Pubdate: Fri, 21 Oct 2005
Source: Austin Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2005 Austin Chronicle Corp.
Contact:  http://www.auschron.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/33
Author: Jordan Smith

CRACKPOT CRACKDOWN

Jackson County's DA Has Convicted 28 Black People on Drug Charges Via 
Manufactured Evidence and Railroaded Trials. Now a Small-Town Exile, 
Her Family, and a Few Neighbors Are Fighting Back

Frederick "Rick" Patterson was born in the small Southeast Texas city 
of Edna, seat of Jackson Co. and just north of Port Lavaca, in 1954, 
the same year the rural community earned its first moment in the 
national spotlight. That January, the U.S. Supreme Court heard an 
appeal brought by convicted murderer Pete Hernandez, an agricultural 
worker in Edna, who argued that Jackson Co. prosecutors denied his 
right to equal protection under the law by excluding 
Mexican-Americans from the jury pool. Hernandez's attorneys had 
discovered that from 1929 to 1954, not a single Mexican-American had 
ever served on a Jackson Co. jury - nor, for that matter, had any 
black juror. The state Court of Criminal Appeals had rejected 
Hernandez's argument - ruling that Hispanics were a subset of whites 
and therefore could not be considered a "special class" under the 
14th Amendment. But on May 3, 1954, in a precedent-setting opinion 
authored by Chief Justice Earl Warren, a unanimous Supreme Court 
disagreed. Hernandez had "the right to be indicted and tried by 
juries from which all members of his class [were] not systematically 
excluded," Warren wrote. Indeed, Warren noted that courthouse 
practice itself belied Jackson Co. officials' assertion that Mexicans 
were considered equal to whites, for the courthouse had two separate 
men's restrooms - one for whites, and the other labeled for "Colored 
Men" and "Hombres Aqui."

Fifty-one years later, it seems, too little has changed in Edna.

The segregated restrooms are gone. But the town remains an East Texas 
- - or Old South - throwback, where racism simmers like a bully's 
threat, and equal justice under the law appears little more than an 
outsider's sentimental fancy. And in the fall of 2002, Edna's 
institutionalized rural racism overmatched Justice's balanced scales 
when 29 African-American residents - nearly 4% of the town's black 
population - including Patterson, a lifelong Ednan, and later, his 
wife, Joycelyn - were rounded up and charged with felony drug 
offenses in connection with a six-month undercover drug sting, a 
joint operation of the Edna Police Department and the Jackson Co. 
Sheriff's Office coyly dubbed "Operation Crackdown."

"Eight of the defendants were located at one time in a bar in Edna. 
Four more were gathered up that same night," breathlessly reported 
the Edna Herald on Nov. 20. "The bottom line is that this type of 
conduct will not be tolerated here in Jackson County," sheriff Kelly 
R. Janica told the paper at the time. "We are going to do our job to 
keep drugs from infecting our streets." (And as this story was in 
preparation, it appears the job was far from completed - see 
"'Crackdown' Becomes 'Shutdown,'" below.)

But, in what has become an all-too-typical tale of rogue criminal 
justice in rural Texas - epitomized by the infamous 1999 Tulia drug 
sting - it appears that the Edna "crackdown" had much less to do with 
eradicating drugs than it did with institutionalized, small-town 
racism. Under the guise of removing drugs (specifically, crack 
cocaine) from the streets, local lawmen may have themselves broken 
state law, primarily by relying on a local crack addict as their sole 
informant to send 28 of the 29 defendants to prison for sentences 
from one to 20 years. Only two of the defendants, including 
Patterson, dared to challenge the charges in court; the rest accepted 
plea bargains offered by longtime Jackson Co. District Attorney Bobby 
Bell. They did so, it seems certain, in large part out of fear of 
challenging Bell's authority and thus receiving even heavier 
sentences. (Charges were dismissed in one case.)

One white Edna resident who requested anonymity, fearing retaliation, 
said bluntly that Bell's attitude is "'I'll break you, I'll take 
everything you've got; so take the plea [or] I'll make sure you go to 
jail.' He does as he pleases."

Indeed, going to trial didn't help Rick Patterson at all. Instead, on 
virtually no evidence, and that circumstantial, a jury of nine whites 
and three Hispanics (11 jurors were women) quickly convicted 
Patterson, and Judge Skipper Koetter imposed the max: 10 years for 
each of the three charges. (In a moment of magnanimity, Koetter ruled 
that Patterson's sentences should run concurrently.)

