Former Utah Attorney General Denounces Police For “Dirty Harry” Tactics

220px-Mark_ShurtleffWhen I first met Mark Shurtleff, he was Utah Attorney General leading the case against my clients, the Brown family in the Sister Wives case. After years of abusive investigations and public statements, we challenged the state criminalization of polygamy and Shurtleff fought to defend the law. Shurtleff is now on the opposite side of the line and has decried the treatment of his own family in the investigation of his own alleged wrongdoing. Shurtleff angrily denounced the Utah law enforcement as basically thugs engaging “Dirty Harry” tactics in a raid on his home.


There have been allegations that Shurtleff made prosecutorial decisions based on political donations or personal relationships. There is also a report of an alleged secret recording on which Shurtleff is reportedly heard offering a $2 million bride to businessman, Darl McBride, to assist another prominent businessman, Mark Robbins.

The Utah Department of Public Safety and the FBI served search warrants at the both houses of Shurtleff and his successor at Attorney General John Swallow (who also fought the case of the Brown family). Shurtleff’s 17-year-old daughter was home and in the bathroom when investigators entered the house. He described officers “in masks” carrying assault rifles. He said that she was forced to leave the bathroom with her hands in the air by body armor wearing officers, including one who kept a laser sight trained on her chest.

The officers seized even the computers of Shurtleff’s children and he said “trashed” the home — another common complaint that existed during his tenure as Attorney General. Shurtleff decried the tactics directed against his own home: “These John Wayne wannabes, freakin’ Clinton Eastwood `Dirty Harry’ tactics were absolutely unacceptable and unneeded.”

Critics have charged that Shurtleff never objected to those tactics when they targeted other families during his term. We have certainly seen such over-the-top raids in various cases as police become more militarized and increasingly use no-knock warrants. One critic noted Shurtleff was particularly eager to allow for raids on copyright violators demanded by lobbyists and industry figures. He even received an award for his unrelenting raids from the industry, which said:

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) presented the honorary gold record to Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and each member of the SECURE Strike Force for their unprecedented numbers of arrests and seizing of pirated music.
. . .
“Those are real results,” said RIAA Anti-Piracy Executive Vice-President Brad Buckles. “On behalf of the major U.S. music labels, we are pleased to present Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and members of the SECURE Strike Force with honorary Gold Records as a token of our appreciation for all the hard work they’ve done to meaningfully address piracy on the streets of Utah.”

Given these raid under this tenure, Shurtleff’s objections fell on many deaf ears: “It was way overboard, a horrific abuse, an extremely improper abuse of force, given the nature of the alleged charge, the fact there were minors in the home — there was no reason for it.”

Kudos: Michael Blott

31 thoughts on “Former Utah Attorney General Denounces Police For “Dirty Harry” Tactics”

    1. joshzzzz – I think the tipping point was point the gun at her chest the whole time. That red dot can be unnerving. I speak from experience. 🙂

  1. Meadow Soprano is fiction, the SOP of taking all computers in a residence is not. I like to mix it up, it’s clear in my mind anyway.

    1. Well, I am installing a degausser in my doorway to disable my computer if they take it out. 🙂

  2. Waldo:

    You’re right – Utah included cohabitation in the law to specifically address those who got multiple spiritual marriage licenses and only one marriage license. It was a condition of joining the Union.

    I agree that criminalizing cohabitation is going way too far.

  3. Paul:

    I agree. These no-knock warrants have become the norm, but they cause more problems than they solve at times.

  4. I just love it when the deeds of public officials come full circle and bite them in the ass.

  5. Marriage is the state or society recognizing a union for, hopefully, legal reasons such as taxes, inheritance, children’s rights, etc. Polygamy is the cohabitation of people with people. If five guys can get along with one woman and each other and choose to live together then if no one is forced to stay, children are well educated and cared for, then the state should have little if anything to say. There are more than enough classic man woman/husband wife plus children dysfunctional families out there to prove that the formula does not guarantee success. The issue of persuaded versus consensual is where the gray matter lies. There have been many successful polygamous families raising well balanced children. There have also been many religious based families where the male adult has liberated the pre teen, teen, and other young female in the name of christ. Again, religion seems to be the ingredient that causes the problem.

    We need to evolve away from religious dictums to common sense understandings of what is best for each and all.

  6. I am certain you meant to say $2 million bribe, not bride, but given his previous prosecutions of families like the Browns, it is an amusing typo.

  7. Paul, I think Meadow Soprano had her computer seized. Tony was pissed! If a computer is in a residence, and the warrant is for computers, all are seized. How can you know for sure who uses what computer. That’s SOP.

    1. Nick – not to put too fine a point on it but that is fiction. 🙂

  8. Karen, I think Utah had a very broad definition of polygamy to include people cohabitating together and holding themselves out as married spiritually, even if not legally. So, when Turley says polygamy he’s talking about Utah’s particular law. I don’t believe his client’s conduct would have been illegal in just about any other state.

  9. What was the purpose of the search warrant and why were the childrens’ computers seized?

  10. I do not understand why a no knock warrant is needed on the home of a man like this when you know there is little or no evidence to destroy. And I do not understand the need for armed intrusion into the house. That fact that Mark Shurtleff and his people had done it before does not make it right to do it again. Mark Shurtleff does not have the standing to complain but the citizens of his state do.

  11. Soon enough most will know that the police state is an equal opportunity force.

  12. Al O’heem obviously has never been on the receiving end of any police “investigation.” They are worse than the criminals they are going after. Nothing has changed since the prohibition.

  13. Can the lawyers clarify this for me?

    When I looked up the definitions, I found that bigamy is marrying someone while you are already married to another and polygamy is marrying more than 2 people. That was the definition I, and many others, believed: bi meaning 2 and poly meaning many. Another legal definition I found is that bigamy (marrying 2 spouses) is a subset of polygamy (marrying more than 1 spouse), and there is no destination between them.

    Confusion arises when Professor Turley states that polygamy is legal while bigamy is illegal. He is referring to cohabitation is legal with anyone you choose, but you can only have one marriage license. I don’t care who people cohabitate with, but I only support one marriage license.

    If the country is going to have a discussion about polyamorous relationships, then there does need to be a clarification or update to the terms. If Professor Turley is correct, and the terms now refer to bigamy (multiple marriage licenses) and polygamy (cohabitation), then many disagreements may simply be miscommunications.

    http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/bigamy
    http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/polygamy

  14. The police are your friends.

    You have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide.

    Justice will prevail.

  15. I didn’t know you defended the Browns. I’ve watched several episodes of Sister Wife. They seem really nice. Although I don’t agree with polygamy, it’s absurd to actually criminalize it.

  16. Indeed Nick, as one semi temporarily famous now obscure person once said, “the chickens have come home to roost”.

  17. The ignorati authoritarians, like those around Kim Jung Un, wait for what goes around to come around.

    It will.

    Be patient.

  18. Wrong no matter who is the target, but I am glad that Mr. Shurtleff got a chance to experience the pleasures of a strong government.

    From what I understand, he is not a man to learn from subtlety.

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