Dallas police frame and deport Hispanics
By Mark Harrison, November Coalition
The Dallas Police Department arrested 39 Hispanic people for possession and distribution of a white, chalky substance that field-tested positive for cocaine. Two undercover cops and a paid informant reported that drugs had been sold or shown to them, which led to the arrests. But in lab tests that police hoped would not be conducted, it was determined the "drugs" were powdered wallboard gypsum. Prior to this, however, with plasterboard in the evidence room, the prosecution went forward in 59 cases against dark-skinned "cocaine" dealers whose defense testimony was no match for the calculated lies of the police and their informant.
Amel Santos, 26, immigrated illegally to the U.S. when he was 11. He was working as a mechanic in his family's shop before being swept up in the dragnet that targeted mostly Mexican nationals last year. Santos was a productive member of his community in a Dallas neighborhood, supporting himself and family with honest work. Santos was not a criminal; so police decided to make him one. The informant simply claimed that Santos had showed cocaine to him, which is good enough for the Texas anti-drug task force to get a search warrant.
Sure enough, at Mr. Santos' place of business, police found more gypsum in a pickup truck parked outside the garage. Mr. Santos was arrested last July on a charge of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance over 400 grams - of powdered wallboard - and was deported to Mexico. Mr. Santos denies ever possessing, using or selling cocaine and says he would like to return to the U.S., but defense attorney Cynthia Barbare is not hopeful. In behalf of her clients, Barbare ordered the evidence tested and believes all of the defendants were targeted by police for deportation, as does the ACLU of Texas which is monitoring the cases.
Racial profiling is one of the most effective Bill of Rights-busting weapons in the illegal arsenal of "law" enforcement. Another is the confidential informant who, for freedom, money and drugs, lies under oath with the full knowledge of prosecutors and police - and often under their direction.
The Dallas police not only got their man, but they got many men who were selected by race to possess counterfeit drugs. Trace amounts of cocaine were found in some of the evidence, but powdered dry wall was curiously the defendants' "drug" of choice. The district attorney's office is working to dismiss all 59 cases against these victims of racial profiling and police corruption - but many have already been deported.
The undercover police, known as Bruiser and Cruiser, who battled
the scourge of plasterboard in Dallas have been placed on administrative
leave, which means if they weren't cops they'd be in jail. The
gypsum informant was paid $200,000 of public money for his services.
And, as a crucial witness in a case that publicizes gross police
corruption, common in anti-drug task forces everywhere, the police
made sure that the snitch was deported to Mexico, too, never
to testify again. Seventy cases dating back to 1999 involving
the informant are being reviewed, said Police Chief Terrell Bolton
in an AP report, which means hundreds more lives have been added
to the hundreds of thousands shattered by the drug war.
Texas anti-drug task forces have happily rampaged across the Lone Star State for more than a decade, but their continuing excesses and abuses are arousing increasingly hostile responses from victims and civil rights advocates. The Panhandle Area Drug Task Force is one of numerous federally seeded, multi-jurisdiction law enforcement organizations that pays its expenses partly with assets seized from its victims.
The Task Force gained national infamy when it participated in the widely criticized drug raids in Tulia in 1999, but it is not the only drug task force to come under fire. In an attempt to quiet the rising clamor, Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced in January that he was moving to bring all drug task forces in the state under the watchful eye of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS).
That won't be enough for Spicewood resident Sandra Smith, 56, who was held at gunpoint by Capital Area Narcotics Task Force officers last May when they raided her home after airborne surveillance mistakenly identified ragweed, growing at the back of her rural lot, as marijuana. Operating without a search warrant, the SWAT-style raiders helicoptered in and ransacked her property, but found no drugs. And they kicked her old dog, too, she claimed. Now, she and other residents of the home outside Austin are suing Travis County, the task force, and the individual officers involved. Each plaintiff is seeking $35,000 in damages from each respondent for violating civil rights.
"This is the most terrifying thing that even happened to me in my life," Smith told the Austin American-Statesman. "I've never been in trouble with the law. I don't even smoke cigarettes."
"That raid was something worthy of the old secret police in the Soviet Union," said Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Liberties Project handling the lawsuit. "What they did was pathetic, but also dangerous. These cops thought these people had some pot, so instead of getting a warrant, which would be standard police-practice, they just jump in with this unjustifiable array of force," he told DRCNet. "And when they figure out they're wrong, they still hold the people at gunpoint while they ransack the house looking for some sign of wrongdoing, and when they can't find anything, they leave without a word of apology."
The lawsuit charges the task force with violating Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizure and with using excessive force, and demands that Smith's name be removed from a state drug suspect database. "They totally botch this raid, they violate her Fourth Amendment rights, and then they put her in the computer as a narcotics offender," said Harrington. "It isn't right. If she gets stopped for a traffic violation, they'll search her now. It's a law enforcement zoo."
The problem of out-of-control drug enforcement in general, and the task forces in particular, are as big as the state of Texas, as this admittedly partial list of task force blunders, botches, and crimes from recent years makes clear:
The sheetrock scandal is only the latest in a tawdry series of Dallas narcotics police corruption scandals that have enveloped the department for the last decade, beginning with two officers nicknamed "Bruiser" and "Cruiser," who made an extracurricular living shaking down drug dealers in the early 1990s. (See related story on page 1)
"You don't need these kinds of units," said Harrington.
"They need to abolish these task forces all together. They
are structured so you can't avoid this sort of abuse. What in
heaven's name was the point in creating all these regional task
To qualify for federal funds, the task forces must come up with a 25% match for whatever federal funds they receive, and therein lies a problem. Because local funding can be 'iffy,' the task forces have become self-sustaining, primarily by seizing cash and goods from the people they arrest. Under Texas law, arresting agencies are allowed to keep all assets seized.
The funding imperative also distorts task force priorities in other ways. Making repeated arrests of small-time crack dealers may not do anything to reduce substance abuse, but it's a fine way of creating impressive statistics used to garner a bigger share of task force grants. "It's all about the numbers," Chambers County defense attorney Ed Lieck told the Observer. "More numbers mean more money. I've been doing this for ten years, and law enforcement is about the money. Anybody who tells you different is lying to you," he said.
"I think that's the key to this whole problem," said Will Harrell, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. "It's numbers by any means, and nobody is doing an assessment of the methods used," he told the Observer. "Statistics from small-time crack busts, income from highway stops, it's a winning formula."
It's not a formula that pleases former Travis County Sheriff and current state Rep. Terry Keel (R-Austin). "There are legitimate questions about integrity and tactics when it comes to these task forces, and there have been for many years," Keel told the Austin American-Statesman. "I don't always agree with the ACLU, but they have good reason to be concerned about this. It is a flawed approach, and it has had poor results, mediocre statistics at best, and it has been rife with corruption."
While Gov. Perry has belatedly attempted to bring his cowboy cops under the control of the Texas Narcotics Control Board, critics have charged it isn't enough. "I'm not prepared to say it's going to work," said Harrell. "Only time will tell if it is a facade or if it's genuine oversight."
That's not enough for Harrington. "These things need
to be abolished," he told DRCNet. "They are ridiculous
and dangerous. They botch things up, they're unprofessional,
and they're violating peoples' rights with serious consequences."
Source: DRCNet's The Week Online
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