Crackdown was not the first operation of its kind in Edna. By the 
estimate of many African-American residents, at least half the 
county's black population is "on paper" in some way with Texas' 
criminal justice system, either in prison or out on parole or 
probation - meaning, among other things, that many local blacks are 
unable to vote. But Operation Crackdown may wind up being the sting 
that broke the back of the already disenfranchised and beleaguered 
black community - and the sting that finally pushes them to fight 
back. "I am 27 [years old] and for 10 years I've seen my people go in 
and out and in and out of jail," said La'Trinda Patterson, Rick and 
Joycelyn's eldest daughter. "This is how it is and this is how it is 
always going to be [if] everyone is intimidated by Bobby Bell. It 
[has] hit home, and I know my parents didn't do it."

Indeed, if La'Trinda Patterson and her parents, along with an 
increasing number of Edna's residents and a small group of mostly 
volunteer attorneys - among them Amarillo lawyer Jeff Blackburn (who 
was instrumental in overturning the unjust Tulia convictions) - have 
their way, Jackson County's brand of justice will finally be exposed, 
and Edna will earn a second moment in the national spotlight.

Playing Ball With Bell

On Nov. 11, 2002, Rick Patterson was on his way home from his job as 
a supervisor at the Inteplast plastics plant in Lolita, in southern 
Jackson Co., when he was stopped by police in front of the 
Rent-A-Center in Edna and arrested on three counts of delivery of 
less than a gram of crack cocaine. Word of Patterson's arrest spread 
quickly through Edna's northeast side, home to the vast majority of 
the town's 796 black people. It wasn't long before someone called 
La'Trinda Patterson at her home in Houston with the news. La'Trinda 
was shocked. "I was like, how in the hell did he get caught up in 
this shit?" she recalled recently. "For 50 years he did nothing but 
work and raise kids. Why, how, and why now?"

Indeed, the idea that Rick Patterson had anything to do with drugs is 
difficult to believe. Patterson was born and raised in Edna, as was 
Joycelyn, his wife of 33 years. The couple lived in the house 
Joycelyn grew up in, where they raised three daughters, looked after 
their aging parents who lived nearby, worked hard, and Rick coached 
youth sports. The Pattersons were one of the town's most respected 
black families - their door was always open, Joycelyn always had 
something cooking in the kitchen, and Rick often left his keys in his 
car in case somebody needed a ride.

Moreover, Joycelyn and Rick know the scourge of crack - their home is 
two doors down from a notorious and now-vacant crack house, and 
several of Joycelyn's relatives have long struggled with addiction. 
The Pattersons strove to ensure that their kids would grow up in an 
environment that strongly discouraged drug use. "My mom broke it 
down," La'Trinda said. "She said, you have two choices in life. One, 
to be a smoker and lose everything," or two, to get an education, get 
out of Edna, and live life. No one, including white friends of the 
Pattersons, could believe Rick was a drug dealer. The Pattersons "are 
a hard-working, taxpaying family that took care of their business and 
raised their children," said one native Ednan. "I believe they were 
ramrodded. I can't prove it, but I believe it."

The day after Rick was arrested, La'Trinda drove to Edna from Houston 
to help bail him out of jail and find an attorney. The family raised 
enough to post bond, but finding an attorney was another matter. 
La'Trinda called a host of area lawyers, but when she told them it 
was a Jackson Co. drug case and that her dad intended to fight the 
charges on the grounds that he was, in fact, innocent, the attorneys 
she called turned tail. "As soon as I said it was Jackson County, 
they said, 'Oh no, Bobby Bell.' And they wouldn't take the case."

The attorneys' reluctance didn't exactly surprise the Pattersons, who 
know that Jackson Co.'s long-time DA Bobby Bell has a reputation for 
being a hardass. "Lawyers come up from Houston or the Valley and 
they're shocked by the kind of justice they receive [in Edna]," said 
one area lawyer. "If you're charged with a felony narcotics offense 
there's not any way you're ever going to be given [probation]. Whites 
can get breaks, but blacks and browns don't get breaks; they get nailed."

