Hung Jury in Case Against Scott Warren

June 11th, 2019

TUCSON, AZ – A jury failed to convict No More Deaths volunteer Scott Warren today in Tucson. Dr. Warren was charged with two counts of felony harboring and one count of felony conspiracy for his humanitarian aid work in Ajo, Arizona. The jury was split with 8 in favor of acquittal and 4 against.

Dr. Warren has received an outpouring of support from communities and faith leaders across the globe. United Nations experts urged authorities to drop charges against Dr. Warren, arguing that “providing humanitarian aid is not a crime.”

With this outcome, the government has failed in its attempt to apply federal charges to acts of common compassion. In Scott’s own words, “Today it remains as necessary as ever for local residents and humanitarian aid volunteers to stand in solidarity with migrants and refugees.”

Catherine Gaffney, a longtime volunteer with No More Deaths, responded to today’s outcome: “The question of whether we stand with undocumented people and protect the basic tenets of a healthy society is for each of us to answer.”

After the case closed, both Dr. Warren and his lawyer, Greg Kuykendall shared statements in front of the federal courthouse to Dr. Warren’s family, supporters, and press. The two men spoke in front of 88 pairs of shoes lined up on the sidewalk behind them – each pair representing someone whose remains have been recovered in the desert outside Ajo in the time since Scott’s arrest in January of 2018. Read the statements here.

Statements from Scott Warren & his lawyer Greg Kuykendall

Statement by Scott Warren

In the time since I was arrested in January 2018, no fewer than 88 bodies were recovered from the Arizona desert. The government’s plan in the midst of this humanitarian crisis? Policies to target undocumented people, refugees, and their families. Prosecutions to criminalize humanitarian aid, kindness, and solidarity. And now, the revelation that they will build an enormous and expensive wall across a vast stretch of southwestern Arizona’s unbroken Sonoran Desert.
Today it remains as necessary as ever for local residents and humanitarian aid volunteers to stand in solidarity with migrants and refugees. And we must also stand for our families, friends, and neighbors—and the very land itself—most threatened by the militarization of our borderland communities.
I’ve received enormous support from family, friends, and community. Thank you and I love you all so very, very much. If you can, get some rest and take some time for yourself! But the other men arrested with me that day, Jose Sacaria-Goday and Kristian Perez-Villanueva, have not received the attention and outpouring of support that I have. I do not know how they are doing now, but I do hope they are safe.

Statement by defense lawyer Greg Kuykendall

Scott Warren remains innocent, both as a legal and as a factual matter, because the jury could not unanimously conclude otherwise. The government put on its best case and 12 jurors could not agree with that case. We remain fully devoted in our commitment to defend Scott’s lifelong devotion to providing humanitarian aid. Unfortunately, as a nation we have a long and consistent history of demonizing and otherizing those we fear. But just as deep and ever-present in America is a contingent of people – always a minority, at first – who are resolute people of conscience. People who love, honor and respect all other people, regardless of race or status. People who put to use in order to help the dispossessed  their own birth privilege or their educational privilege or simply their privilege of being capable of making themselves heard – to ultimately create change in this country. We will do what our spiritual, religious and humanist teachers from every part of the globe, over thousands of years have taught: individually and as a community, we become better only by facing our fears, by understanding the roots of our country’s hatreds, and ultimately by putting the needs of the neediest ahead of our own needs; just like Scott Warren and all of you good people have been doing for decades now for the desperate souls dying in Arizona’s desert.

Abolish Deadly Border Policy & Decriminalize Kindness

The prosecution of Scott Warren for offering “food, water, beds and clean clothes” to two migrants sets dangerous precedent for all who believe care should not be criminalized. It is also an escalation of the kinds of deadly strategies that have been deployed against undocumented people in this country for decades.

Solidarity with Dr. Warren means showing up for those most affected by border militarization and immigration enforcement. We invite supporters everywhere to:

  1. Write to Congress and demand an immediate end to Prevention Through Deterrence and Operation Streamline.
  2. Post to Social Media a picture of yourself expressing your support for humanitarian aid.
  3. Donate to No More Deaths and to allied groups in the borderlands.

Daily Trial Updates

Day 7 – June 7, 2019

  1. Defense Counsel and Prosecution presented closing arguments this morning.
  2. US Attorney Anna Wright presented an outline of the entire case against Dr. Scott saying, “He gave them food, he gave them water…he did a bad thing…
  3. She aimed to distance the case from the crisis of death and disappearance: “this is not a case about deaths in the desert and all that.” She stated that framing the case in such a way was “a smokescreen and an obstruction.”
  4. Defense Attorney Greg Kuyendall presented his counter: “Everything in this case points to the fact that Scott Warren never committed a crime. Scott’s whole life is about preventing suffering, healing suffering, and providing humanitarian aid.”
  5. The jury began to deliberate around 11AM. They have not yet reached a verdict.

