Saturday, July 30, 2005

Dogwood Trails brazenly pursues pretext stops

To see the ultimate example of a so-called "pretext stop", read this article from the July 29 Tyler Morning Telegraph describing tactics of the Dogwood Trails Narcotics Task Force based in Palestine in Northeast Texas:
between about 1 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Thursday, authorities from the Dogwood Trails Narcotics Task Force as well as officials with the sheriff's office, patrolled an area bordered by Court Drive, Loop 256, Sterne Avenue and Palestine Avenue.

"We were looking for traffic violations of people coming out of these areas, known for trafficking narcotics, and once we developed probable cause, then we'd make traffic stops," Taylor said. "Sometimes it would lead to searches of vehicles."

Officials made 20 to 25 stops, in which five people were arrested - four for alleged drug-related offenses. ...

[T]he task force and the sheriff's office directed enforcement officer, John Smith, with the K-9 "Lucky," who participated in the operation.
So, narcotics enforcement officers essentially pulled drivers over randomly for more than eight hours, not to enforce traffic laws but as an excuse to run a drug dog around the cars. This tactic is designed to net large numbers of people, but not to target criminal organizations, arrest drug dealers, or to take anyone off the street except the lowest-level, randomly identified drug users. Three of the four arrested for drug offenses were found in possession of less than a gram of controlled substance, while the fourth was busted for pot.

Those are classic pretext stops -- the supposed traffic violations were mere pretexts to mask the task force's real intent to entrap drivers in drug charges. A study authored last year (pdf, pp 10-11) on behalf of ACLU of Texas by yours truly found that up to 99% of traffic stops by drug task force officers didn't even result in a ticket. The reason is simple: traffic safety isn't why they're pulling folks over.


In case you're a naif who actually thought we still had a Fourth Amendment in this country, welcome to your reasonable expectation of privacy in the 21st century. Combined with the authoritarian logic from
Whren, the Caballes case (decided in January by the US Supreme Court) freed law enforcement to pull over drivers for minor traffic violations in order to let a drug sniffing dog check the car. That doesn't constitute a search, Justice Stevens wrote in the majority opinion. What a crock! But a crock with the force of law. So here in Palestine we see the fruits of this ill-conceived, activist court decision: 5 people are arrested, but 20 innocent ones are pulled over for no good reason -- indeed, more or less admittedly on pure pretext, brazenly skirting the outer bounds of legality and propriety.

That's the kind of slimy tactic that caused the Legislature to pass HB 1239 reining in rogue drug task forces, of which the
Dogwood Trails bunch is among the most notorious. See prior Grits coverage of Dogwood Trails' botched raids, racial profiling and their shooting of an unarmed suspect.

This summer, Texas counties must decide whether to re-apply for money under the new law or to use the money for other allowable purposes like drug treatment or probation services. Meanwhile, Texas DPS must decide this summer which areas of the state it considers priority drug enforcement areas, which will restrict where drug task forces can be re-authorized
(hmmmmm .. do you think they'll pick rural East Texas where Dogwood Trails operates, or counties on the border?). Finally, the Governor's office will announce by September 30 which of the 25 remaining Texas drug task forces (down from 46 just three years ago) will continue to receive funding.

These types of dragnet tactics fail to target criminal organizations while filing the prisons with non-violent, low-level offenders. That doesn't solve anybody's problem. Hopefully local officials, DPS, or the Governor will recognize that money spent on these liability magnets would be better used for treatment and community supervision programs that reduce drug use and crime.

7 comments:

Charles Geiger said...

I still have bitter memories of such a pretext stop that happened to a friend of mine and me in northwestern New Mexico around Y2K. They didn't really even have a pretext -- we were stopped for going too *slowly* (64 in a 75 zone), even though we were passing other cars. All because, I guess, of my Texas license plates and/or my friend's long hair.

Of course, the dog found nothing. Of course, they tried to convince us that it had. Why? To wring a confession even though they knew we didn't have anything?

That infuriated me, and it still does. How do these people get off hassling law-abiding citizens? If you think it's no big deal, I hope something similar happens to you. It's not just the search; it's also the presumption of guilt, and the out-and-out lying on the part of the cops.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Too slow? That's rich. It's pretty much an unwritten rule of thumb that they can follow anybody for 3-5 blocks and find SOME violation, at least if they're willing to do petty crap like y'all endured.

Anonymous said...

This is why ALL police EVERYWHERE need to be permanently shut down. They are the ONLY terrorists we need to fear. And they routinely get away with their crimes. When on a rare occasion, you hear of a cop getting "disciplined" that means a paid vacation - on your tax dollars.
Shut 'em all down.

Anonymous said...

Our society is becoming more and more a police state, all in the name of safety.