Of the 29 defendants charged in Operation Crackdown, 27 were 
represented by court-appointed lawyers, and only two, Patterson and a 
man named Tvan Bryant, declined Bell's plea offer, choosing to go to 
trial. After finally securing Victoria lawyer Tali Villafranca to 
represent her dad, La'Trinda said her family was cautiously 
optimistic - after all, she said, her father is innocent. "[My dad] 
didn't worry because Tali said that since he was innocent he could 
beat [the charge]," she recalled. Rick had never been in trouble with 
the law before; he'd never even received a speeding ticket, La'Trinda said.

Their confidence was soon shaken by a phone call from Villafranca. 
"Tali ... called Bobby Bell to tell him that my dad wasn't going to 
take a plea bargain and that he was going to trial," La'Trinda 
recalled, "and then Tali called [my dad] and said that Bobby Bell 
said to tell him, 'I have a surprise for [Rick], since he wants to 
play ball with me.' ... The next thing we know ... my mom was 
indicted and arrested." Indeed, in early 2003, Bell again shocked 
many in the community by returning an indictment against Joycelyn, 
charging her with one count of selling less than a gram of crack to 
the same police informant to whom the other defendants were alleged 
to have sold drugs. "It was totally weird," La'Trinda says, recalling 
the day her mother was arrested. "My mama wouldn't even go near drugs."

The writing was on the wall: The wheels of Jackson County's criminal 
justice system - as operated by DA Bobby Bell - had begun to spin, 
and they weren't likely to stop until the Pattersons were behind 
bars. "That's when we started putting everything together," La'Trinda said.

Radio Castaneda

Nearly three years later, the procedural facts of Operation Crackdown 
remain fairly mysterious, largely because the undercover drug buys 
that led to the 29 arrests were made exclusively by a local crack 
addict, 26-year-old Santos Castro Castaneda. According to Castaneda's 
testimony at Rick Patterson's Aug. 2004 trial, the entire operation 
was basically her own idea. Castaneda, who had also grown up in Edna, 
had been addicted to crack since she was 16; she'd tried rehab but it 
hadn't worked. So, she said, she decided to try something different: 
If she helped "clean up" the streets of Edna, she wouldn't be able to 
buy any crack, and thus would have to quit using. "The reason why I 
decided to help [the police was] so then I wouldn't be able to buy 
drugs in Jackson County any more," she told the court.

According to Castaneda's testimony - and those of Edna Police 
Investigator Craig Repka and Jackson Co. Lt. Curt Gabrysch, who 
together formed the law-enforcement end of Operation Crackdown - the 
mechanics of the undercover stings were simple. On 22 different dates 
between May and November 2002, Castaneda drove to the municipal 
airport, just outside the Edna city limits, to meet up with Repka and 
Gabrysch. After performing a quick search of Castaneda and her car - 
theoretically to ensure that Castaneda wasn't carrying any drugs of 
her own - the officers provided her with buy money, typically $50 (in 
bills that, for evidentiary purposes, they'd photocopied back at the 
police station), placed an audio transmitter in her purse and sent 
her on her way. Castaneda was told to talk as she drove, identifying 
the streets she took and the people she encountered, so that - by 
secondhand description - the officers could track her.

Without Castaneda's audio, the officers would have had no idea where 
she was, because they didn't outfit her car with any video equipment. 
Nor did they stay within visible range of her as she trolled for 
dope. They had no choice but to remain invisible, the officers 
testified, because if they got close enough to see the action, the 
people they were angling to bust would most certainly spot them. 
Additionally, Castaneda said that she was discouraged from buying 
crack from the same person twice, since the goal was to try and get 
as many different "drug dealers" as possible. Once she'd spotted a 
dealer, identified the person on tape, and exchanged money for drugs, 
Castaneda was instructed to place the crack rocks in "a cup holder 
that's in the central console" of her car, Gabrysch testified, and 
then to drive back to the airport, where the officers seized the 
drugs. Over six months, the officers spent $1,340 on crack - funds 
variously taken from either the city or county police budget - and 
$2,985 on "rewards" for Castaneda, who got between $50 and $100 for each buy.

As was the case with each of the defendants, neither of the cops 
responsible for Operation Crackdown ever saw Rick Patterson sell 
drugs to Castaneda, or to anyone else. "To ... my knowledge no peace 
officer actually saw visually" any of the alleged drug deals, 
Gabrysch testified. Unbelievably, neither did Castaneda: "I was right 
there at the area but I did not never ever see Rick Patterson hand 
drugs to nobody," she testified. "And you are not claiming that Mr. 
Patterson ever gave you any drugs, are you?" Patterson's attorney 
Tali Villafranca asked.

