DENVER — Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) on Wednesday grilled Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. on why more than 100 federal agents were needed to round up two dozen suspects accused of stealing Native American artifacts from public land.
The day after last week's raids, one of the suspects, Dr. James Redd of Blanding in southern Utah, killed himself. Residents and officials in Blanding, where 16 suspects live, complained that authorities used unnecessary force to arrest nonviolent offenders.
"They came in in full combat gear, SWAT team gear, like they were going after, you know, the worst drug dealers in the world," Hatch said, according to a transcript of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington.
Then, alluding to Redd, he continued, "I have no problem with going after people who violate the law. But they came in there like they were the worst common criminals on earth. And in the process, this man, it became overwhelming to him, I suppose."
Hatch's remarks came a day after Redd's funeral in Blanding drew more than 1,000 people.
Holder said authorities had to take precautions during a felony arrest. Officials have said FBI regulations require that their agents wear bulletproof vests during the operation.
"We want to use the appropriate amount of force that is necessary, but we also want to keep in mind the protection, the responsibility I have to make sure that the lives of law enforcement officers -- " Hatch cut off Holder before he could finish.
The Utah Republican also complained about how the operation was announced -- at a news conference in Salt Lake City featuring Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Deputy Atty. Gen. David Ogden.
Hatch, noting that he had been in the Senate for 33 years, said: "I felt it was like a dog-and-pony show, to me, and I know one when I see it. And this has all the classic signs of one."
Federal authorities, long chastised by tribal groups and archaeologists for not being aggressive enough in stamping out the looting of ruins in the Four Corners area, highlighted the arrests to show they were taking the issue seriously. As part of the investigation, an antiquities dealer secretly recorded transactions with what authorities called a network of looters.
Redd's wife, Jeanne, met several times with the dealer to discuss selling or trading artifacts, according to a search warrant affidavit unsealed Tuesday. The affidavit alleges that Jeanne Redd identified an ax, necklace and frame in her extensive collection of Native American artifacts as coming from federal land. In March 2008, Redd and her husband allegedly showed the dealer a pendant they said they dug up on tribal territory in Arizona.
James Redd had faced one count of theft of Indian tribal property; his wife faces two.
The dealer spent $335,000 buying artifacts from the defendants, including $10,200 paid to Tad Kreth, 30, according to another affidavit. During a recorded conversation last year, Kreth told the dealer that his grandmother was worried he would get caught. Kreth tried to calm her fears.
"Kreth said he told her that he had dealt with the source for a while now and everything had been good," the affidavit states, "and she doesn't need to worry about him going to jail."