Friday, August 18, 2006

Waiting for an Explanation

This concludes a series of posts inspired by a federal drug conspiracy case targeting a middle aged housewife and three of her children.

Gasps and murmurs rose from the thirty family members sitting in the gallery when Judge Tucker Melancon granted new trials to Ann and Edward Colomb and Danny and Sammy Davis. A U.S. marshal wheeled to face the exuberant throng. “Be quiet!” she barked.

Judge Melancon’s ruling took everyone by surprise. Assistant U.S. attorney Brett Grayson had hoped for twenty-year sentences for Sammy and Edward (enhanced by their felony conviction in 1993), ten years for Ann and Danny and the confiscation the Colomb family residence. It was not to be—at least not yet.

Defense counsel had entered the day-long hearing hoping that Judge Melancon would call for an evidentiary hearing in which the strength of their arguments would be tested. No one expected the judge to grant all four motions for a new trial without an additional hearing.

Over a month later, Judge Melancon still hasn’t released a written ruling explaining his decision, and several more months may pass before he explains himself. Was the judge simply concerned about the quality of snitch testimony in this particular case; or did the allegations proffered by Quinn Alex and John Doe suggest that the unrestricted use of uncorroborated inmate testimony had become what one defense attorney called a cancer on the criminal justice system?

It is possible that the judge’s ruling was primarily inspired by a drug addicted confidential informant named Stevie Charlot. During the March trial, Judge Melancon remarked that he certainly had an opinion of Stevie Charlot’s credibility but refrained from elaboration. At the July hearing Brett Grayson challenged the judge to explain his cryptic remark. Melancon replied that Charlot was probably the least credible witnesses he had ever run across. He even called the informant’s testimony “an abomination.”

The feds would be smart to drop all charges on all defendants and walk away from this case so public defenders will have no reason to probe the implications of this case any further. In a proverbial fox-guarding-the-henhouse maneuver, the Drug Enforcement Administration rushed in to handle the “investigation” into the two inmates alleging a conspiracy of snitches and the six inmates (headlined by Dexter Harmon) they have implicated so far. One defense attorney has charged that the DEA is purposely skirting the obvious questions because they don’t want inconvenient answers memorialized in the record.

To date, Ann Colomb and her sons have stuck to their guns: there will be no plea offers accepted in this case—nothing short of full exoneration will suffice.

After the Tulia fiasco the Texas legislature passed legislation requiring the corroboration of confidential informants like Stevie Charlot. The reform community tried to extend this requirement to police officers but our efforts were swamped by a tidal wave of lobbying from the law enforcement establishment. But even a limited corroboration bill led swiftly to the Dallas Sheetrock scandal and a series of less dramatic victories for simple decency.

Jailhouse snitches live several notches down from confidential informants on the credibility scale, especially in the federal system where the inducement to lie is so powerful it can hardly be exaggerated. Most confidential informants are petty street hustlers trying to avoid incarceration; federal inmates are far more likely to fabricate testimony because snitching is their only ticket to a time cut. Certainly, if Stevie Charlot lacks credibility, Dexter Harmon’s uncorroborated allegations should never reach a jury.

Moments after Judge Melancon’s dramatic announcement, Brett Grayson waived a stack of papers in the air like a latter day Joe McCarthy. The DEA had interviewed Dexter and the boys, the federal prosecutor told the judge, and every one of those boys had sworn they were telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

In the absence of a smoking gun we are left with a simple question: should men like Brett Grayson, whether operating at the state or federal level, be allowed to prosecute drug cases without a shred of corroborated testimony?

When the law is manipulated to put innocent people in prison, the law must be reformed. Will this simple maxim shape Judge Melancon’s written ruling? That is my prayer.


thehim said...

Alan, I'm way behind on these. Is there going to be a page that has all these posts together?

Anonymous said...

Couple of Thoughts:
"but Ann distinctly said she would have to call her son Edward because she didn’t know where she kept her drugs."

If Hundley put this in a report, there will be a phone call on Ann's home phone or her cell phone to Edward. Easy to check that.

The buy in 2002 didn't occur in the guest room where the drugs and money were found. Edward wasn't in the house when the house was searched after the buy so it's possible Edward took the bottle and the buy money when he left.

I guess what troubles me is that Edward was involved in the buy yet he wasn't followed afterwards or arrested. Ann was arrested and the buy money wasn't in the house. That tells me Hundley and the other cops left the house to get the warrant so the buy money you'd expect to find in the house could be gone. But the fact is was gone means that the owner of the money and drugs in the guest room was not part of that small deal. If he was, a portion of that buy money would be in there.
Finally, Edward, Ann, and Danny had to have telephones in October 2002. So would Dexter Harmon. Those records can be easily obtained along with credit card records, and bank records. Neighbors could be interviewed. Friends and non-friends can give you clues however you are evaluating a phenomenon that started about ten years ago.
State and local agencies working state and local level cases in federal court. It's not new and it's the flagship of DEA because drug enforcement is now about partnerships, working together, and task forcing. Destroying organizations top to bottom. Dismantling entire organizations yet the press releases have more cooperating police agencies than defendants.
Drug purities, drug availabilities and drug overdoses are on the rise and so are jail populations.
This case started out as a state and local investigation of the Colomb-Davis family in 2002. Resources weren't combined until later but when they were, that's when all of the home-cooking starts. Cases all of a sudden have connections that weren't there before and the upper level defendants would prefer to testify down not up.
DEA lures state and local agenices into their task forces with promises of asset forfeiture and overtime. Before long there are more state and locals than DEA Agents and after a couple of years the state and locals control the daily efforts and resources of the office.
DEA has very strict policies, procedures, and standards when it comes to investigations and informants. They apply to the Agents but DEA largely ignores them when it comes to someone deputized.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Bean,

Tulia had nothing to do with it. DEA's annual budget is fixed when it comes to salaries, moves, and other appropriated activities.
What's not scrutinized is nonappropriated money like OCDETF, HIDTA, and other federal monies that each agency can and must compete for.