"He never had," Castaneda replied.

"[H]e never gave them to you directly or indirectly, did he?" 
Villafranca asked.

"No, sir. He didn't. No, sir. He didn't," she said. "I'm very 
absolutely sure," she replied.

Still, Patterson was tried for three counts of selling less than a 
gram of crack inside a so-called Drug-Free Zone (i.e., near a school) 
- - which offered the state the ability to enhance his potential 
sentences from state jail felony counts (punishable by up to two 
years each), to third-degree felony counts, each punishable by up to 
10 years in prison. Yet amazingly, the state had absolutely no direct 
evidence that Patterson had ever committed any crime. "My client was 
convicted on hearsay upon hearsay upon hearsay," Villafranca said 
recently. "It was ridiculous; it was so frustrating."

What the state did have were the audio recordings Castaneda made as 
she cruised alone through Edna's eastside neighborhood. Exactly what 
those tapes reveal is a matter of considerable debate, and 
transcripts of the recordings reveal that Castaneda wasn't even 
particularly diligent in identifying her routes - on more than one 
occasion she says she doesn't know exactly what street she's on, or 
identifies the area by using the nickname of a person who lives 
nearby. All too often, the transcripts lack whole lines of 
conversation, noting only that the dialogue between Castaneda and 
whomever she is speaking to is simply "inaudible."

Big Rick and the Bitch

On only one point concerning Castaneda's wanderings do Patterson, his 
defenders, and Bobby Bell apparently agree. According to the 
recordings, on three different occasions Castaneda drove into Edna's 
black neighborhood and approached three different people - Acie 
Jones, Lisa Robinson, and Jesse Darnell Chase, all of whom are now in 
prison - looking for drugs. From there, according to Bell, the 
recordings reflect that each of the three people Castaneda approached 
directed her to Rick Patterson's house to score a "tight fifty" - 50 
dollars' worth of crack. "Three drug deals, three addicts, all direct 
[her to] Rick Patterson's house," Bell said.

In fact, Bell insists, you can even hear Patterson on the tape: "A 
person buying crack [Castaneda] says, 'Hi, Big Rick,'" he said. "We 
don't have many 'Big Ricks' in Jackson County." (Many black residents 
dispute Bell's contention: There are at least three men in the 
neighborhood named "Rick" or "Ricky," and in old-school Edna everyone 
has a nickname - if you're at all a large person, one of them is 
bound to be "Big.")

To Villafranca, Bell's account is nonsense. For starters, Villafranca 
said, the voice on the tape that Bell alleges is Patterson doesn't 
even sound like him. "It really didn't," he said. "They kept saying, 
'That sounds like a black man.' That's prejudicial; what does that 
even mean? That's what I tried to tell the jurors, [that] there is 
just no way to prove that's one voice or another." But the fact that 
Castaneda never actually purchased drugs from Patterson directly, or 
that neither Castaneda nor the police ever saw Patterson with crack, 
or saw him hand it to anyone, is of little consequence to Bell - 
indeed, for the DA, the omission appears to be only additional 
evidence of Patterson's guilt. "Rick Patterson is one of the biggest 
drug dealers we've had here," he asserts - conjuring up a version of 
the middle-aged plant manager as in fact a smart, sneaky, and 
paranoid dealer. "If I'm a major drug dealer and I'm smart, I 
recognize that I'm a [visible] guy [in Edna]," Bell speculated. "So I 
get little crackheads [whom I sell drugs through], and I'm never 
going to leave the house. I sell drugs through [addicts]."

Bell insists that his version of events is supported by the trial 
testimony of each of the three alleged go-betweens - Jones, Robinson, 
and Chase, who testified that they got crack from Patterson or from 
Patterson's house - that they then passed on to Castaneda. But their 
testimony was also problematic, and not at all reliable, says 
Villafranca. Jones, for example, was completely unable to describe 
the inside of Patterson's house in any meaningful detail. Moreover, 
each of the three had already been charged with dealing crack to 
Castaneda, and Robinson and Chase agreed to testify against Patterson 
only as a condition of their plea bargains. Indeed, in a prison 
interview this spring, Rick Patterson said that Robinson had 
confessed to a relative that she'd only agreed to testify after Bell 
threatened to stick her with "the bitch" - life behind bars - if she 
didn't cooperate. "Lisa [Robinson] and all three of her children got 
time," as a result of the Castaneda crackdown, Patterson said. 
"Everyone is just afraid of Bobby Bell." Regardless, whether it was 
fear or evidence or something else in between that sealed the deal, 
Patterson's 11-woman, one-man jury stood with Bell on Aug. 20, 2004, 
and convicted Patterson on all three charges. He was sentenced to 10 
years in prison.

