Pubdate: Wed, 28 Feb 2001
Source: Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (TX)
Copyright: 2001 The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
Author: Deon Daugherty


AUSTIN -- State Rep. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, is planning to file
legislation to ensure that an "injustice" similar to a controversial
1999 drug bust in Tulia doesn't happen again, he said.

The lawmaker said Tuesday he will sponsor the "Tulia Proposals," a
series of measures drafted by the Texas chapter of the American Civil
Liberties Union.

The legislation was designed in response to an investigation that led to
the arrest of about 10 percent of Tulia's black residents for drug
crimes based solely on the testimony of undercover officer Tom Coleman.

Charges against one of the defendants have been dismissed, and Coleman's
work is now under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department.

"I feel we need to find ways to correct those types of situations,"
Hinojosa said.

"It's a responsibility of the Legislature to investigate. ... It is
unacceptable, what happened in Tulia."

The measures suggest:

* Limiting a judge's authority to exclude evidence

* Giving the public access to statements to the Texas Commission on Law
Enforcement Officer Standards and Education that describe the
termination of an officer when sustained allegations of excessive force

* Requiring corroboration of testimony by undercover agents.

Will Harrell, executive director of the Texas ACLU group, said
Hinojosa's position as a respected lawmaker and chairman of the House
Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence makes him a solid sponsor of the

The measures are vital, Harrell said, because ACLU members don't believe
the Tulia incident is an aberration.

"We think 'Tulia' is a commonality. The only difference is they got
caught," he said of allegations of law enforcement wrongdoing.

Prosecutors and law enforcement authorities in Swisher County deny any
wrongdoing in the case and insist that the arrests and prosecutions were

Harrell also said at least six other cases in Texas would be addressed
by the proposed legislation.

Hinojosa said the Tulia case, in which evidence that could have harmed
Coleman's credibility was not allowed, illustrates an abuse of the law,
and something needs to be done to prevent it from happening again.

Most urban parts of the state require corroborating evidence when only
one agent testifies, Hinojosa said.

Matt Powell, first assistant with the Lubbock County Criminal District
Attorney's Office, said decisions of how much evidence is needed is
handled on a case-by-case basis.

"One of the reasons is, very simply sometimes those guys are going to
put their lives in jeopardy" if they are found with a wire or other
recording device, he said.

"Ultimately, a jury has to decide if they believe someone beyond a
reasonable doubt, and the law allows them to, based on the testimony of
one witness."
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