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Profile: Joyce Sparks

Joyce Sparks was a participant or observer in the following events:

Acting on allegations of physical and sexual abuse of children at the Mt. Carmel compound outside of Waco, Texas, the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (DPRS) opens an investigation into the allegations among the Branch Davidian sect living on the property (see November 3, 1987 and After). Caseworkers go to the compound three times and interview a number of children, but close the case when no evidence of abuse is unearthed, though the children talk freely about “all the men” training with weapons (leader David Koresh tells investigative officer Joyce Sparks that the Davidians have “only a few” weapons, and most of the adults have nothing to do with them). After a February 1993 newspaper series that alleges an array of such abuse (see February 27 - March 3, 1993), and especially after the April 1993 debacle that kills 21 children among the group (see April 19, 1993), the DPRS will come under fire for possibly mishandling the case. Many will say that the agency caseworkers made a mistake in not interviewing the children outside the compound, where, away from the adult Davidians, they may have spoken more freely. Bob Boyd, director of the Waco office, will say in 2003 that none of the children said anything that would lead to a belief that they were being abused. “People are under the assumption that if we had taken the children out of there for an interview, they would have opened up to us about abuse,” he says. “The reality was it was highly unlikely. They were such a closed group, and because of their strong beliefs and devotion to [leader David] Koresh, I don’t believe we would have gotten any of them to talk to us about abuse. They were not going to open up to outsiders. Even those kids we talked to who did come out during the standoff didn’t reveal anything to us. It was only after a long time were we able to piece together some pictures of what it was like inside.” David Jewell, whose daughter Kiri will testify to being abused by Koresh since she was 10 (see July 21, 1995), will say he believes caseworkers called ahead before coming to the compound, and the Davidians were able to hide some of the abused children from the caseworkers. Boyd says no such calls were made. Sparks will allege that McLennan County Sheriff Jack Harwell told her to “back off” from investigating abuse complaints; Harwell will deny making such statements. [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, 2/25/1993; Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/16/2003]

Entity Tags: Kiri Jewell, Bob Boyd, Branch Davidians, David Jewell, David Koresh, Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, Jack Harwell, Joyce Sparks

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

David Koresh holds up a Bible while standing in front of a church.David Koresh holds up a Bible while standing in front of a church. [Source: My Deactivated Guns (.com)]Davy Aguilera, a senior agent of the Texas branch of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) and the lead investigator in the bureau’s Branch Davidian/David Koresh probe (see June-July 1992 and November 1992 - January 1993), interviews BATF Special Agent Carlos Torres about his knowledge of the Davidians. Torres says that on December 4 he interviewed Joyce Sparks, an investigator for the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (DPRS), who has twice visited the Mt. Carmel compound of the Davidians outside of Waco to check on allegations of child abuse (see April 1992). According to Torres, Sparks said that on her last visit to the compound on April 6, “Koresh told her that he was the ‘messenger’ from God, that the world was coming to an end, and that when he ‘reveals’ himself, the riots in Los Angeles would pale in comparison to what was going to happen in Waco, Texas.” According to Sparks, Koresh’s self-revelation “would be a ‘military type operation’ and… all the ‘non-believers’ would have to suffer.” In 1993, columnist Daniel Wattenberg will dispute Sparks’s claim, noting that the Los Angeles riots began on April 29, 1992, more than three weeks after Sparks’s last visit to the compound. [American Spectator, 8/1/1993]

Entity Tags: Davy Aguilera, Branch Davidians, Carlos Torres, Joyce Sparks, Daniel Wattenberg, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, David Koresh

