Pubdate: Fri, 12 Mar 2004
Source: Amarillo Globe-News (TX)
Copyright: 2004 Amarillo Globe-News
Author: Jim McBride, The Amarillo Globe-News
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


The future of Texas Panhandle drug task force operations remained
murky Thursday in the wake of a lawsuit settlement that guts the Texas
Panhandle Regional Narcotics Trafficking Task Force.

But some members of the task force's board of governors said they
expect the board to meet and discuss the settlement's

City Manager John Ward said the city of Amarillo will no longer be the
agency sponsoring the task force.

"This will be our last year. It will end in May," he said. "We will
then have our own narcotics enforcement section of the police
department. It will take care of Amarillo. As far as the task force, I
don't know what happens to it."

Amarillo City Attorney Marcus Norris said the federal courts likely
would have taken a dim view of the facts in the Tulia lawsuit if it
had gone to trial.

Norris said the case could have established troubling precedents in
civil rights law.

"We just thought the facts were too bad," he said. "I think this is a
case of that magnitude. It would have gone to the 5th Circuit Court of
Appeals. It would have gone to the Supreme Court. And if you're going
to take a case up that may make new law, you want to get a law you can
live with. And we did not think this case gave us that opportunity."

Canyon Police Chief Bobby Griffin, a member of the board of governors,
said the board probably will meet soon to discuss the settlement.

"Right now I'm just sitting in the dark," he said.

Griffin said day-to-day task force operations are run by its
coordinator, Amarillo Police Lt. Mike Amos, who was unavailable for

"Lt. Amos oversaw the day-to-day operations. We were really more of an
advisory board," Griffin said. "Swisher County had Coleman in there.
They hired him. They placed him down there undercover. He pretty much
just worked his little corner down there."

Randall County Sheriff Joel Richardson, a member of the board of
governors, said he was not on the board during the Tulia case but was
surprised the task force may be disbanding.

Richardson said the board of governors provides overall goals for the
task force but has no say-so over day-to-day operations.

"We set the overall goals on the operation but didn't govern the
day-to-day operation. Therefore, I certainly can't be critical of the
day-to-day operation," he said. "I also want to say that I have
nothing but praise for the officers that have worked their hind ends
off in that unit. It's some of the most dangerous police work that
there is."

Richardson said a regional approach to combating drug trafficking has
been effective, but he said area law enforcement agencies will have to
meet and discuss their future plans.

"From the city's point of view, and probably everybody else's, it is
time to do something perhaps differently and try to do it better,"
Richardson said. "Joint intelligence and joint resources are no doubt
better than everybody trying to go their own way .... I haven't had
time to think it through as to where to go from here."

47th District Attorney Rebecca King, another member of the board of
governors, said she had little information about the settlement and
its implications for her office. The task force funds one attorney's
position in her office.

APD Cpl. Jerry Neufeld said the task force has four officers and two
secretaries paid by federal grant funds passed on by the governor's

Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Tela Mange said she did
not know what the impact of the settlement would have on DPS.

Mange said the DPS took over drug task forces in the state in January
2003 after Gov. Rick Perry expressed concerns about task force
operations throughout Texas. Before that, some task forces operated on
their own.

"We were not involved in the task force that was operating in Tulia,"
she said.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake