Pubdate: Sun, 14 Mar 2004
Source: Amarillo Globe-News (TX)
Copyright: 2004 Amarillo Globe-News
Author: Ralph Routon, Amarillo Globe-News Executive Editor


Through all the painful details of Amarillo paying $5 million to settle a 
lawsuit over the Tulia drug sting of 1999, one vital point appears to have 
eluded many city officials.

Somebody has to be responsible.

This cannot be swept under the nearest rug, simply by writing a $5 million 
check and hearing attorney Jeff Blackburn say how admirable Amarillo's 
actions were.

It's not just a bad dream that will go away, simply because Amarillo agreed 
to effectively shut down the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Trafficking Task 

Somebody has to be responsible.

We're going to continue saying that, in part because so many Amarillo 
residents feel the same way.

We're not satisfied, being told how much worse this outcome could have 
been. We're not relieved that our city government has to shell out $5 
million of our money instead of $53 million, $200 million or whatever.

We're not content with the explanations so far, especially the one 
insisting Amarillo's responsibility and legal exposure were mainly the 
result of being the task force's lead agency.

That's not good enough.

Somebody has to be responsible.

This is not to suggest corruption is running rampant in Amarillo city 
government. It's not. In fact, after the settlement went public, the 
prevailing mood inside City Hall was gloomy, somber, even depressed and 
embarrassed, starting with City Manager John Ward.

Still, it's amazing that not one elected city official attended the news 
conference Thursday announcing the settlement. Just lawyers.

It's amazing that nobody involved, either in city government or with any 
aspect of the task force, has openly acknowledged the threat of a public 
revolt here. Nobody seems to realize that people will blame somebody - and 
if they don't get answers, they'll want scapegoats.

It's even more amazing that no elected official has called for a full, 
complete accounting of what went wrong inside the task force, since the 
operation was being run by two Amarillo Police Department officers. We're 
not talking about just an internal investigation, because that already has 
been done, but the sincere promise of a speedy, thorough, unbiased public 
report to the people of Amarillo.

It's mind-boggling that nobody has demanded anything like that.

Somebody has to be responsible.

And every Amarilloan deserves to know the details.

We know the task force has had many positives, many successes. But we also 
know it had little if any outside supervision. We know that Lt. Mike Amos, 
head of the task force, could have prevented the hiring of agent Tom 
Coleman. We know that Sgt. Jerry Massengill was supervising Coleman and the 
discredited Tulia investigation.

Yet, we hear Amos and Massengill are retiring "voluntarily," and nobody is 
holding them publicly accountable in any way.

Why not? And if not them, then who?

Somebody has to be responsible.

Somebody has to explain why nobody was watching the task force more 
closely. Somebody has to explain why, if Coleman and the Tulia 
investigation weren't up to Amarillo and APD standards, nobody raised a red 
flag and nothing was done - long ago.

Somebody has to explain why, after Coleman himself was charged with a 
felony in 1998, early in his Tulia investigation, nobody saw the prospect 
of a damaging credibility problem for Coleman. And nobody made any effort 
then to remove him from the task force.

Somebody has to explain why, even after Coleman's cases began falling apart 
at least two years ago (surely, the task force and APD knew before that), 
nobody viewed it as a shortcoming of task force leadership.

Somebody has to explain why nobody considered doing anything about the task 
force - or Amarillo's participation in it - until now. Also, please tell us 
how nobody saw or feared the possibility of the city being legally culpable 
for the task force's actions.

Somebody has to explain what has been or will be done to make sure nothing 
resembling this happens again - ever.

Somebody has to investigate the situation and make sure this Tulia debacle 
is the task force's only legal albatross. Somebody has to find out for sure 
whether any other potential lawsuits might be lurking out there.

If anyone in Amarillo city government honestly thinks the worst is over, 
and that the best strategy is to use the $5 million settlement and 
abandoning the task force as cover to ride out the storm, that's a serious 

Somebody has to be responsible.

People won't forget this one. And neither will we.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake