Pubdate: Wed, 27 Aug 2003
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Copyright: 2003 The Dallas Morning News
Author: Will Harrell
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


More than four years after the infamous Tulia bust, Gov. Rick Perry finally 
has allowed justice to be served by acting on the Texas Board of Pardons 
and Paroles' recommendation to pardon the 35 convicted defendants whose 
cases were pending before the State Court of Criminal Appeals. Mr. Perry's 
action offers a rare opportunity to feel proud of our state leaders after a 
summer of bitter partisan battling. We are grateful to the governor for 
doing the right thing.

But our battle is far from over.

The Tulia defendants ultimately, if very belatedly, received justice 
because of the persistent demands and commendable efforts of their families 
and friends, civil rights and civil liberties organizations and a small 
phalanx of volunteer attorneys. An intense media focus also was 
instrumental in keeping the Tulia story on the public's mind. But in few 
other cases are so many resources available or mobilized or news stories 

The Tulia sting drew international attention, in part because 39 of 46 
defendants were black. But those numbers hardly represent a unique case. 
Statewide, black people regularly are targeted in drug stings set up by 
regional narcotics task forces like the Panhandle Regional Narcotics 
Trafficking Task Force, which through racial bias and institutional 
recklessness made Tulia a household name. Like the Tulia defendants, many 
blacks are convicted based upon the uncorroborated word of an undercover 
police officer, with no additional evidence to show they ever committed a 

We expect the Tulia saga to remain an international symbol of the many 
failures plaguing the Texas justice system - particularly the continued 
operations of regional drug task forces, which are inefficient and 
wasteful. The Panhandle Regional Narcotics Trafficking Task Force and its 
kin are structured as unaccountable extra layers of bureaucracy that behave 
as free agents, financed by federal grant funds, and don't report to any 
elected government body. Most of them focus too much attention on low-level 
drug stings in poor, minority neighborhoods and never track drugs "up the 
ladder" to big-time drug importers. And many of them perform racial 
profiling on Texas highways, using traffic stops as a pretext to search 
cars randomly for drugs.

The court system, the Legislature and, now, Mr. Perry have recognized and 
publicly acknowledged that what happened in Tulia was wrong. What they 
haven't done is to change the criminal justice system in order to avoid 
future "Tulias," either by eliminating drug task forces or by changing 
existing laws that honor convictions based solely on the word of undercover 
officers. One person's word shouldn't qualify as evidence "beyond a 
reasonable doubt" - even when that person is a law enforcement officer.

Mr. Perry deserves tremendous credit for pardoning the final 35 Tulia 
defendants. We hope he and the Legislature will demonstrate leadership in 
2005 and fix the failures that created Tulia by eliminating regional 
narcotics task forces and ensuring that no one is convicted on an 
undercover officer's uncorroborated word.

Will Harrell is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of 
Texas. His e-mail address is Suzy

"Who would believe that a democratic government would pursue for eight 
decades a failed policy that produced tens of millions of victims and 
trillions of dollars of illicit profits for drug dealers, cost taxpayers 
hundreds of billions of dollars, increased crime and destroyed inner 
cities, fostered widespread corruption and violations of human rights - and 
all with no success in achieving the stated and unattainable objective of a 
drug free America?" Milton Friedman, winner of 1976 Nobel Memorial Prize 
for economic science

"You can get over an addiction but you can never get over a conviction." 
Jack Cole, Retired undercover police officer 
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