The jury will continue deliberating Monday, June 10th starting at 9AM.

Day 6 – June 6, 2019

  1. Student and educators wore #redfored to stand in solidarity with Scott Warren today outside Federal Court!
  2. Scott took the stand again this morning. He described NMD’s work as being designed to operate in a legal framework. “It is outlined in our protocol that we don’t hide or conceal people… we want to be spending our time in the desert getting food, water, and medical care to people, not in court.”
  3. Scott spoke to the necessity of offering geographic orientation as an essential part of life-saving aid: “The critical piece of information is that there is only one paved highway in this desert area. If you want to self-rescue you need to walk towards it and not away from it.”
  4. Scott described the search and human remains recovery that he, and other volunteers, participated in the week before his arrest in January 2018. Weeks prior, the Armadillos had reported the same skeletal remains to the Pima County Sheriff’s Office, who did not respond immediately. NMD volunteers assisted the PCSO in finally recovering the remains on Sunday, January 14th, three days before Scott was arrested. A VICE News Video that showed Armadillos initially finding this set of remains was repeatedly denied as evidence by the prosecution.
  5. Scott testified about the details of his arrest and the legal and medical protocols he works under as a humanitarian aid volunteer. The prosecution tried to excerpt and misconstrue elements of Scott’s op ed in the Washington Post. As a result, Scott got to read the entire piece out loud in his own voice – a moving experience for those of us in the courtroom.
  6. When asked by prosecutors about his use of the term “violence” in the borderlands in his  Washington Post article, he clarified, “I would describe it as a systemic violence. By that I mean that there are much larger policies at play. The policy of prevention through deterrence, for instance. Government policies push people into remote desert. When I think of the violence it’s more systemic and institutional.”
  7. The prosecution called BP Agent Gerardo Carrasco, a BORSTAR Paramedic and the  Operational Medical Advisor for Border Patrol Headquarters in DC, to testify about BP’s “Search and Rescue” efforts and medical capacities. When asked if he knew about Prevention Through Deterrence, Carrasco claimed to have never heard of it before, but did admit that “some of our locations we operate in are austere and it takes a long time to get emergency medical services there” He also testified to not knowing that the remains of 3,000 people have been found in Southern AZ, despite being part of Border Patrol for the past 20 years.

Day 5 – June 5, 2019

  1. We began the day with over 100 people of faith joining together for a prayer service outside the courthouse. Faith leaders from around the country and across traditions spoke to the importance of staying true to one’s values in the face of repression, and to caring for the most marginalized in our society. “Water is sacred, water is life,” chanted the crowd. Just before Dr. Warren’s entrance to the courthouse, friends, family and supporters gathered around him and blessed him, that “no weapon formed against him prosper”. You can find photos here: Faith Floods the Courthouse
  2. The first witness of the day was No More Deaths volunteer Isabella Reis-Newsom, who was on her first month-long program with the organization in January 2018 and stationed out of Ajo.  Isabella shared about her experiences providing harm reduction supplies to shelters in northern Mexico and going on a search for someone who died in the borderlands. When defense lawyer Greg Kukyndall asked her to describe the human remains the team found in the desert, the prosecution swiftly objected and the objection was sustained.  The same happened when the defense tried to admit into evidence a video of the same remains produced by search and rescue group Armadillos del Desierto
  3. Volunteer Flannery Shay-Nemirow testified to taking No More Deaths’ record-keeping system out of the Barn days after the arrest of Scott Warren. The prosecution tried to imply that removing the documents from the Barn was a form of evidence tampering, despite the fact that no law enforcement agency had indicated to anyone that the Barn was now considered off-limits following Scott’s arrest.  When asked why the records were removed, Flannery described the extensive destruction of humanitarian aid supplies done by Border Patrol agents and expressed fear that agents would target and destroy even more supply drops if they had the GPS points of each one. “We put these water bottles out to save lives, so every time a water bottle is destroyed there is a possibility a life is lost,” they said.
  4. Geena Jackson, a NMD volunteer since 2012, took the stand in the afternoon.  She described No More Deaths’ process of crafting organizational protocols, and talked about how they are based off of the International Red Cross Code of Conduct. This code recognizes the importance of a distinction between humanitarian aid and law enforcement. She also spoke to her experience trying to get Border Patrol to initiate searches for missing migrants.  “The information they require to act is so limited in scope,” she said “and changes from agent to agent,” that in 7 years of asking, Border Patrol had only mobilized a search in response to one of her requests. Geena finished her testimony by talking about how volunteers from various organizations will often come across multiple bodies when searching for one known missing migrant. “One time we got permission to enter the Barry M. Goldwater Bombing Range, and in one day we found the remains of 12 people.”
  5. Reverend Bethany Russell-Lowe from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson testified that No More Deaths is a ministry of the church and that the organization shares their core value that “all people are worthy of love, dignity and respect.”
  6. Dr. Scott Warren took the stand later in the afternoon. He spoke about his education and experience as a cultural geographer and resident of Ajo, Arizona, describing his work as a humanitarian aid volunteer with the Ajo Samaritans and No More Deaths. As Scott testified, the courtroom was transfixed-many attempting to hold back tears as he spoke about his experiences recovering the bodies and skeletal remains of 18 individuals who had died in the desert surrounding his home since 2014. He also testified about how his work is informed by his spiritual beliefs and practices, as well as his understanding of the legal frameworks and protocols that underpin non-governmental humanitarian aid.
  7. Scott testified that his approach to providing humanitarian aid is informed by three fundamental intentions: relief of suffering, respect for human dignity, and the right to self-determination. “It’s a bit of a misnomer to talk about…organizations [like No More Deaths] as ‘rescuing’ folks. People themselves are undertaking that…The journey is a kind of epic undertaking where you have to put everything on the line to make it…There is an expectation of struggling.”

