Pubdate: Wed, 02 Oct 2002
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2002 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspaper
Author: Robert Crowe
Bookmark: (Drug Raids)


After mistaking a backyard patch of okra for homegrown marijuana, the La 
Porte Police Department has found itself in the middle of an internal 
affairs investigation into whether an officer stole personal property 
during the mistaken drug raid.

The officers on Aug. 14 served a warrant at the home of 88-year-old Irene 
Gilliam Hensley, in the 200 block of North Nugent Street. Officers believed 
her grandson, Charles Gilliam, who also lives there, was growing pot in a 
backyard shed and garden.

The department received a warrant after an officer -- following a tip from 
a family member of Gilliam's -- said he saw marijuana plants growing in the 
backyard after he peeked over Hensley's fence.

While the officers seized a pipe, catalogs and High Times magazines, they 
found no marijuana. The plants the officer identified in the backyard 
turned out to be okra in Hensley's garden.

Gilliam was arrested and charged with a Class C misdemeanor for possessing 
the pipe, which he said belonged to his deceased father, as drug paraphernalia.

Gilliam, 33, is upset with the ordeal. But his primary concern, he claimed, 
was that the officers took some of his personal journals and have not 
returned them.

He filed a complaint against Officer T.D. Phelan for "stealing" the 
journals, which Gilliam said have information for a book he is writing 
about his adventures working as an informant for law enforcement agencies 
when he was a member of a white supremacist group.

Phelan could not be reached for comment.

The complaint has triggered an investigation by the police department.

"In those notebooks I had the names and phone numbers of all the people 
I've ever worked with," he said. "I swear to God I saw my notebooks in the 
bag they had of stuff they seized. All I want is my notebooks back." On the 
day of his arrest, Gilliam said he noticed Phelan was holding at least one 
of his notebooks, which also included story ideas, poems and song lyrics.

La Porte Police Chief Richard Reff said the department has asked Phelan to 
undergo a polygraph test, but officers, like private citizens, are not 
required to take polygraph tests.

"When he (Gilliam) said stuff was taken but not returned to him, that 
initiated an internal affairs investigation for theft," Reff said. "We are 
now investigating a theft of two spiral notebooks. When we complete that, 
we will work on the administrative side to look for procedure violations; 
then we will take the case to the (District Attorney's office) for a public 
integrity review."

Gilliam and Hensley complained about the incident before City Council this 

"It was horrible. It was shocking. They stormed the door and about six or 
eight policemen barged in my house," Hensley said. "They had me so shook up 
I didn't know what they was doing. They just handed me a piece of paper and 
said it was a warrant."

Hensley said the whole situation would not have happened had her family not 
been feuding. It was Gilliam's 15-year-old cousin, Clinton Ryan Tully, who 
stated for the search warrant that Gilliam may be growing marijuana in a 
backyard shed.

Just days before the arrest, Gilliam and his aunt, Peggy Tellez, had been 
arguing. Tellez is Tully's grandmother.

While she alleges he threatened her and told her "to watch her back," 
Gilliam alleges she told him she would "find a way to get him out of the 

"I did not tip the police department off (about the marijuana), but he 
threatened me," she said of the incident at Hensley's house a few days 
before the arrest.

Gilliam thinks Tellez and Tully cooked up the story about the marijuana to 
get him out of his grandmother's house.

The warrant specifically stated the officers seeking the warrant had 
experience identifying marijuana plants.

Reff said he was not embarrassed about the snafu his officers made when 
misidentifying the plants.

"I wouldn't say it's embarrassing, but I was surprised," he said. "There's 
a lot of things coming out now we're well aware of that we weren't aware of 

Tellez doubts Gilliam's story about the stolen notebooks.

"I don't think the notebooks existed. I've never seen them," Tellez said. 
"For some reason, my mother believes him."

Gilliam said he has had encounters with the law, and he was once a "white 
supremacist," but he is not a threat to his family or society.

Gilliam said he does not work, but receives federal disability checks 
because he suffers from a bipolar disorder. He also said he is acting as 
his grandmother's caretaker.

As part of the investigation, the police department also would have to 
establish whether Gilliam is telling the truth. Gilliam said he would take 
a lie detector test, if asked.

Reff said all police officers involved in the search and seizure deny 
taking the notebooks.

"You have to prove that something was actually stolen. He says it was 
stolen and they say it was not. Somehow we have to prove that a theft 
occurred," Reff said.

In another twist to the story, the La Porte Police Department recently 
contacted Gilliam to let him know he had a warrant for his arrest because 
of an unpaid fine on a misdemeanor charge that took place in Austin in the 

Gilliam paid a fine associated with the warrant. He thinks the department 
is now trying to retaliate against him. Gilliam has asked the Harris County 
District Attorney's office to conduct an investigation of the La Porte 
Police Department.

"This is a sham investigation ... and this investigation needs to be taken 
out of La Porte's hands," he said.

Reff said he will submit the results of the investigation to the DA's 
public integrity unit.

"They make the call if they need to take it to the grand jury," he said.
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