Flat Time

The outcome of the trial devastated Rick's wife, Joycelyn. "I was so 
scared after Rick went to trial and got the 10 years," she recalled 
during an emotional interview. "He really didn't do anything. I think 
it was all a setup." Since she'd been indicted the previous year - 
five months after Rick told Bell that he would not plead guilty - 
Joycelyn said that Villafranca, whom the family had also hired to 
defend Joycelyn, had assured her that she and Rick would beat the 
rap. "I made the decision that I'd stand by [Rick] because they 
didn't have anything against me," she said. But according to Bell, 
Joycelyn had covered the family's crack trade one night in August 
2002, while Rick was out playing dominoes, by selling a rock to an 
addict (Tanya Williams, Joycelyn's goddaughter) who was allegedly 
buying for Castaneda. (Interestingly, Bell dismissed charges against 
Williams, writing in court filings that Williams' testimony was 
integral in putting a "substantial drug dealer" - presumably Joycelyn 
- - out of business.)

Whether there's any audio or other evidence to back Bell's 
allegations remains a mystery, since Joycelyn's case never made it to 
trial. Rick's conviction, based solely on the testimony of Castaneda 
- - the same addict whom Joycelyn allegedly had sold to - frightened 
her enough that in October 2004, Joycelyn agreed to plead guilty to 
one count of selling Castaneda less than a gram of crack. Like Rick, 
she'd never been in trouble before and had little understanding of 
how the criminal justice system worked; in deciding to plea, she'd 
placed her faith in Villafranca. "I've never dealt with ... the 
system before. I've never even had a speeding ticket," she said. 
"Tali had said all along [that] this was a first-time offense and 
[that all] I'd likely get would be probation."

That didn't happen.

On Nov. 8, 2004, Joycelyn was sentenced to two years "flat time" - 
since the alleged crack deal took place inside a DFZ, she would not 
be eligible for early release; the Patterson home, along with much of 
Edna's historically black neighborhood, is within 1,000 feet of 
Edna's Carver Elementary School, or else near the small patch of 
scorched earth next to the city's water treatment plant that is the 
neighborhood's only "park." Nearly one year into her sentence, 
Joycelyn is still confused and angry about what has happened. "I've 
been working since I was 16 years old. If we'd been dealing drugs we 
would've been staying in a brick house and not in the same house I 
grew up in. If we'd been dealing drugs I would've been driving a nice 
new vehicle and not a 1992 Camry," she said during an August 
interview at the women's prison unit in Gatesville. "If you ask me, 
Bobby Bell is crooked and has been for a long time; he's taken it 
[upon himself] to get rid of all the black people. They sent me to 
prison because I am black and living in Jackson County."

Welcome to Belltown

Outside Jackson Co., Bell is probably known, if at all, as the 
prosecutor who secured a death sentence for 18-year-old Ronald Ray 
Howard, whose defense in court for the 1992 fatal shooting of Texas 
Department of Public Safety Officer Bill Davidson during a traffic 
stop outside Edna was that he'd been unduly influenced by gangster 
rap lyrics. (Howard was executed on Oct. 6.) Inside Jackson Co., and 
especially around the county seat of Edna, Bell's reputation is 
legendary - and somewhat alarming. Many, and not only on the 
eastside, snidely refer to Edna as "Belltown" - a place where Bell is 
the king of the hill, and Jackson Co.'s only real power broker. "He 
is. And if you ever cross him, for whatever reason, he has no 
compassion," said one white resident, who for that reason declined to 
be named. "You should see him operate in court; it's a show in and of 
itself. It's a whole production, with that little smirk on his face. 
. And people do what he wants - they're afraid of him. Everybody's 
afraid of him."