Day 4 – June 4, 2019

  1. At the beginning of the day, the prosecution rested their case without calling any further witnesses, and without providing any evidence, at any point in their case, to back up their baseless charges against Dr. Warren. #dropthecharges
  2. First on the stand for the defense was Tucson Samaritan Ed McCullough, Professor Emeritus of Geoscience. Ed testified about known migrant deaths and his work mapping them in the area around Ajo. In 2017 he emailed members of No More Deaths and alerted them to a “trail of death” outside of Ajo, Arizona.
  3. Andy Silverman, Professor Emeritus of Law and No More Deaths legal team member, took the stand to speak to the training and protocols that No More Deaths volunteers abide by. “One of the very basic principles of No More Deaths and civil initiative is that we are transparent in everything we do. The work we do, and the way we do it, is proper and legal. We provide all information and materials to prevent loss of life.”
  4. Midway through the day, Defense Attorney Amy Knight presented a compelling Rule 29 motion to dismiss all charges against Dr. Warren, arguing that the prosecution had not even a “scintilla” of evidence: “No reasonable jury could find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” The motion was denied.
  5. Nurse Susannah Brown spoke about providing medical care to Jose and Kristian at the barn in Ajo, and about the clinic she hosts at a Casa de Migrante shelter in Sonoyta, Sonora. On cross examination, the Prosecution introduced a video taken on Kristian’s phone weeks prior of a Christmas dinner at the migrant shelter, showing volunteers, including Susannah and shelter staff sharing a meal to advance their “conspiracy” argument.
  6. Dr. Norma Price, a member of NMD’s medical team and a “Hero of Health Care and Human Rights” recognized by Physicians for Human Rights, testified that she had consulted with Scott and Susannah in Jan. 2018 regarding the medical condition of José and Kristian and had advised that they receive continued medical observation and treatment before going back into the desert, corroborating Susannah Brown’s testimony.
  7. On cross-exam, prosecutor Nate Walters made a strange and ultimately embarrassing attempt to tell Dr. Price how to assess if someone is dehydrated, and became flustered when Dr. Price corrected him. Walters: “In a perfect world, you’d have a face to face conversation with somebody to give them a medical assessment, right?” Dr. Price: “You want me to talk to you about a perfect world?”

