Sunday, October 17, 2004

72 charged in Tulia-style long-term bust in E. TX

Most of what's wrong with drug task forces may be summed up by examining a recent, massive drug bust in Anderson County, TX by the Dogwood Trails task force that netted 72 defendants -- 56 charged in state court and 16 in federal court. Here's the DoJ press release bragging about it. That number dwarfs the 46 arrested in Tulia. It's so many they can't even fit them all in the county jail.

I grew up two counties over from Anderson in Tyler, TX, and can relate to readers that Anderson is quite a rural place. The notion that 72 crack dealers live there simply is absurd -- there's barely enough population density to support seven of them. (The blog Drug War Rant calculates that the entire Anderson County crack market, judging by federal statistics, totals about 165 people!)

Here's what the Palestine Herald Press wrote about it (no longer on the web):

Authorities bust crack ring 10-13-04

By PAUL STONE Palestine Herald Press Associate Editor

Local, state and federal law enforcement authorities began serving warrants on 72 drug defendants throughout Anderson County early this morning, culminating a two-year investigation into a crack cocaine ring.

At 7 a.m. today, authorities from multiple agencies began descending on residences throughout Anderson County to serve the warrants. "We're looking for 56 state defendants and 16 federal defendants," said Curtis Bitz, commander of the Dogwood Trails Narcotics Task Force, at 8:15 a.m. today. At that time, Bitz said authorities were in the process of seizing three residences. Four search warrants - two in the Palestine city limits and two in the county - had been executed, he added. ...

Last month, an Anderson County grand jury returned indictments charging 56 defendants with various drug trafficking charges. Also last month, 16 other defendants were indicted by a Tyler federal grand jury. The investigation, early morning arrests and searches were led by the Dogwood Trails Narcotics Task Force and the Tyler office of the Drug Enforcement Administration. ...

Today's arrests marked the final phase of a two-year investigation which began in November 2002. Two years ago, the Dogwood Trails Narcotics Task Force initiated an investigation into the sale and distribution of crack cocaine in Palestine. The investigation has been linked to suppliers and distributors of illegal narcotics in Dallas and Houston.

Court documents indicate several of the defendants were involved in building a crack cocaine distribution organization in Anderson County. Conspirators utilized various suppliers to acquire quantities of crack cocaine to sell and then recruited others to distribute the drugs. If convicted, many of the defendants could face a maximum sentence of life in prison. Other federal defendants face between 40 and 300 years.

If "several" defendants were involved in distributing crack, according to the article, how does that justify indicting 72 people? By definition, the majority of defendants in this case must be, at most, drug users, not dealers, since there's simply no market to support 72 different dealers in Anderson County.

These long-term "investigations" follow a pattern -- the undercover operative befriends non-dealers in the black community and after a while asks for assistance purchasing drugs. Most people netted never profited from any drug sale, but either referred or acted as a go-between for someone they thought was a friend. That doesn't matter to the drug warriors, though.

Of course, that scenario assumes some of the cases aren't utterly trumped up to begin with. In Tulia and Floresville, TX, drug task force undercover cops actually set up innocent people. In the most famous of the Tulia scenarios, a young woman was able to prove she was cashing a check in Oklahoma City at the time the officer claimed she sold him drugs in Tulia.

With 72 defendants in Anderson County, it's not out of the question something similar happened in some of these cases. The 2-year investigation focused exclusively on crack, meaning virtually all the busts involved black folks (powder cocaine and meth are more common among E. Texas whites, but obviously they're not the drug task force's focus). That's sadly no surprise. In Texas, 70 percent of those entering prison for drugs in Texas are black (see footnote 22 of this report) even though studies show all races use drugs at about the same rate. A whopping 1 in 20 Texans are in prison, on probation or parole.

It costs about $15k per year to house prisoners in Texas -- more than that for the feds. The notion that taxpayers will foot the bill for these folks for as many as 40-300 years makes little sense. Even assuming all 72 defendants are actually drug dealers -- almost certainly a false assumption -- it'd be cheaper, and probably more effective, just to pay each of them $10-12K per year not to deal drugs! At least then they could pay taxes on the income and be available to support their families. But prisons are the largest employer in the area (see the subhed, Healthcare, Prisons, and Water), and vocal, organized special interests like the correctional officers union and the drug task force, whose jobs depend on a steady flow of new people into the system, are unlikely to criticize such excesses.

Interestingly, the Dogwood Trails task force nearly disbanded earlier this year because officials in the neighboring county of Cherokee, which is also in the task force, complained that little or none of the task force's drug enforcement efforts were expended in that county. The commissioners court there split in a 3-2 vote over whether to keep the task force. Clearly Dogwood Trails is still not working in Cherokee county if none of 72 cases made occurred there. Perhaps the Cherokee commissioners court should reconsider that decision next year when they're asked again to contribute money and manpower to drug enforcement in other counties.

A task force in Lubbock disbanded earlier this year in part because squirrelly undercover operations like the one in Tulia increased insurance rates, and meant the main agency in the task force was liable for behavior of officers they didn't hire or manage. This extremist sweep by the Dogwood Trails crew raises similar liability fears, one would think. Hard to believe these guys get away with this stuff.


Anonymous said...

I am from Tx. and i can say that this is the practice of the law there>My son is in prison there for drugs. Which no one is looking at the truth. They put it on him because he is a black male. These are the things that we as a community need to do something about. But what can we do as a people since we are talking about the law. I lived 90 miles south of Tulia and things with the task force there is just as bad. I wish someone could Help me because there are more issues to address.

Anonymous said...

It's okay, they've manufactured a new way of creating victims. You simply stalk someone you have a grudge against and put the "dealers" in their area and boom you now have a way of proving they were at the "scene". It's really amazing that they seem to pick on females and really young males.