Utah mom who sparked Amber Alert at school charged
Court • DA says Utah law precluded filing felony kidnapping charges.
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A Utah mother who prompted an Amber Alert after police say she took her daughter from a West Valley City elementary school has been charged with misdemeanor counts of custodial interference and trespassing.

Prosecutors filed two class B misdemeanors counts against Venus Athena Barker on Tuesday in West Valley City Justice Court. The 38-year-old woman is scheduled to be arraigned July 17 before Judge Brendan McCullagh.

In March, an Amber Alert was issued for 10-year-old Aliyah Kay Crowder, after the girl was taken from Silver Hills Elementary School, 5770 W. 5100 South. Officials said Barker did not have legal custody of the girl when she allegedly walked into the school's cafeteria at lunchtime, grabbed her daughter and began walking out of the building.

Authorities said Barker was stopped by a school secretary and that Barker handed over false paperwork claiming she had checked the girl out of school. A Granite School District spokesman said at the time that Barker had a "stranglehold" on Aliyah, who did not struggle but "seemed quite shocked at the situation."

An Amber Alert was issued a few hours later and by about 11 p.m., police had made contact with Barker and recovered the girl. Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder said the woman had seen electronic freeway signs regarding the Amber Alert and thought people were "overreacting."

"Her perspective was that what she was doing was completely justified," Winder said at the time.

Attempts to reach Barker on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said his office was frustrated by Utah's law, which prevents prosecutors from filing felony kidnapping charges against a parent with visitation rights.

"We had no other choice but to give this to the local jurisdiction," he said.

Gill said he hopes legislators will look at the law and allow for stiffer penalties for parents who "clearly intend to hide a child from another parent."

"You do not want to charge someone with kidnapping because somebody is an hour late dropping off a child," he said. "But surely we can come up with a remedy that is consistent with the trauma that is caused to the child, the fear it causes to the parent and the tax dollars that are being spent by law enforcement, and in this case, with the Amber Alert."

Barker had abducted Aliyah once before, in February 2011. Police found her in Killdeer, N.D., several months later, according to reports in The Dickinson Press.

afalk@sltrib.com