Sitting behind a wide desk in his office on the second floor of the 
featureless prefab courthouse in downtown Edna, Bell brusquely 
rejected that characterization. On the wall behind him are oil 
paintings of golf course holes (one of Pebble Beach, the other in 
Minnesota); before him his ornate desk plate reads "Billy Bob DA." "I 
don't think that's true; I reject your premise," he said, shifting in 
his chair. "I am elected and serve [the voters]. If you don't want to 
do the time, don't do the crime."

What people forget when "they're trying to lay it on me," Bell said, 
is that he takes his cues from the voters - from those who cast their 
ballots for him and from those who sit on his juries. Jackson Co. 
jurors consistently vote to sentence defendants to an average 90% of 
the maximum punishment, which, says Bell, has nothing to do with him. 
Indeed, as evidence of his compassion, he says his plea offers are a 
lot less time than 90%. "I don't think I'm being a hard case to offer 
40%," he said. In the case of Operation Crackdown, he thinks the 
sentences he offered were more than fair - including his refusal to 
offer either Rick or Joycelyn probation for their first-time 
offenses. He simply doesn't consider probation in any drug-related 
case, he said, "because the juries don't ever give it."

Yet Bell's protestations are belied by the fact that after Joycelyn 
pled guilty late last year, he indicted Rick Patterson yet again, 
charging him this time with perjury, according to state prison 
records - presumably for proclaiming his innocence at trial. Bell 
told me that he doesn't actually recall the charge. "I'm not saying 
it's not there," he said, "[but] I don't know."

To Bell, Rick's problem - and, by extension, Joycelyn's - is that he 
hasn't accepted responsibility for his actions. "He never did - he 
made no attempt to spare his wife, who is in prison by reason of his 
drug dealing," Bell said. "He never said, 'I'll man up and tell the 
public what I did.' I said, 'Look Frederick, just man up here.' We 
got him three times; I said, 'I'll offer four years to run CC 
(concurrently), and I'll dismiss on your wife.' But he wouldn't take it."

Bell rejects the possibility that Patterson refused to plea because 
he was actually innocent. "What irritates me the most about Frederick 
is that he was a Little League coach, and put himself out as a pillar 
of society, all the while he's one of the biggest crack dealers in 
Jackson County," he said. "When someone keeps insisting that they 
didn't commit a crime - he has every right to do that, but I think 
with Frederick Patterson it's to the point of ridiculous. I don't 
care what [Patterson and his] family says.'"

Against the Law

How it is that Bell is so confident of Rick Patterson's guilt, and 
certain of the fairness of a Bell-run Jackson Co. criminal justice 
system, is a complete mystery to the Pattersons' current attorneys, 
Joseph Willie and Jeff Blackburn. For starters, the use of Castaneda 
as the lone "witness" to the alleged crack sales, bolstered only by 
the dubious testimony of three convicted felons, simply isn't enough 
to satisfy state law, says Blackburn. He ought to know: He helped to 
craft the 2001 law outlining the standard for corroborative evidence 
in police undercover drug operations. Often referred to as the Tulia 
Law, it was passed in the wake of the notorious Tulia drug sting, in 
which 39 defendants were convicted of selling cocaine to the state's 
lone witness, a rogue drug-task-force "gypsy cop" named Tom Coleman, 
who claimed to have written all of his investigative notes on his 
leg, and who has since been indicted for perjuring himself during his 
Tulia-related testimony.

In the wake of that debacle, state law was amended to provide that no 
defendant could be convicted of dealing drugs in connection with an 
undercover operation based solely on the testimony of a confidential 
informant who is not a cop but is operating "under the color of law 
enforcement," unless that testimony is corroborated by evidence that 
does more than simply reiterate the allegation that a crime took 
place. "Under the law ... undercover crackheads - informants, drug 
users, rats - must be corroborated," said Blackburn, who agreed to 
look into the Pattersons' cases, and into Operation Crackdown as a 
whole, after being contacted by La'Trinda Patterson this spring. "I 
looked in vain at these cases to find any form of corroboration. 
[But] they are only corroborated [by] other people who have no 
credibility whatsoever." In this respect, he said, the facts 
supporting Edna's Crackdown convictions are even weaker than those in 
Tulia. "These cases were not made by police officers, but by this 
undercover drug user," he said. "That makes these cases less 
reliable, and thus worse on facts than what was done in Tulia, where 
at least they had the sense to hire a police officer - albeit a lying 
police officer. In Edna they didn't even get a cop."

