Pubdate: Sat, 21 Jun 2003
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Copyright: 2003 The Dallas Morning News
Author: Ruben Navarrette


The national media descended this week on the Texas Panhandle town of 
Tulia, where 12 people - all but one of them African-American - were freed 
after spending four years in prison on drug convictions that didn't hold 
up. The unraveling was no surprise. The convictions were based on the 
uncorroborated testimony of an undercover police officer who was fond of 
using the "n-word" and whom a judge found to be not credible.

Before the Tulia 12 really can be free, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals 
must overturn the convictions. But at least for now, justice has been 
served. A helping of served-up justice could be useful here in Dallas 
County, where dozens of people - most of them Mexican immigrants and legal 
residents - also had their lives turned inside out when they were arrested, 
convicted and jailed in drug cases that also came unraveled. In total, 86 
cases were dismissed by the district attorney's office. And this time, 
there was a surprise. What police and prosecutors thought was cocaine 
turned out to be billiard chalk. Supposed big-time drug traffickers turned 
out to be patsies on whom the fake drugs most likely were planted by 
enterprising informants, crooked cops or both.

We still don't know which. And we didn't learn much from a 15-month 
investigation by the FBI, a probe that so far has resulted in the paltry 
indictment of just one individual. Mark Delapaz, formerly a senior corporal 
with the Dallas Police Department, was indicted last month by a federal 
grand jury and charged with depriving individuals of their civil rights and 
providing false information to a federal agent investigating the case.

Because the public still doesn't know what happened in Dallas or which 
individuals, procedures or institutions are to blame for this egregious 
violation of civil liberties, another inquiry is warranted. And necessary.

It is time for Congress - specifically, the House Judiciary Committee - to 
take up the matter. After all, the committee already has agreed to wade 
into what happened in Tulia, in part because Tom Coleman - the free-lance 
police officer who made the drug busts - was invited into Tulia by the 
Panhandle Regional Narcotics Task Force, a federally funded joint operation 
intended to fight the war on drugs.

Naturally, members of Congress are concerned about whether a federally 
funded initiative contributed in any way to a situation where civil rights 
were violated. They can bring that same concern to the Dallas drug cases, 
many of which were completed as part of the same sort of regional task 
force in North Texas. In fact, Mr. Delapaz moonlighted on federal drug 
cases, using the same informant who later was discredited in the fake drug 
scandal. Federal officials claim that none of the resulting cases was 
tainted, but these are the same folks who seem to be telling us - up to 
this point - that Mr. Delapaz worked alone. Talk about not being credible.

Of course, in delving into the Tulia affair, the Judiciary Committee also 
is responding to pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus, which asked 
for the inquiry. So why hasn't the Latino equivalent - the Congressional 
Hispanic Caucus - done the same? The Hispanic caucus talks a good game 
about wanting to protect the rights of immigrants. Well, here's its chance. 
Shouldn't at least the handful of members from Texas have raised the issue 
to their colleagues?

Apparently, they did. According to one Texas congressman, the issue has 
been discussed in at least one of the organization's weekly meetings. But, 
he said, there was no consensus about whether it was worth pursuing. 
According to the Hispanic caucus' protocol, the group can't take a public 
stand on an issue until all 20 members agree. That rarely happens. And it 
didn't happen in this case. (When I sought comment on the fake drug scandal 
from several other members of the caucus, no one wanted to talk about it.)

According to the Texas congressman, there was the usual regional squabbling 
where Hispanic officials from the Northeast and Midwest might as well have 
been from a different planet than the ones from the West and Southwest. And 
believe it or not, ethnicity was an issue. Some members, the congressman 
said, were concerned that if Mr. Delapaz were found guilty, things could 
get messy. It might be noted that the culprit and all the victims were 
Hispanic. This, it was suggested, would only contribute to the public's 
perception that Hispanics are their own worst enemy.

Now, where would anyone get that idea?
- ---
MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart