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Scott Warren tells jury he's part of neutral effort to 'alleviate suffering' in desert

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No More Deaths trial

Scott Warren tells jury he's part of neutral effort to 'alleviate suffering' in desert

Humanitarian volunteer defends giving migrants 'orientation' but argues legal protocols kept him from giving directions

  • Scott Warren at federal court in May.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comScott Warren at federal court in May.

The second federal felony trial of Scott Warren, a No More Deaths volunteer accused of harboring illegal immigrants in Arizona's western desert in 2018, continued Tuesday with Warren testifying in his own defense, telling the jury that he was working to "alleviate suffering" during a "humanitarian crisis" in the vast deserts that surround Ajo. 

He also testified that while the "Barn" where he allegedly harbored undocumented migrants is a place of respite and a humanitarian aid station, he told the two men whose presence triggered Warren's arrest that he "could not hide them, or protect them from Border Patrol," echoing long-standing protocols created by No More Death's legal team.

Defense makes case for Scott Warren providing care to migrants; aid volunteer's 2nd trial continues

Warren also defended "orientation," or the fact that he described the mountain ranges to the north of Ajo to the two men. Two Border Patrol agents—John Marquez and Brendan Burns—testified last week that they believed Warren was giving directions to the pair so they could circumvent a Border Patrol checkpoint on Highway 86, the two-lane road that runs north from Ajo and to Interstate 8. 

Warren, 37, faces two charges of harboring two men following a January 2018 raid on the ramshackle building known as “the Barn” on the outskirts of Ajo, an unincorporated town surrounded by remote deserts about 110 miles west of Tucson. Warren was first tried earlier this year, but the jury in that case could not reach a decision and the judge declared a mistrial. That left the Trump administration free to press the case against Warren a second time.

June 2019: Scott Warren trial: Hung jury in case of No More Deaths volunteer

Federal prosecutors argued that Warren was attempting to shield the men from the "watchful eyes" of Border Patrol, by letting them stay inside the Barn from Jan. 14 until Jan. 17, but Warren's defense team has argued that he was acting as a "good Samaritan" and that allowing the men to stay in the building was part of a legal effort to give humanitarian aid in the desert.

Prosecution rests, defense begins in 3rd day of re-trial of Scott Warren

The case largely hinges on Warren's intent, or as his attorney Greg Kuykendall put it, "intent is a big deal in this case." 

Warren testified for the entire day Tuesday, beginning by explaining how he came to Ajo to study the town while he pursued his graduate work, and became part of the community and began working with humanitarian aid organizations, including No More Deaths.

In the afternoon, he was pushed hard during cross-examination by the prosecution. After he left the stand, prosecutors and Warren's defense attorneys clashed over whether testimony by a witness in his previous trial could be presented to this jury.

'Humanitarian crisis'

Questioned by his defense attorney, Warren said that beginning in 2013 when he arrived in Ajo, he began working with the Ajo Samaritans, and then later, No More Deaths after coming into contact with migrants walking in the surrounding desert, many of whom needed food and water. Months later, he said that he helped recover human remains in the desert, near the border of the Barry M. Goldwater Bombing Range and the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. 

That experience he said, "underscored a thing I knew intellectually, that people are extremely vulnerable in the desert." 

"Anything could do wrong, something minor, and the consequences were there," he said. 

He said that in the last six-and-a-half years, he has helped recovered 18 sets of human remains, and that it never gets easier. 

"It's never easy, I would say, it's disturbing—and I always guard against this—that you begin to expect it to happen, that when you're out hiking, and you come around a bend, you expect there to be something," he said. "Because it's a regular experience that you're always prepared for." 

Warren described the deserts around Ajo as being part of low-intensity conflict zone.

"The U.S.-Mexico border zone is not Syria," he said, "but there is still a humanitarian crisis on our border," he said, adding that migrants who travel through Mexico and into the borderlands experience trauma and violence.

And, he described the area around Ajo as being one of the "deadliest corridors in the U.S." 

