Pubdate: Fri, 12 Mar 2004
Source: Amarillo Globe-News (TX)
Copyright: 2004 Amarillo Globe-News
Author: Joe Chapman
Pictures: Who's who in the Tulia case
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


Shoddy police work and a flawed system that didn't let the city control the
task force it headed have brought about Amarillo's $5-million payment to
former Tulia drug defendants, officials said Thursday.

The Amarillo Police Department was the lead agency for the Panhandle
Regional Narcotics Trafficking Task Force, for which discredited agent Tom
Coleman operated in Swisher County.

Coleman faces perjury charges for testimony he provided in the 1999 Tulia
drug case that led to the arrest of 46 defendants - 39 of whom were black -
and imprisonment of 35, all of whom were later pardoned. The defendants
sued Amarillo for its involvement in the task force they say violated their
civil rights.

By settling, Amarillo resolved its financial obligations without a jury's
determination of guilt. But leaders say mistakes were made in how the city
participated in a task force that subjected the city to liability it
couldn't control.

APD Chief Jerry Neal said Lt. Mike Amos and Sgt. Jerry Massengill,
supervisors of the task force, would retire before the end of the year.
Neal spoke Thursday from a hotel room in Abilene, where he was attending a
weeklong training seminar.

Amos notified the chief months ago that he would retire this year, probably
in October, Neal said. But Neal learned of Massengill's retirement on March
5 from the city's legal department, he said.

Neal said Amos had done a good job with the task force and was a good

City Manager John Ward, however, said he was dissatisfied with Amos'

"I'm not pleased with the way (the task force) was administered, no," Ward

"I think the whole structure was flawed, and I think the governance was
flawed. So should he have stopped it? I don't know. I don't know what was
in his head. I don't know how closely he was following this activity in
Swisher County," Ward said.

"I certainly wish he would've stopped it. Knowing what I know today, and
knowing what he knows, he would've stopped it, I'm sure."

Amos did not answer requests for comment.

Tod Mayfield, attorney for Amos and Massengill, said his clients are fine
officers and aren't retiring because of the settlement.

"Without getting into specifics, these two police officers have stellar
records throughout their careers," Mayfield said. "They just reached a
point that they just feel it's time to retire."

Ward said another flaw that inhibited administrative control was the
ineffectiveness of the task force's board of governors. The board was made
up of representatives of the member agencies and included sheriffs,
district attorneys and APD Chief Neal.

"That board of governors never governed, as far as I can tell," he said.
"They never did anything but approve budgets administratively. They didn't
adopt policies or set procedures. That's where the governance was flawed."

Board member James Farren, Randall County attorney, said the board of
governors was only an advisory board that received reports at the end of
the month, after activity had been completed. It couldn't have given
mandates to sheriffs or other law enforcement officials, he said.

The task force was only a loose coalition of law enforcement, formed to
share resources to help communities combat a common problem, he said.

The lack of centralized control let Amarillo be implicated by an agent
acting not according to city law enforcement standards, Ward said.

"(Coleman) did a deep undercover operation, which we do not do," Ward said.
"He did not wear a wire. He did not have any video. He did not have any
recordings. He did not have any corroborating testimony from another police
officer. We require all those things. But Swisher County did not."

Ward said he didn't know whether the task force, which was started in the
1970s before his tenure, was a bad idea.

"But knowing what we know today, we'd only participate in it if all the
employees were ours and under our supervision," he said.

Chief Neal had proposed that the task force be made up of APD officers when
it expanded in 1988, but other counties and agencies insisted on keeping
their autonomy.

"As it was told to me," Norris said, "the sister counties in the Panhandle
said, 'No, no, no. We don't want Amarillo running the whole show. We want
the right to assign our own officers, and we want the right to have a say
in how the task force operates.'

"Amarillo, in trying to be diplomatic and neighborly said, OK. And look
where we are today," Norris said.

Neal said because the dangers weren't obvious, he never advised the city
commission that task force membership was risky or that the city should
withdraw from it.

"Things went real well over the years up until this incident in Tulia,"
Neal said. "So there really was nothing that raised any red flags or any
problems with it.

"I just hate that it happened," he said of the task force's disbandment.
"The task force has done some good work over the years, and I just hate
that it's happened like this."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom