In a surprise raid, 60 to 70 law enforcement officers converged on Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch Tuesday to execute a search warrant that a sheriff’s department spokesman would only describe as “the result of an ongoing criminal investigation.”
On the heels of police, a swarm of reporters with vans, satellite dishes, cables, spotlights and video cameras parked themselves on either side of the narrow roadway outside of Jackson’s main gate, which is the only portion of Jackson’s sprawling ranch visible from Figueroa Mountain Road. Dozens of camera crews and broadcasters jockeyed for prime viewing positions when vehicles entered or left the estate. Two television news helicopters were still hovering above the ranch as of 5 p.m., but they flew away after sundown.
At the time of the raid, Jackson and his three children were in Las Vegas, where Jackson has been filming a music video to coincide with Tuesday’s Epic Records release of his new greatest hits compilation CD, Number Ones.
Sgt. Chris Pappas said investigators from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Dept. and the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office entered Jackson’s compound at 8:30 a.m. At a command center established at the intersection of Highway 154 and Calkins Road, approximately 5 miles from Jackson’s ranch, Pappas said investigators would probably be working at Neverland late into the night.
However, he would not say what police were looking for.
“We’re not going to get into specifics,” he said.
Shortly after sunset, a truck towing a large set of portable floodlights entered the ranch’s main gate.
Pappas said a news conference would be held today at 11 a.m. at the Earl Warren Showgrounds, located on Los Positas Road in Santa Barbara.
He said the quick notification of news media by the sheriff’s department regarding the ongoing investigation was necessary given its “high visibility and the high level of public interest in Jackson.”
Stuart Backerman, Jackson’s official spokesman, said in a statement to the Associated Press that Jackson denounced media coverage of the search.
Television news reporters outside Jackson’s ranch repeatedly quoted unnamed sources during their broadcasts who said the search warrant stemmed from new child molestation allegations.
In 1993, Jackson settled a lawsuit out of court with a 13-year-old boy who claimed Jackson molested him.
“I’ve seen lawyers who don’t represent me and spokespeople who do not know me speaking for me. Theses characters always seem to surface with dreadful allegations just as another project, an album, a video, is being released,” the statement said, quoting Jackson.
The Neverland Ranch is located in the city of Los Olivos in the Santa Ynez Valley, four miles off of Highway 154 and just north of Solvang.
Several Los Olivos and Solvang hotel receptionists said the influx of reporters covering the Jackson raid caused a surge in business and automobile traffic Tuesday morning and evening.
Sandy Knowlton, a receptionist at the Fess Parker Inn & Spa, which is closest to Jackson’s ranch and the camp of reporters outside, said all of the hotel’s 21 rooms were occupied for the night.
“I don’t know if [the raid] is that big, or we’re just that small,” Knowlton said.
At the Best Western King Frederik Motel in Solvang, receptionist Gloria Garcia said that as of Tuesday morning, only 10 of the hotel’s 44 rooms were occupied, but that number had jumped to 25 by 7 p.m.
“We’re still getting more reservations,” Garcia said Tuesday night. “Monday and Tuesday nights are usually dead, but it’s definitely picked up.”
Garcia said she had to walk her kids to school because the streets were so jammed between 7 and 9 a.m.
“Traffic was outrageous this morning,” Garcia said. “It usually stops around 5:30, but it’s been nonstop since.”
Receptionist Jamie Kahl at the Solvang Country Inn and Suites said Tuesday night that a television news channel had booked 15 rooms for its reporters earlier that day, out of the hotel’s 82 rooms.
“I don’t know about reporters staying here in the past, but we do bookings for a lot of people who go to [Jackson’s] parties,” Kahl said.