Border agents testify against Scott Warren in 2nd day of re-trial of migrant aid volunteer

Tuesday was the fifth day of the trial, following testimony last week by defense witnesses, including two volunteers from No More Deaths, and Dr. Norma Price, who advised Warren on the medical care of the two men. The prosecution rested its case against Warren last week, and the defense continued to present his case to the jury in a federal courtroom in Downtown Tucson.

Warren told the court Tuesday that the experience "broke the track" of his academic work, while he continued to teach classes and complete his degree, he also found himself spending most of his time working on humanitarian aid. 

Warren told the jury that he struggled with the idea of humanitarian aid, trying to consider what might be the best approach, but ultimately decided that water-drops were a good practice.

"I landed on this, people who have water live longer than people who don't have water, and people who have humanitarian aid live longer than people who don't have access to humanitarian aid," he said.

Warren told jurors that he was "surprised" to find the two men around 4 p.m. on Sunday at the Barn on Jan. 14, 2018, and that he was carrying groceries and was planning to cook dinner for two teams of volunteers who were hiking in the desert, attempting to recover human remains. 

Warren said that the two men "surprised" him the day they arrived, and he described the two men, Kristian Perez-Villanueva and Jose Arnaldo Sacaria-Goday as young.

Prosecutors: Scott Warren 'harbored, concealed & shielded' 2 men from Border Patrol

"Were they savvy? Were they hardened criminals?" asked Warren's defense attorney Greg Kuykendall.

After Assistant U.S. Attorney Anna Wright's objection was overruled, Warren answered. "No, they seemed like teenaged boys, frankly." 

He testified that he brought the men into the Barn, and began a medical assessment, but that he felt like he was "juggling" several things at once, planning and cooking dinner, evaluating the men in his intermediate Spanish, and preparing to debrief the volunteers, many of whom were new he said, and would need his help to process their feelings about recovering the bones of a person in the desert that day. 

Warren said that he asked the men several questions and that he discovered that both men suffered blisters on their feet, including blisters the size of quarters, and that the youngest man,  Sacaria-Goday, complained that his upper torso hurt. Warren also found that had blisters, and complained of scratches on his hand, and had symptoms of a head cold, he told the jury. 

With a series of notes, known as Subjective-Objective Assessment Plan notes or SOAP notes, shown to the jury, Warren explained how he began to evaluate the two men, ultimately contacting a volunteer nurse, Susannah Brown, and Price for help. Brown later evaluated the men, and treated them for their blisters, while Warren, facing a hectic schedule that included a new teaching job at the college on the Tohono O'odham Nation, about 60 miles away, stayed at his home in Ajo.

Defense: Trial ban on talking about Trump would violate Scott Warren's rights

Warren also said that men needed to stay in the building to recover, and that shelter from the elements was important, because "people are dying from exposure." 

Timeline testimony: Warren spent little time at Barn

Following the lunch break, Warren returned and gave the jury a sense of the timeline from Jan. 14, when the men first arrived, to Jan. 17, 2018, when he was arrested by Border Patrol agents. 

One clear point that came through his testimony was how little time Warren spent at the Barn, as he tried to balance his work with No More Deaths with teaching an online course at Arizona State University, and preparing to teach a class at the college at Sells. 

Instead, Warren largely left the care of the two migrant men to an EMT, identified only as "Mike," as well as other NMD volunteers. 

On Sunday, Jan.  14, 2018, he ate a family dinner with the volunteers and the two migrants, and helped debrief the migrants who went over to the recover human remains, and then retreated home so he could work and prepare for classes.

The morning of Jan. 15, or Monday, he returned to the Barn, and helped "get people out the door," and then he left when Brown arrived, leaving for most of the day, until he returned for dinner. 

He spoke with another NMD volunteer who was concerned about the two men, and their plan to leave, but testified Tuesday, that while he empathized with her concerns, there was little he could do besides "explain the risks." 

