Tuesday, June 24, 2014

How Dare You!

"You need to move off my lawn!" The man says, surrounded by all the trappings of suburban life.  He is shoe-horned into a pair of tight khakis shorts and is addressing an army of journalists camped out on the grass patch across the sidewalk from his lawn.  Although I know this thatch isn't actually his property, I'm not in the mood to argue, I'm focused on something more important, so I step off the Kentucky Blue onto the curb.  The "more important" is an equally as large army of FBI agents currently rifling through the records, and under the mattress inside the home of Utah's former Attorney General, John Swallow.  Swallow and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff have been under investigation for months, and are believed to have taken bribes and built a political machine, unrivaled (or perhaps yet undiscovered) in modern Utah politics.  The FBI and other state agencies have decided to serve search warrants on the homes of both men on this day.

Agents search home of John Swallow (Salt Lake Tribune)
The round man indignantly snatches a reporter's laptop off the grass he does not own, and drags it and it's attachments of plastic outlets, including a metallic hard drive, all jangle, and clank together like a high tech wind chime in a torrent blast.  I'm having trouble focusing on the stunned reporter as she yanks the computer out of the man's hands, because of the surreal event playing out across the street.  Two young boys, likely 8 and 10, have been tasked, likely by their parents, to sojourn to the Swallow's home.  The clueless toe heads are dutifully toting a plastic crate of store bought cookies.  I'm stunned.  The house is currently inhabited, by Swallow and his wife, but also by at least a dozen armed, and highly trained, and always on edge, FBI agents.  The boys innocently knock on the door and are met by a harried, federal agent, who is knee-deep in FBI sternness, but also understands, these poor kids have no idea what their mother has likely sent them to do.

Former Attorney General John Swallow

She opens the door and finds herself wrestling with the screen door while trying to balance the cookies, and use her leg as a broom to sweep the Swallow's family dog back into the house. The boys, still blissfully unaware of the minor chaos they have created in her world, pet the pup as he bobs and weaves around the agent's ankle.  Finally she wrangles the dog, stuffs the cookies under her arm and give a quick glance to the cameras across the street and yanks the screen door shut, the boys seem a bit confused, I can almost imagine their thoughts, "That's not how Missus Swallow acts when we bring cookies."

I'm debating heading over and asking the boys who told them to deliver snickerdoodles into the middle of the state's most high profile criminal investigation when a fine mist of water coats my face.  The angry neighbor in too short shorts and sensible Rockport shoes, has turned on the sprinklers, hoping for a frenzied retreat of soggy reporters. Most just snicker, cover the sensitive parts of their electronic equipment and move out of the gentle squirt.  "It's on a timer," he says arms folded, grinning and satisfied, as if he finally assembled a kitchen hutch from Ikea.

As I flick the water droplets off my shirt, a small man in a starched blue button down and ironed slacks saddles up to me, as if he has something to say, but he is silent.  I know he is preparing a monologue so I stand quietly and wait.  "So this is news?" He asks, as if I'm poolside at a squirrel skiing contest (which would be awesome if it existed)  I turn to him, as he stares at the modest ranch style home currently filled with agents, his eyes shaded by Rayban's.  "Well when search warrants are served at the homes of 2 former attorney's general in one day, I'd argue, yes, that is news," I say.

Former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff
He lazily shrugs off my explanation, "This has been going on for 2 years," he says continuing his gaze towards the home.  "What could you possibly say about this?" he asks with slight annoyance, I respond "probably something like: The investigation into 2 former attorney's general continues, both could be charged with felony crimes.  Maybe something like that?" I retort, again he's unimpressed.  "Do you live in this neighborhood?" I ask, "sort of, that's my father in laws home," he unfolds his arms long enough to point to the house currently flanked by black, nondescript FBI sedans with dark tinted windows and odd antenna protruding from their roofs.  That pretty much ends the conversation, but he continues to stand close uncomfortably close to me, as an older man conspicuously points his smart phone at reporters, shooting video, to let us know he is watching or to give us a taste of our own medicine I suppose.

This neighborhood is ferociously supportive of John Swallow. You might even say rabidly so. Rabid devotion is the only way to explain, how usually mild moms in Toyota Corrolas, can find themselves speeding past you and screaming, "Leave him alone you vultures!!"

Later I hear that a fellow reporter at the Shurtleff home has been harassed and threatened by neighbors there.  someone, she says, even threw a baseball at her during her live report.

As we pack up for the night, the neighbor who choreographed the strategically timed sprinkler assault is on his knees in a puddle of water in front of a fractured, spewing sprinkler head.  "Dad!" his young son shouts, as the man attempts to avoid the spewing plastic valve, "The water is broken!" the man, with both hands around the fountain, says, "It was worth it," as water fills the pockets of his snugly fitting shorts.

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