An agent wounded in the failed Feb. 28 raid at Mount Carmel has amended his lawsuit against the Tribune-Herald to name a reporter he claims alerted cult leader Vernon Howell before the raid.
John T. Risenhoover, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms from San Antonio, renewed claims from his original suit filed March 17, but on Tuesday added Tribune-Herald reporter Mark England to the suit.
Risenhoover, a graduate of Waco Richfield High School, alleges that Howell, also known as David Koresh, and his 100 or so followers were unaware on that Sunday morning of the impending raid, which federal agent riding in cattle trailers attempted to execute about 9:45 a.m.
“Thereafter, upon information and belief, it is alleged that The Waco Tribune-Herald and Mark England by acts and words notified David Koresh at the compound an impending raid by the ATF and other officials on the compound and on David Koresh was imminent,” the suit alleges.
The 16-page suit names the paper’s parent companies, Cox Enterprises, Inc. and Cox Texas Publications Inc., as defendants.
Risenhoover also claims that the paper and England “by acts and words notified a member and/or sympathizer of the Branch Davidian Sect that they were going to raid the compound.”
The sympathizer then turned around and went into the compound, the suit alleges.
England called the allegations “absolutely false.”
“I find it offensive, not to mention preposterous, for someone to portray me or the Tribune-Herald as protectors of cult leader Vernon Howell. We are far from it. After an eight-month investigation, the Tribune-Herald detailed Howell’s sexual abuse of underage girls and his abuse of children. My intent — and that of the newspaper — was to warn the community about Vernon Howell, and not vice versa. It defies reason for anyone to state otherwise.”
“At no time did I warn — intentionally or inadvertently — Howell, a cult member, or sympathizer, of the impending raid,” he said.
Risenhoover’s amended petition repeated claims that the Tribune-Herald had an agreement with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms not to publish stories about the cult until after the ATF had completed its investigation.
The newspaper has denied any such a deal.
Jack Killorin, chief ATF spokesperson in Washington, has said previously that it was also his understanding that the Tribune-Herald and the ATF had no such agreement.
“As we stated when Agent Ridenhoover’s suit was first filed, we deny we had any agreement with the ATF not to publish our series,” said Managing Editor Barbara Elmore. “This new petition now names one of our reporters as a person who somehow alerted the Branch Davidians the ATF agents were on their way to the compound to serve warrants.
“This is an incredible claim to make — that the reporter would spend eight months collecting information about Vernon Howell’s distasteful and illegal activities, then warn him that he was about to be served with a warrant.”