"Ultimately, they're going to make their own decisions," he said, adding that NMD's notion of neutrality meant he could not tell the men what to do, but rather was limited, "in the spirit of humanitarian aid and the confines of the law." 

On Tuesday, Jan. 16,  2018, Warren taught classes and remained in Sells for most of the day, though he texted with NMD volunteers until he arrived for dinner, and watched as some of the volunteers, who had spent weeks in the desert volunteering for NMD began to depart. 

On Wednesday, Jan. 17—the day that Warren was arrested—he spent most of his time at his apartment in Ajo working on his classes, and sending emails for a report published by NMD that accused the Border Patrol of intentionally vandalizing water-drops, including a video that went viral. 

Marquez said that he watched these videos while he surveilled the Barn with Burns, but that the videos were old. 

Here, Warren's lawyer once again tried to get the videos submitted so the jury could see them, and once again, Collins rejected his motion. 

Warren testified that he arrived at the Barn around 3:30 p.m., in preparation for high-school students from Flagstaff to arrive, and he found that Perez-Villanueva and Sacaria-Goday were still at the Barn, though they told him they were prepping to leave. 

With that in mind, Warren walked the two men outside and began to explain the terrain, including pointing out two large landmarks— Child's Mountain to the northwest and Hat Mountain to the northeast. He said that he was concerned about this, in part because he was worried about Sacaria-Goday's feet, and that the men didn't have water or backpacks, and only the clothes on their back. 

It was necessary to describe to the two men those landmarks because it was element of safety information, he said. The only highway that runs through the desert from Ajo to Gila Bend is Highway 86. On one side is open desert and an active bombing range, and on the other side is open desert to Casa Grande and another section of bombing range. 

He said that he wanted to explain to the men how to stay near the highway. "It's a basic thing I want to convey: you want to make sure you hike toward the highway, not away from it into the desert," he said. 

Distinctive shapes

Child's Mountain and Hat Mountain are "critical landmarks" because their "distinctive shapes" look the same from any direction, and they can be guide points for someone to the west or east of the valley, or someone north. He also defended the idea that he didn't point out landmarks south, including the Cardigan range that sits just south of Ajo, because they would be "redundant" and potentially confusing for the two men. 

Burns and Marquez argued during their testimony last week that smugglers use Child's, with the golf-ball shaped antenna on its summit, and Hat Mountain to push deeper north and bypass the checkpoint on the highway, but Warren argued that the men needed this information so they could "self-rescue," and walk out of the desert to get help on the region's only paved road. 

"Do you know how to get around the checkpoint?," Kuykendall asked.

"No, I do not," Warren responded. 

As Warren prepared for the high-school kids to arrive, he built a fire. And, it was then that a convoy of Border Patrol vehicles arrived, with Burns trooping up the drive on foot. 

Burns said that he was there to investigate illegal aliens and wanted to speak with the owner, Warren testified, adding that he told Burns that the Barn was humanitarian station, and it was on private property. Warren said he told the agent that he would follow him, and they walked together. When they came around the corner, they found Marquez sitting with Perez-Villanueva on the threshold of the bathroom. After the agents investigated Perez-Villanueva immigration status, they put handcuffs on Warren and led him to an unmarked car. 

Cultural divide on cross-examination 

Wright cross-examined Warren, repeatedly pushing the idea that he was dissembling in his testimony, and attempting to impugn his character by repeatedly asking about statements he made Tuesday, as well as statements he made during his first trial. 

"You knew that Kristian was from El Salvador," she asked. When Warren agreed, she followed by asking if he knew that Sacaria-Goday was from Honduras, and he agreed.

"So you suspected they were in the country illegally?," she asked.

"Yeah, I was able to put two and two together," Warren said.

Here she also illustrated a cultural divide. As Warren talked about NMD's relative lack of hierarchy and "flat power," she asked if he was the "head facilitator." 

Later, she asked if he "enforced the rules" at the Barn, and Warren demurred, later saying that he didn't have to enforce rules, rather he sometimes had to have conversations with people, illustrating a fundamental difference in world view that put the two at loggerheads throughout the rest of the afternoon. 

