People depicted in a television movie about the Branch Davidians and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms raid of their compound found plenty to dispute in the film aired on NBC Sunday night.
In the Line of Duty: Ambush in Waco traces the collision course that Howell, also known as David Koresh, and the ATF on the Mount Carmel compound east of Waco. Though almost all names except for Vernon Howell’s were changed for the movie, several people involved in the real-life story were depicted in the film.
Bob Lott, Tribune-Herald editor, said the movie’s portrayal of an editor of the Waco paper “which I consider to be me” talking to an ATF agent in the middle of the newsroom never happened.
“As has been well publicized already, we did talk to the ATF, but not in such a setting as in the middle of the newsroom as has been portrayed,” he said.
“I think the public by now should be aware, I hope it is,” Lott said, “that TV docudramas based on real-life stories often don’t let facts get in the way of the storyline.”
One example was the production’s portrayal of local authorities removing from the compound a young girl presumed to have been designated as one of Howell’s mistresses.
David Jewell, who was never a cult member, sued for custody of his daughter, Kiri, then 10, after an October 1991 phone call from former member Marc Breault, who told him Howell was having sex with underage girls.
Jewell’s ex-wife, Sherri Jewell, was a longtime Branch Davidian who died in the fire.
A Michigan judge granted joint custody of Kiri Jewell to her parents, but he ordered Jewell’s ex-wife to keep her young daughter away from Howell.
David Thibodeau, a Branch Davidian who lived in the compound for the past two years and escaped the fire April 19, said that authorities didn’t have to come for her. Kiri had already been sent to visit her father.
David Jewell said Kiri never saw the compound as it looked in the television movie and never met authorities or explained how she was taught to shoot herself.
He said he had a discussion with his whole family after the movie and they agree it was hard to recognize truth in what was shown. “It was just too much story in much too little time,” David Jewell said.
Kiri told the depiction of cult members and the way they interacted was quite inaccurate.
“For instance, hugging people coming off the bus,” he said.
“There was a lot of discord in the group and people who did not like each other. That was not portrayed. They were mistrustful of individuals until they proved themselves.
“The real story of what it was like and the events that led to the raid has not yet been told,” Jewell said.
“It can be told, but it would take more than two months and certainly more than two hours to depict what took place,” he said.
The movie that TV viewers say Sunday night had been changed from the preview copies made available to critics last week. Included in the original film was a scene in which a mailman, apparently intended to represent cult member David Jones, drives up to a television cameraman near the compound on the morning of the raid.
“We’ve learned the ATF is going to raid Mount Carmel. I wouldn’t go up there if I were you,” the cameraman tells the mailman, who then drives off to the compound, presumably to tip off Howell.
The version aired Sunday showed the mailman passing the television cameraman beside the road, but eliminates any conversation between the two.
Tom Pears, president of KWTX Channel 10, refused to comment Sunday night on the last-minute change in the movie.
However, Channel 10 reporter John McLemore told the Tribune-Herald that his Houston attorney sent a letter to NBC protesting the scene, which originally showed three television station employees there when the mailman stopped.
Also, Pears himself signed a letter to NBC’s legal department last week, contending the scenes would “cause irreparable injury to this television station. We must put you on notice that NBC will be held responsible for the damages occurring therefrom,” according to a report Sunday in the Dallas Morning News.
Thibodeau said he didn’t think much of the movie, and especially the depiction of the ATF raid.
“The movie was very difficult for me to watch,” he said.
“The movie definitely did not represent the people in there.”
“To me, the movie seemed to be an ATF propaganda film. To me it was just basically writers writing what they wanted to hear and what they wanted to see.”
Patrice Giarusso, wife of ATF agent Charles Giarusso who participated in the Feb. 28 raid, said she and her husband watched the movie but that he could not comment under orders by the bureau.
Giarusso’s close friend, fellow agent Conway LeBleu, was killed in the raid.
Patrice Giarusso said she felt the movie had a negative effect on those still trying to deal with their feelings.
The movie’s depiction of the New Orleans ATF office being in control of the raid is inaccurate, she said, because it merely assisted the Texas offices.