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

BATF agents train for a raid.BATF agents train for a raid. [Source: Time]The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF, sometimes known as the ATF) begins preparing for a large-scale raid on the Waco, Texas, compound, Mt. Carmel, owned by the Branch Davidian sect. The BATF has evidence that the Davidians and their leader, David Koresh, own a large amount of possibly illegal weapons, are committing statutory rape and child abuse against the female children of the group, and are possibly beating the children as a means of discipline (see November 1992 - January 1993). The raid is approved by BATF Director Stephen Higgins, after a recommendation from Philip Chojnacki, the senior BATF agent in the Houston office. Undercover BATF agents who have infiltrated the Davidian community recommend that the assault take place on a Sunday morning, because during Sunday morning prayer services the men are separated from the women and children, and do not have easy access to the Davidians’ cache of weapons. [New York Times, 3/3/1993; Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Significant Lack of Planning - Information compiled after the raid, in which the Davidians kill four BATF agents (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), is somewhat contradictory; a Treasury Department report issued after the April conflagration at the compound (see Late September - October 1993) will claim there is no written plan for the “dynamic entry” to be executed by BATF agents, and that the raid is code-named “Trojan Horse.” Agents who participate in the assault will later say the raid is code-named “Showtime.” [New York Times, 3/3/1993; Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] According to the Treasury Department report, acting Special Agent in Charge Darrell Dyer, assigned as support coordinator for the operation, arrived in Waco from his Kansas City office on February 23, asked to see the documents for the plan of attack, and was told none had been drawn up. Dyer and agent William Krone draw up a plan on their own, though they have little knowledge about the work performed by the tactical planners. The two manage to generate a rough plan, but the plan remains on Krone’s desk and is never distributed or referred to during the actual raid. [New York Times, 10/1/1993]
Element of Surprise Key - According to later testimony before a House investigative committee (see August 2, 1996), the element of surprise is so integral to the raid that if it is lost, the raid is to be aborted. Ronald Noble, assistant secretary-designate of the treasury for law enforcement, will testify that on-site BATF commanders knew of the provision. Noble will say in 1995, and will be quoted in the 1996 House investigative report, “What was absolutely clear in Washington at Treasury and in Washington and ATF was that no raid should proceed once the element of surprise was lost.” However, Dan Hartnett, deputy director of the BATF for enforcement, will contradict Noble’s assertion, saying that while “secrecy and safety” were “discussed over and over again,” the provision that the raid should be called off if the Davidians were alerted to it beforehand was not in place; Hartnett will accuse Noble of trying to deflect blame away from the Treasury Department and onto the BATF. The report will conclude that no such provision was in place. The BATF commanders will order the raid to go forward even after learning that the Davidians know it is coming. The House report will conclude that the lack of such a provision was a critical failure of the plan. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
No Alternatives Considered - BATF agents will also later claim that the raid was necessary because Koresh never left the compound. However, evidence will show that at least three times between January 17 and February 24, Koresh did exit the compound, where agents could have easily apprehended him; among other examples, Koresh is a regular patron of the Chelsea Bar and Grill in Waco, and leaves the compound regularly to jog. According to the Treasury Department report and a 1996 report by the House investigative committee, other options are considered but rejected. The first is to avoid violence and merely serve the warrants by visiting the compound. This is rejected because of Koresh’s history of antipathy towards law enforcement and his propensity towards violence (see November 3, 1987 and After). A second option, arresting Koresh while he is away from the compound, is rejected because, according to subsequent testimony by Chojnacki, Koresh supposedly never leaves the site. A third option, a plan to besiege Mt. Carmel, is rejected because of the possibility that the Davidians might destroy the illegal weapons, commit mass suicide, or both. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Warnings of Violent Response Ignored - The Congressional report will find, “The [B]ATF chose the dynamic entry raid, the most hazardous of the options, despite its recognition that a violent confrontation was predictable.” Before the raid, BATF agents discussed the idea of launching a raid with Joyce Sparks, a Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (DPRS) caseworker who has spent a considerable amount of time with Koresh and the Davidians (see April 1992). Sparks is familiar with the Davidians’ apocalyptic religious beliefs, and warned the agents that to launch a raid on the compound would invite a violent response. “They will get their guns and kill you,” she told the agents. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Plans, Execution Botched - The Congressional investigation will find that the BATF plan for attacking the Davidian compound was “significantly flawed… poorly conceived, utilized a high risk tactical approach when other tactics could have been successfully used… drafted and commanded by [B]ATF agents who were less qualified than other available agents, and used agents who were not sufficiently trained for the operation.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Reflecting on the planning 10 years later, Robert White, a senior BATF agent wounded in the raid, will recall: “The people actually calling the shots, whether to go or not, did not have the tactical training necessary to make those kind of decisions. They had the authority to make those decisions simply because of their rank.” White will say that because of the botched raid, the agency will revise its tactical procedures: “Now, before any decision is made, a leader of one of the tactical teams, someone who has been trained specifically for that purpose, will make the call.” [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/16/2003]
Top Treasury Officials Not Informed - The report also expresses surprise at BATF Director Higgins’s failure to appraise either Secretary of the Treasury Lloyd Bentsen or Deputy Secretary Roger Altman of the raid. The report will state, “Neither [Bentsen] nor his deputy knew anything about an imminent law enforcement raid—one of the largest ever conducted in US history—being managed by his department, which would endanger the lives of dozens of law enforcement agents, women, and children.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]

Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, William Krone, Chelsea Bar and Grill, Darrell Dyer, Dan Hartnett, US Department of the Treasury, Joyce Sparks, Stephen Higgins, Lloyd Bentsen, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Philip Chojnacki, David Koresh, Roger Altman, Robert White, Ronald Noble

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

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