The biggest problem with the "more laws/more cops" philosophy, even if one were to buy into it's effectiveness against the problems it is intended to solve, is that people can not be trusted with that much power as it inevitably corrupts.

Thus, there is a never ending abundance of stories such as those posted here at Grits.

Don
enormous iNCoNgrUiTieS

Anonymous said...

All of you believe that you know everything."I was stopped for something stupid" (headlight out)is a typical story told by alot of people.My question is what is the line between petty and serious enough? Is a DUI petty b/c it's a misdemeanor in most states? Oh, but it's real serious when I have to tell your family that your baby sister was smashed into a million pieces b/c that kid had a good time at the club, thats okay, right?"I was stopped b/c of the way I looked", news flash people, at night or even the day, a person traveling in the same direction behind your vehicle cannot ascertain wether you are black, white, or blue."That pig gave me a ticket, what an asshole", why? b/c you violated the law, and b/c you didn't rob or kill anyone right?That means that your not guilty nor do you deserve a ticket right? I think that you think differently everytime someone nearly runs you off that road and you curse loudly hoping that officer nogood is around to teach him a lesson. A friend of mine died while assisting in a traffic accident b/c a 19 yr old girl wanted to get "tipsy" before driving home, she ran him over and didn't even care. He served for over 30 years and a petty criminal ended his life. Underage drinking-no big deal huh? It's easily understood that people do not like being told how to act, it's nature, however if there were no "police" then who will be there when you need help?, surely not your everyday citizen b/c they would "rather not get involved". So all in all ,most people are hypocritical, and unaware of it. Let me leave you with this qoute "Evil prevails when good men fail to act"

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I agree that the "shut down" the police comment was pretty silly, but I disagree with much else you said. Teenage drinking can at the same time not be considered "no big deal," and also not make the teen drinker a "petty criminal." There are too many of them to think of it like that - we'll never build enough jails to incarcerate them all. We need a more well-rounded, non-criminal justice approach to substance abuse at all levels, including teens.

I'm sorry for your loss. That's an awful feeling.

Anonymous said...

To The anonymous person offering the common man assistance when we need help in this post......
ypou say..."That pig gave me a ticket, what an asshole", why? b/c you violated the law, and b/c you didn't rob or kill anyone right?That means that your not guilty nor do you deserve a ticket right?" I DONT KNOW ANYONE WHO SAYS THIS, WHEN WE GET A TICKET FOR RUNNING A RED LIGHT WE PAY THE TICKET... IF YOU GIVE ME A TCKET FOR SOMETHING I DIDNT DO, OF COURSE I WILL BLAZE FIRE UPON YOU... I GUESS YOU FEEL WE SHOULD SAY NOTHING HUH? IM SURE YOU WOULD LIKE THAT....

YOU SAY "A friend of mine died while assisting in a traffic accident b/c a 19 yr old girl wanted to get "tipsy" before driving home, she ran him over and didn't even care. He served for over 30 years and a petty criminal ended his life. Underage drinking-no big deal huh?" SORRY TO HEAR ABOUT YOUR FRIEND, THATS NO GOOD, BUT IM SURE YOU PROBABLY HUNG HER OUT TO DRY INSTEAD OF GOING AFTER THE POEPLE WHO SOLD IT TO HER OR GAVE IT TO HER RIGHT? ALSO, DIDNT ANYONE EVER TELL YOU BEING A COP IS DANGEROUS AND A RISK FACTOR INVOLVED? I HAD A CHEROKEE CO COP CURSE ME UP AND DOWN BECAUSE AN OFFICER HAD A WRECK AND IN THE HOSPITAL BECAUSE HE WAS DRIVING TOO FAST AND HAD A WRECK ON HIS WAY TO A CALL IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD... I GUESS ITS THE PERSONS FAULT THAT REQUESTED ASSISTANCE, AND NOT THE POLICE OFFICER THAT WAS DRIVING TOO FAST RIGHT?.... YOU SAY "if there were no "police" then who will be there when you need help?, surely not your everyday citizen b/c they would "rather not get involved"... WHAT A CROCK! ID PUT UP THE COMMON MAN AGAINST THE POLICE ANY DAY AND IM SURE THE COMMON MAN WOULD DO MUCH BETTER. REMEMBER 911? THOSE WERE CIVILIIANS THAT TOOK DOWN THAT 4TH PLANE THAT WAS HEADED TO WASHINGTON THAT DAY, THOSE WERE NOT COPS... SO WE WOULD RATHER NOT GET INVOLVED HUH? WAKE UP!
YOU SAY ""Evil prevails when good men fail to act" I AGREE... THANK GOD FOR THE PEOPLE HERE WHO ARE TRYING TO STAND UP AGAINST THE EVIL ONES IN OUR JUSTICE SYSTEM!