said Thursday that Hogrefe still maintains that the citations were taken to the courthouse Aug. 6.
“He (Hogrefe) said he didn’t have any knowledge of why it took so long to process the paperwork,” Fuhlendorf said.
He said that since the three women from the compound were taken to a shelter after the raid and not initially charged for child abuse, they were given the trespassing citations so they wouldn’t go back to the compound.
But Morton had been charged with child abuse immediately after the raid, and Fuhlendorf couldn’t say why he also got a trespassing citation.
“I don’t have an explanation for what the difference is,” Fuhlendorf said.