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.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.
"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.
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.