These monies, like the DEA Task Force concept, are tied to "cooperative efforts" where fifteen agencies simultaneously target an organized criminal effort.

These monies are triggered by a proposal and these proposals have turned critically need federal drug investigations into creative writing assignments.

If you can get your hands on the proposal that triggered this OCDETF investigation, you'll find out what they knew about Colomb-Davis before they started talking to the snitches. You'll also know what they thought Harmon knew and you'll get alot of the information that will help you with this enormous task.

Grayson is likely the lead OCDETF attorney in that area and he gets credit for prosecuting Colomb-Davis and all of the OCDETF targets he prosecutes in that area. He doesn't get credit for the OCDETF numbers outside his area so try and get that proposal.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Bean,

Creative Writing Assignments: I have a blank copy of an OCDETF proposal. If you give me an address, I will mail you a copy.

OCDETF funding requires certain criteria and one of the criteria is the targets must be high level, multi-state, and the organization must be identifiable with multiple members.

I have never met Ann Colomb or the Davis boys but I could write a proposal (the're never used in court) that would trigger funding. It would go something like this: Ann Colomb is the head of a close knit criminal organization based in Lake Charles, Louisiana that distributes multi kilo quantities of crack cocaine on a regular basis. The other known members of this organization are Danny Davis, Sammy Davis, and Edward Davis. According to local authorities, the Davis brothers have been involved in drug trafficking in the area for years and at least one of them has a prior drug conviction.
The source of the cocaine is unknown at this time but the family has strong links to known drug sources in Houston, Texas.
The Lake Charles Police department has extensive intelligence information regarding the Colomb-Davis organization.
They believe the Colomb-Davis organization has acquired assets derived from their criminal activity and those assets will be seized and forfeited to the departments who participate in this investigation.

That's creative writing. All of it exaggerated but it triggers the funding and from that point on, the local cops and often prosecutors tailor their reports and intelligence to make the proposal come true. Imagine being an OCDETF coordinator in Washington D.C., reading this proposal, and NOT give them funding.

I supervised a drug task force that did nothing but search warrants. They used informants I never saw. They kept no tapes or statements of the buys and they always used a particular attorney from a local state's attorney's office to do their warrants.

They always had probable cause after a couple of buys and then they served the warrant. Inside the house they arrested everyone which was seven or eight people. Down the road the charges were always dismissed against seven of the individuals but this DEA task force didn't keep track of dispositions only arrests.

Then came my scrutiny of the informants and I found out that often times there was none. The informants were told by these cops to use their own money and make the buys when they could. The informants agreed to do this out of fear and then the cops wrote up the buys like they searched the informant, and surveilled the buy in real time. I venture to say that 90% of their investigations were created after the fact and they did it for fourteen years sanctioned and paid for by DEA.

Corrupt cop cultures and creative writing doesn't begin to explain my experiences in these task forces which are always separated from the structure of accountability and oversight.

DEA is currently akin to Sgt Shultz and Colonel Klink in Hogan's Heroes. They hear and see nothing because if they do they will assuredly be sent to the Russian front just like me. Luckily I could retire but when I did I took all of the records I need and what goes around will certainly come around.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

When you send Alan that OCDETF proposal, why don't you shoot me one too: Scott Henson c/o ACLU of Texas, P.O. Box 12905, Austin, TX 78711-2905.


Anonymous said...

I'm sending copies to both of you today.

As for FOIA language, I would simply attach a copy of the proposal and state you want a copy of the original proposal like the attached proposal for "Operation Whatever".

Knowing you know what you're looking for will cause Grayson to reassess stalling you with non-answers.

The Drug Exaggeration Administration is currently juggling three balls: Drugs, Terrorism, and linking two problems that largely exist outside this country to their DEA task force program.

Before, their exaggerations were supported by state and locals who contributed people for overtime and asset forfeiture. More enforcement beget more money, more arrests, more jails, more prisoners but not less drugs. People like you are catching on to their bullshit so unless DEA makes that link, look for an immediate change of focus.

You may not believe it, but there are many DEA Agents who would love to see DEA's domestic drug task force programs immediately shut down. It has cost many Agents their careers and over 50% of the DEA supervisors are currently sitting in their task force office waiting for that phone call. The phone call from their DEA supervisor who got a phone call from a pissed of Chief of Police who felt his department deserved more of a share of some forfeited money. He's also reviewing DEA reports of two DEA deputized local cops who he knows are lying in their reports but he signs off on the reports hoping no one else notices it. That's because he can't do anything about it and two calls in the same week makes him look like the problem.

DEA has the resources, the people, the money, the offices, and the laws to work on the sources of the drugs. That's the level they should be working at and when their resources are domestically misdirected, the results are domestically catastrophic.

Looking back, Colomb-Davis are not worthwhile federal targets but they were when it started. Follow the money and the money starts when it starts.

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