In the days before the raid on the Branch Davidians, the ATF tried to enlist the help of local agencies to lure cult leader Vernon Howell away from his heavily-armed compound.
The agencies, though, did not grant the request.
In January, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents approached Joyce Sparks at Children’s Protective Services in Waco about setting up a meeting with Howell, also known as David Koresh, at her office, according to the U.S. Treasury Department report released Thursday. Sparks was the lead caseworker investigating allegations of child abuse at Mount Carmel during 1992.
“By the end of January, after attempting unsuccessfully to convince Joyce Sparks’ superior to allow Sparks to request a meeting with Koresh at her office, ATF largely abandoned any effort to lure Koresh away from the compound,” the report said.
The Tribune-Herald reported in its series, “The Sinful Messiah,” that Howell had sex with girls as young as 12 and had whipped babies until their bottoms bled.
The Treasury report, highly critical of the ATF’s failed Feb. 28 raid, said ATF officials erred in going ahead with the raid after learning they’d lost the element of surprise. Then, they lied to cover up their mistakes, the report said. It also criticized the agency for not considering other methods of arresting Howell — such as getting him off the compound.
Sparks told ATF agent Davy Aguilera in late January that she had met previously with Howell in her office and at the compound, according to the report. But Sparks told ATF that she had experienced difficulty in the past in scheduling such a meeting. Sparks said the meetings took place at a time when Howell found them convenient. On one occasion, he came to her office two days after the appointment date, the report said.
Bob Boyd, director of the local Children’s Protective Services, said Friday that he told the ATF that he had to consult with the agency’s attorneys before he could approve such a plan.
“At one point, one of the ATF agents came and asked if we would contact him and tell him we had another report,” Boyd said. “I said I couldn’t approve that without further approval.”
“I did contact our attorneys, and their response was that was way out of our authority,” Boyd said.
Boyd said the ATF agent said, “Forget I asked.”
Linda Edwards, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, said it would have been improper for the agency to agree to the request.
The policy handbook says the agency can’t act as agents of law enforcement agencies, she said.
“Which is what we would be doing if we were to act as decoys,” she added.
ATF made one last try in late February to develop a plan to get Howell off the compound. The agency asked Beth Toben, an assistant prosecutor for McLennan County, to meet with a young girl who had been at the compound and allegedly been a victim of sexual abuse.
“Toben interviewed the girl on Feb. 22, 1993, but because the girl was unwilling to testify about Koresh’s conduct, there were neither grounds for an arrest warrant nor a reason to request a meeting with Koresh away from the compound,” the report said.
Toben had no comment Friday.