Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Drug task force cites Grits in federal court motion!

Well, it's nice to know somebody's reading this stuff! This blog was cited last month in a Motion for Reconsideration submitted to a Waco federal court by attorneys defending the Byrne-grant funded drug task force in Hearne, which ACLU sued over wrongful arrests and racial profiling.

Regular Grits readers know a lot about these corrupt pseudo-entities that first made national headlines after the infamous Tulia drug stings. (The sheriff's deputy in that case, Tom Coleman, was convicted of perjury in Lubbock last month.)

Here's the story: Grits reported here about U.S. District Judge Walter Smith's ruling that all counties involved are liable for the task force's misbehavior. The national ACLU Drug Policy Litigation Project sued the Hearne task force in 2001 after a widely publicized racial profiling case involving wrongful arrests based on testimony from a lying confidential informant. Now attorneys for Limestone County have asked the judge to reconsider his ruling, and quite humorously, passages from Grits constitute some of their primary arguments!

The attorneys pulled selective quotes from that blog post to try to portray the judge's ruling as some radical interpretation. Citing my comment that the ruling was "HUGE," the court filing intones that ACLU is "hailing the decision as perhaps the most important blow they have been able to inflict in their crusade to abolish narcotics task forces." That's hogwash -- I called it "much bigger, in the scheme of things, than Tom Coleman's perjury conviction," which is true. Coleman's conviction was a footnote to a major story -- in Hearne, the end of the story has yet to be told. However, Governer Perry's pardon of the Tulia defendants, the abolition of the Amarillo task force in the Tulia civil settlement, a Texas' House Committee's recommendation to abolish drug task forces, and decisions by Lubbock, Tarrant County and others to leave task force system all had bigger, real-world impact than this court decision.

Selective quotation is a fun game, to be sure, and certainly Grits' posts are fair game for criticism. But the drug task force's motion pulls quotes out of context to make it sound like I was advocating some radical notion instead of black-letter law. I said the ruling meant that, "in cases like Tulia and Hearne, all counties in a drug task force are liable, even if they weren't remotely involved" (emphasis added by defendants). However, the motion didn't quote portions of the post that would have told the judge that attorneys for other drug task forces agreed with Judge Smith's interpretation of the law! For example:

Lubbock's disbanding of the South Plains task force last year drew lots of media attention. Here's the explanation given for their actions by the Lubbock paper:

Topping the list of Lubbock's concerns was the tremendous level of liability risk for any and all of the cities involved.

As the department responsible for the $655,000 grant that funded the task force, the Lubbock force also was liable for the actions of participating officers in the 18 counties that comprise the task force, according to a police department statement.

One need only recall Amarillo's recent experience with the Tulia drug defendant cases to recognize the tremendous financial liability potential that Lubbock had to take into consideration in making its decision to withdraw. The resulting civil suit and legal settlement from the now-discredited Tulia drug sting cost Amarillo about $5 million.

In that respect, the decision to withdraw from the regional task force was a difficult one, but it also was the right one.

So Lubbock's attorneys also believed they'd be liable for other counties' actions. I guess nobody thought Judge Smith would care about THAT part of my blog post! Similarly, all 26 Panhandle counties paid off in the Tulia civil suit, even though only two agencies were formally involved, because their attorneys and insurance carriers believed, as Judge Smith ruled, that all counties were liable for the task force's actions.

The defense motion correctly notes, by the way, that I'm director of ACLU of Texas' Police Accountability Project. But for the record, this blog is a personal, not an ACLU project.


Pete Guither said...

Congratulations for hitting the big time!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks, Pete, but I don't know that a Waco federal court is the "big time"! Doc Berman's Sentencing Law and Policy blog was actually cited in a U.S. Supreme Court decision recently! By comparison these drug task force guys are, at best, I'm afraid, a rather shabby rendition.

Interestingly Berman also had a shadow blog set up devoted to chiding and teasing him a bit over his Booker prognostications, while I had the Gypsy Cop Blog established to criticize me by what amounts to an angry police stalker. I've wondered recently how it is that my blog's life has taken on the trappings of a third-rate verions of Berman's!