Taos County Sheriff's Office receives Medal of Valor for compound raid

By John Miller
jmiller@taosnews.com
Posted 5/15/19

This morning (May 15), Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham honored the members of the Taos County Sheriff's Office who raided the alleged terrorist compound near Amalia with the Public Safety Officer …

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Taos County Sheriff's Office receives Medal of Valor for compound raid

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This morning (May 15), Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham honored the members of the Taos County Sheriff's Office Special Operations Team, who raided the alleged terrorist compound near Amalia, with the Medal of Valor, the highest honor bestowed upon law enforcement officers in the state.

The decoration is considered comparable to the Medal of Honor given to military personnel, recognizing officers "who have exhibited exceptional courage, regardless of personal safety, in an attempt to save or protect human life," according to the U.S. Department of Justice, which gives out a federal version of the award.

The governor awarded medals at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe to nine members of the sheriff's team and four members of the New Mexico Office of Superintendent of Insurance who carried out the raid in August 2018.

A few months prior the operation, federal agents had notified the sheriff's office of the suspicious compound near the Colorado border, where they believed a missing toddler was possibly being held. Federal agents, however, never moved in on the compound.

Supported by Taos Central Dispatch, the sheriff's office and OSI team raided the compound early the morning of Aug. 3.

They had prepared for resistance, but were able to peacefully take five adults into custody and rescued 11 children, who investigators said were malnourished, poorly clothed and living in filthy conditions.

In the days following the raid, the sheriff's office and members of the F.B.I. recovered numerous firearms and a stockpile of ammunition from the property. They also found a shooting range and  evidence that suggested the adults were Islamic extremists preparing to carry out terrorist attacks on government personnel and institutions.

At least one child rescued from the property reportedly told a temporary foster parent assigned by the New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department that the adults were training the children to carry out school shootings.

The missing toddler's remains were found three days after the raid on Aug. 6, buried in a tunnel the group had dug at at the compound. A journal recovered from the makeshift dwelling suggested the boy had died on Christmas Eve 2017.

The five adults who were taken into custody – Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, Jany Leveille, Lucas Morton, Subhanah Wahhaj and Hujrah Wahhaj – were initially taken to court in Taos County for child abuse offenses, but were later charged in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque with federal terrorism, kidnapping and firearms charges.

Testimony in court last year suggested the group had built a second, similar compound in Macon County, Alabama.  NBC 15 News, a local news outlet in the state, reported on the other compound earlier this month after acquiring federal documents, which suggest the dwelling is tied to the one raided last summer in Taos County.

Last year's raid placed the national spotlight on Taos County and its local sheriff's office, which received criticism from some who believed law enforcement should have intervened sooner to rescue the missing child.

During a televised CNN broadcast, Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe walked out of an interview when a reporter suggested he could have "saved a child's life" had he conducted the raid earlier in 2018.

Hogrefe maintains that his office moved in on the compound only once they had probable cause to do so. The sheriff also points to evidence that suggests the toddler who had gone missing may have died months before his office was notified that a possible terrorist group was training in the far reaches of the county.

"I am still in awe that it is finally being recognized that we, TCSO's SRT assisted by four outstanding members from OSI, stepped up and stopped a terrorist training camp, rescued 11 children, and from our continued investigation recovered a child's body that had been deceased many months before we were ever misinformed of his alleged sighting/being there," Hogrefe said.

"We did this by the book, based on probable cause, lawfully, and as result of that the Federal charges came forward."

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