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Prosecutors to retry volunteer worker who aided migrants

Posted at 6:28 PM, Jul 03, 2019

TUCSON, Ariz. — Federal prosecutors in Tucson, Arizona, said in court Tuesday that they were dropping a charge of conspiracy to transport “illegal aliens” against humanitarian aid worker Scott Warren, but will seek to retry him on two charges of “harboring illegal aliens.”

Warren’s first trial on those three charges ended in a mistrial June 11, after jurors told US District Court Judge Raner Collins they couldn’t reach a verdict. Eight of the 12 jurors had favored acquitting Warren of all charges. That trial drew widespread attention over concern that it represented an effort by the Trump administration to criminalize humanitarian aid work.

In court Tuesday, prosecutors unexpectedly offered a plea bargain to Warren, saying they would drop the two felony harboring charges if he would plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of aiding and abetting illegal entry without inspection, according to court records. Prosecutors said they would not seek to have Warren serve any time behind bars, Greg Kuykendall, Warren’s defense attorney, said. A spokesperson for the US attorney’s office confirmed the developments but was unable to say whether the offer included no jail time for Warren.

Kuykendall said it will be up to his client whether to agree to the offer or go to trial, now scheduled to start November 12, on the harboring charges.

“While I do not know what the government has hoped to accomplish here,” Warren said in a written statement,” I do know what the effect of all this has been. A raising of public consciousness. A greater awareness of the humanitarian crisis in the borderland. More volunteers who want to stand in solidarity with migrants. Local residents stiffened in their resistance to border walls and the militarization of our communities. And a flood of water into the desert at a time when it is most needed.”

Warren, a volunteer with the humanitarian aid group No More Deaths, had been charged for helping two undocumented immigrants who authorities said entered the US illegally in January 2018.

Prosecutors had accused Warren of hiding two men for several days at a property in Ajo, Arizona, that No More Deaths and other humanitarian aid groups use as a staging area for search and rescue operations and leaving water and food along migrant trails. Prosecutors had argued that the men were not in medical distress, as Warren and other aid workers explained in testimony why they had allowed the men to recuperate at the property after several days traveling through the desert from the US-Mexico border.

Founders of the group, meanwhile, had described to jurors how they had designed clear legal and medical protocols, based on those of several international aid organizations, to make sure No More Deaths’ work stayed within the law. One of the group’s founders, attorney Andy Silverman, described repeatedly meeting with Border Patrol officials to let them know about the work they were doing and to ensure “we do things in a proper and a legal way, we do things transparently.”

Prosecutors hadn’t suggested that Warren benefited in any way from the alleged conspiracy. Assistant US Attorney Anna Wright told jurors that one of Warren’s goals “was to thwart the Border Patrol at every possible turn.”

But in the end, jurors could not agree unanimously that Warren was guilty of any of the charges.

Kuykendall said neither he nor Warren had received the plea bargain offer before it was made in open court. He said prosecutors said the offer would remain open until ten days before the scheduled trial date.