Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Why Drug Task Forces Must Go 101

Here's a few highlights of the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee hearing yesterday regarding HB 1239 which would end Texas' current drug task force system and require creation of regional unified drug control strategies:
  • Rep. Hodge showed a 20-minute video by the Kunstler sisters about the Tulia case after laying out the bill. Later on, during a discussion on another bill about tow-truck regulations, a tow-truck company owner said he'd seen that video and thought to himself, "You know, I don't really have any problems. I should just go on home."
  • Hulon Brown, an 84-year old former state representative and former district attorney from Jacksonville testified regarding several scandalous cases involving the Dogwood Trails drug task force, which is the one that busted 72 black folks last fall in an undercover drug sting. (The defendants in those state cases recently began to go to trial and are starting to be convicted.) One of his clients, he said, was arrested for cocaine possession based on a positive field test performed by a task force officer, but the lab found no cocaine, just worming medicine for dogs. The DA did not disclose the lab test results once he knew them, he said. Brown described how corrupt task forces in East Texas were corrupting the local police agencies in turn.
  • Freddie Brookins, Sr. from Tulia, gave some details I'd never heard before. He thinks his son was caught up in the Tulia sting by accident. Freddie did business at the auction barn where Tom Coleman worked and knew him a little bit. He thinks Coleman got his address from his checks at the auction barn and told the authorities to arrest Freddie Brookins, not realizing there was a junior and a senior. Freddie's one of my favorites from the Tulia crowd - a real hero. (There are a lot of heroes over at Tulia Friends of Justice - Thelma, Alan, Nancy, Mattie, Charles, everybody - I'm talking 'bout you.)
  • Charles Workman from Hearne said the task force in his area targeted the same black families and neighborhoods over and over since it began in the late '80s. Documents revealed during discovery in litigation with ACLU reveal that over a several-year period, 85% of arrests by the drug task force in the Hearne sting were black defendants.
  • Jeff Blackburn, the lead attorney in the Tulia cases, said quotas for narcotics investigators should be banned just like for traffic tickets. He thought spending Byrne grant money on drug treatment facilities and drug courts instead of task forces would have helped several addicted Tulia defendants who could not find drug treatment programs in the Panhandle region. After much effort, Blackburn finally found them help in not-so-nearby Abilene.
  • The only drug treatment center for indigents in Wichita Falls has closed, a witness said. Now the nearest treatment facility is in Abilene. How many people, one wonders, can receive drug treatment in Abilene?
  • Testimony on behalf of Hodge's bill was so compelling that proponents of later reform bills tried to draw themes from what happened. An Austin police officer testifying to reform towing regulations said the lack of accountability over towtruck operators was the "same" issue as in Tulia. Somehow I doubt it.
Good stuff. If you want to see more, including law enforcement apologia not described above, the video feed is here, and HB 1239 comes up at 4:30. My own testimony was first up after the Kunstler video, but you guys have read my schtick.

UPDATE: This bill was voted out of committee this afternoon (3-30)


Myst0nia said...

Hey Scott, I was up in Palestine over the weekend visiting my kids and saw the full page ad in the Herald Press. Great job! Hope it did some good.

VCarter said...

The editorial in the Waco paper about the drug task forces was good but failed to clarify that the seven county Agriplex is headquartered in Waco. I hope that these task forces get shut down for good. They feed the information to the US Attorney's office and with apparently no other investigation it is what ends up in the indictments. This is a real scary situation!

VCarter said...

In addition to what I previously wrote, around here it is known that "it is not about truth or justice, but about convictions."