Day 3 – June 3, 2019

  1. We began the day with a powerful press conference featuring immigrant justice advocates from across the country. Patty Miller (Arivaca, AZ,) spoke on behalf of People Helping People in the Border Zone and the Rural Border Communities Coalition, followed by James Cordero and Jacqueline Arellano from Border Angeles (San Diego), Ravi Ragbir of the New Sanctuary Coalition (NYC) and Kaji Douša, Senior Pastor at The Park Avenue Christian Church in Manhattan.
  2. The prosecution continued to build their “case” against Scott, spending most of the day playing video recordings of the testimony given by the two undocumented Central American men–José and Kristian–who were arrested with Scott. (Note we will be using only the first names of deposed witnesses to respect privacy).
  3. Prosecutors attempted to erase the hardships experienced by undocumented people crossing the borderlands. One of the two witnesses, Kristian, testified that he had been traveling since October 4th, 2017 from his home in El Salvador. By the time of the arrest, he had been traveling for over three months and walking in the desert for two days. This is very different from the government narrative which claims the men were traveling for mere hours before they encountered help.
  4. During their journey, José and Kristian experienced the routine and deadly Border Patrol apprehension method known as chase and scatter–a practice in which Border Patrol agents pursue migrants in vehicles, on foot, or in helicopters, forcing them to scatter into the desert. In the chaos, the two men lost their belongings, including “food and two gallons of water.” The No More Deaths Abuse Documentation Working Group has provided extensive documentation of the lethal impacts of this deadly apprehension method in our report series, The Disappeared.
  5. José and Kristian testified that after arriving at the Barn, Scott gave them food, water, blankets and a place to rest. There was no evidence that Scott made any plans to transport them, hide them from law enforcement, or instruct them on how to evade any Border Patrol checkpoints.
  6. Border Patrol Forensic Phone Analyst Rogelio Velasco gave a rundown of the contents of Scott Warren’s phone–he summarized 14,000 pages of emails and texts into a one page report.  One part of his analysis showed the day José and Kristian arrived at the barn, Scott called a nurse and a doctor on the No More Deaths medical team. When asked why Velasco didn’t review the myriad other emails and texts discussing Scott’s humanitarian work, he replied, “I was looking for elements of criminality. If it wasn’t relevant then I skipped it.”

Day 2 – May 30, 2019

  1. We began the day with Pastor Allison Harrington of Southside Presbyterian Church sharing the poem “Imagine the Angels of Bread” by Martin Espada along with a morning prayer.
  2. Court opened with Border Patrol Agent John Marquez being cross-examined by the defense. He made it abundantly clear that he relied on racial profiling to determine the two men at the barn were migrants, claiming “they matched the description” of two migrants BP was looking for.  However, when pressed by the defense, Agent Marquez admitted that he did not know whether they were “short, tall, fat, skinny, bearded, young, old, or even male.” He stated “In my experience, they appeared to be “Other Than Mexican.”
  3. Agent Marquez also stated that January 17, 2018 was the first time Border Patrol agents in Ajo set up surveillance at the Barn.  This happened just hours after No More Deaths released a report called The Disappeared Part 2: Interference on Humanitarian and video of agents destroying humanitarian aid supplies.
  4. Second to take the stand was Border Patrol Agent Brendan Burns, who was the one who first referred to the migrants as “toncs”.
  5. According to Agent Burns, when he approached the Barn that day, defendant Scott Warren told him that it was private property and a humanitarian aid space. He also asked the Agents to leave the property. Burns ignored him because, according to his surveillance, “the aliens didn’t appear to be in need of humanitarian aid.” When asked by the defense whether he has any medical credentials, the agent admitted to having none.
  6. Five days after the arrests, a search warrant was issued for the Barn. Evidence seized included a receipt for a cherry coke, banana nut muffin and chips, a fridge note saying “bagels from flagstaff!” and a list of supplies for a camping trip.

Day 1 – May 29, 2019

  1. After a moving press conference in the morning, a jury was selected of 15 people — 12 jurors and 3 alternates.
  2. In his opening argument this afternoon, US Attorney Nathaniel Walters claimed that “this case is not about humanitarian aid,” urging jurors to ignore the realities of death and disappearance happening in the desert surrounding Ajo, Arizona.
  3. The prosecution’s entire case for the charge of “conspiracy to harbor and transport” undocumented migrants appeared to hinge on the fact that two undocumented men arrived at the Barn, “and then Scott showed up” a few hours later.
  4. The prosecution also harped on the fact that the men had “eaten food” prior to arriving at the Barn, apparently arguing that because the two men split one burrito after walking for two days through the desert, they were not in need of food or water
  5. Lawyers for the defense firmly asserted in their opening arguments that this case IS about humanitarian aid, and that Scott’s actions must be understood as a part of his deep knowledge of suffering throughout the desert and commitment to working to end it. “Scott intended one thing: to provide basic human kindness in the form of humanitarian aid.”
  6. The government also argued that Scott was pointing out known landmarks to the two migrants. “Defendant appeared to be pointing out different features, lots of hand motions. I could not hear them but there were hand gestures, up and down, in wave motions, rolling hills, pointing to known points of interest.” However, as the defense firmly stated “orientation is just as much of a human right as is food, water, and shelter.” In the context of death and disappearance in the desert, knowing where you are can save your life.
  7. The government called their first witness, Border Patrol Agent John Marquez. Marquez testified to setting up surveillance on the Barn on January 17, 2018 and seeing Scott speaking with two men, who he presumed were undocumented based on “ill-fitting clothing” and the fact that they were “scanning the horizon.” No evidence was presented that Scott intended to hide or conceal anyone. Judge Collins called an end to the day before the defense’s cross-examination of Marquez.