Warren tried to clarify that he was the Ajo field coordinator, or "quibble" as she put it, and here Wright brought out a transcript from the last trial, where Warren said that he was a "head facilitator." That continued for several minutes, as Wright tried to nail down Warren on a specific description or statement, including a line about privacy for people staying at the Barn, which includes migrants and volunteers, and impeach his testimony. 

Kuykendall objected more than a half-dozen times, but Collins allowed the line of questioning to continue, as Wright hammered away, and Warren tried to explain what he called "the context" of his statements. 

At one point, after Wright read to the jury a statement he ahd made, he interjected, "You didn't read the part...." 

Wright snapped back, "That's not my question." 

She also honed in on a question about Warren's testimony that the two men were not, as Kuykendall put it, hardened criminals.

"Do you have the ability to run criminal backgrounds?," she asked.

"No, I don't have access to that database, no," Warren replied. 

Wright also hit Warren's statement that he tried to avoid putting volunteers in legal jeopardy, bringing up an incident in which Warren was cited, and later prosecuted along with several other NMD volunteers, for driving into the Cabeza Prieta wilderness on a restricted road. 

Warren argued that the incident was a special case, and was part of a "mutual decision by experienced" volunteers. 

"We can't talk about this without the context," he said. 

Wright later created a hypothetical scenario in which NMD volunteers had to evacuate someone from the desert, and here two as Warren tried to explain, she interrupted him. "In my experience...." 

"Stop," Wright said. "I'm not asking about your experience," she said, before going on further to press him about a protocol created by the International Red Cross, which requires people to included a packet and other information about a patient in the vehicle, which she called a "sign." 

And, later, Wright spent several minutes showing Warren the temperature in Ajo that day, which she said had a high of 75 and a low of 50 degrees, alluding to the idea that the men were never in danger from the desert. 

Prosecution unsuccessfully calls NMD nurse as witness

After the jury decamped for the day, prosecutors and defense attorneys battled before the judge over the inclusion of notes written by Elizabeth Kaszniak, a No More Deaths volunteer about her experiences with the group, and how she helped translate for Brown while she worked on giving the two men medical care.

At the heart of the argument was the contention that Kaszniak's notes and testimony contradict statements made by Susannah Brown, the volunteer nurse, who spoke with Warren on Jan. 17, and then later treated the men for their blisters, and wrapped an ace bandage around Sacaria-Goday’s torso.

Prosecutors said they were working to subpoena Brown, but that she didn't answer her door, and she said that she was "out of town," said Glenn McCormick, an assistant U.S. attorney. 

Her lawyer — a court-appointed public defender added at the prosecution's request as part of a bid to give Brown immunity so she could testify, a requirement since prosecutors argued during closing arguments during the last trial that she was part of a "conspiracy" to smuggle Perez-Villanueva and Sacaria-Goday into the country — told prosecutors simply that she would not testify Tuesday. 

However, with that subpoena in doubt, prosecutors said they wanted to submit Brown's testimony from the last trial into the record, an idea that Kuykendall furiously objected to, arguing that it violated Warren's constitutional rights, and that the timeline showed that prosecutors had been "asleep at the wheel" or hoped that everything "would come together at the end." 

"That's their fault," he said, calling the idea "rank hearsay." 

On Nov. 4, the defense submitted those notes to the prosecution team, said Kuykendall, but officials waited two days to pick up a CD that had the six-page document. More than 15 days later, the prosecution demanded that Brown should attend the court to testify, and on Friday, the prosecution moved to get a subpoena. 

Prosecutors were simply "not diligent," Kuykendall said. 

McCormick argued that since Brown was listed as a defense witness, they believed she would testify, and that they had been working through the process since Kaszniak's testimony Friday. 

Collins did not rule on Brown's testimony, telling the parties that they would know his decision in the morning. 

Court will reconvene with closing statements at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

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