Scott Warren on Democracy Now!

This morning Dr Scott Warren and long term volunteer Catherine Gaffney spoke on Democracy Now! about the start of trial and the implications this case could have for people living in mixed-status communities all over the country. Watch the main feature above and then the web-exclusive below.

“I gave water to migrants crossing the Arizona desert. They charged me with a felony.”

As the government cracks down on humanitarian aid, my case may set a dangerous precedent.

By Scott Warren

AJO, Ariz. — After a dangerous journey across Mexico and a difficult crossing through the Arizona desert, someone told Jose and Kristian that they might find water and food at a place in Ajo called the Barn. The Barn is a gathering place for humanitarian volunteers like me, and there the two young men were able to eat, rest and get medical attention. As the two were preparing to leave, the Border Patrol arrested them. Agents also handcuffed and arrested me, for — in the agency’s words — having provided the two migrants with “food, water, clean clothes and beds.”

Jose and Kristian were detained for several weeks, deposed by the government as material witnesses in its case against me and then deported back to the countries from which they had fled for their lives. This week, the government will try me for human smuggling. If convicted, I may be imprisoned for up to 20 years.

In the Sonoran Desert, the temperature can reach 120 degrees during the day and plummet at night. Water is scarce. Tighter border policies have forced migrants into harsher and more remote territory, and many who attempt to traverse this landscape don’t survive. Along what’s become known as the Ajo corridor, dozens of bodies are found each year; many more are assumed to be undiscovered.

Local residents and volunteers organize hikes into this desert to offer humanitarian aid. We haul jugs of water and buckets filled with canned food, socks, electrolytes and basic first-aid supplies to a few sites along the mountain and canyon paths. Other times, we get a report that someone has gone missing, and our mission becomes search and rescue — or, more often, to recover the bodies and bones of those who have died.

Over the years, humanitarian groups and local residents navigated a coexistence with the Border Patrol. We would meet with agents and inform them of how and where we worked. At times, the Border Patrol sought to cultivate a closer relationship. “Glad you’re out here today,” I remember an agent telling me once. “People really need water.” In a town as small as Ajo, we’re all neighbors, and everybody’s kids go to the same school. Whether it was in the grocery store or out in the field, it was commonplace for residents and volunteers to run into Border Patrol agents and talk.

Those kinds of encounters are rare these days. Government authorities have cracked down on humanitarian aid: denying permits to enter the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, and kicking over and slashing water jugs. They are also aggressively prosecuting volunteers. Several No More Deaths volunteers have faced possible imprisonment and fines of up to $10,000 on federal misdemeanor charges from 2017 including entering a wildlife refuge without a permit and “abandonment of property” — leaving water and cans of beans for migrants. (I face similar misdemeanor charges of “abandonment of property.”)

My case in particular may set a dangerous precedent, as the government expands its definitions of “transportation” and “harboring.” The smuggling and harboring laws have always been applied selectively: with aggressive prosecutions of “criminal” networks but leniency for big agriculture and other politically powerful industries that employ scores of undocumented laborers. Now, the law may be applied to not only humanitarian aid workers but also to the millions of mixed-status families in the United States. Take, for instance, a family in which one member is undocumented and another member, who is a citizen, is buying the groceries and paying the rent. Would the government call that harboring? If this family were driving to a picnic in the park, would the government call that illegal transportation? Though this possibility would have seemed far-fetched a few years ago, it has become frighteningly real.

The Trump administration’s policies — warehousing asylees, separating families, caging children — seek to impose hardship and cruelty. For this strategy to work, it must also stamp out kindness.

To me, the question that emerges from all of this is not whether the prosecution will have a chilling effect on my community and its sense of compassion. The question is whether the government will take seriously its humanitarian obligations to the migrants and refugees who arrive at the border.

In Ajo, my community has provided food and water to those traveling through the desert for decades — for generations. Whatever happens with my trial, the next day, someone will walk in from the desert and knock on someone’s door, and the person who answers will respond to the needs of that traveler. If they are thirsty, we will offer them water; we will not ask for documents beforehand. The government should not make that a crime.

As told to Post editor Sophia Nguyen.