Indeed, not only had neither of the Crackdown cops, Repka and 
Gabrysch, seen any of the alleged drug deals go down, but they also 
lacked video or still surveillance photos to back up Castaneda's 
detail-weak testimony. Nor did they have any other form of physical 
evidence. Neither the Pattersons' home nor Rick's car was ever 
searched by police, nor did law enforcement ever seek access to the 
Pattersons' bank records. (Nonetheless, the state proffered as 
evidence a lone photocopy of the drug-buy money police allegedly 
supplied Castaneda copied before she set off to buy crack.) "That's 
basically the way they do things in Edna" - they don't abide by the 
rules, said Houston attorney Willie. "[Operation Crackdown] was 
totally against the law."

Snow Fell on Edna

Bell says those assertions are absurd, and insists that the evidence 
against the Pattersons was more than sufficient. There might not be 
direct evidence that Rick Patterson ever sold drugs, he said, but 
that doesn't mean he didn't do it. "If I go to bed and my grass is 
green, and I get up [in the morning] and there's snow, I have no 
direct evidence that it snowed," Bell explained mysteriously. "What 
I'm saying is that ... if you [require] that [kind of direct 
evidence] then you'll never get to prosecute. Circumstantial evidence 
is [apparently] not enough for you," he said, his voice rising. "What 
you're doing is trying to take the role of the jury and questioning 
the integrity or reliability, or whatever, of someone [Castaneda] 
telling the truth." Indeed, in court Officer Gabrysch resisted 
Villafranca's suggestion that Castaneda might not be reliable. "[I]s 
it fair to say that people that have a serious narcotics problem have 
problems being honest?" Villafranca asked. "I would not say that," 
Gabrysch replied.

In a perfect world, Edna's law enforcers wouldn't have to use a 
crackhead informant like Castaneda, says Edna Police Chief Clinton 
Wooldridge. "It would be great if ... we had Harry Potter's invisible 
cloak," he said, because Edna's too small for any of the roughly 20 
officers employed by the Sheriff's Office and EPD to be able to work 
undercover, and they just don't have the resources to hire an 
undercover narc. The Texas DPS has an entire unit of narco officers 
able to assist smaller counties with Crackdown-like operations, but 
Wooldridge says he didn't think to ask, in part because he didn't 
think DPS would actually be able to help. "They prefer to help you 
instead of doing something for us" - like make the actual drug deals, 
Wooldridge said. In short, for Operation Crackdown, he said, "we 
didn't see the need" to ask DPS for help. "It seemed like it was 
working just fine."

Ironically, regarding the failure to search the Pattersons' home or 
to gather any other physical evidence against Rick Patterson, 
Wooldridge and Bell say they didn't have enough probable cause to 
legally gain access. They could've gotten a search warrant 
immediately following each of Castaneda's alleged buys, but if they'd 
done that they would've blown their whole operation, says Wooldridge. 
Indeed, despite Bell's insistence that Rick Patterson was Edna's 
crack kingpin, neither he nor Wooldridge were apparently willing to 
risk losing any of the smaller beefs they'd had on the addicts to 
whom Patterson presumably sold, in order to take down their kingpin 
source. And there's just no way a judge would've signed a warrant to 
search the Patterson home after Rick had been arrested, Bell said - 
unless they wanted to do so "illegally."

In the end, Bell said he doesn't know whether Castaneda's court 
testimony, explaining her motive for acting as a confidential 
informant as a way to somehow keep herself off drugs, was actually 
the truth. But in the final analysis, her motivation isn't important. 
"I don't know whether to believe her or not," he said, "but that 
[was] her logic."

A Closed County

Bell's steadfastness may seem defensive, but it doesn't surprise 
Blackburn, La'Trinda Patterson, or many other black Ednans. Blackburn 
dismisses Bell's explanations for the lack of solid evidence against 
the Pattersons - and, by extension, the rest of the Crackdown 
defendants - as "standard" yet "weak" excuses. "We're living in a 
time where a satellite 10 miles up in the stratosphere can take a 
picture of someone and can be blown up [so] you can see that the guy 
is wearing a yellow shirt," he said. "To live in a time and age where 
that is possible, and to say, 'We don't know how to get rudimentary 
evidence,' or to suggest that [Jackson Co.] should be excused because 
we're 'poor little Edna' is just ridiculous." He adds that while it 
is true that law enforcement can't use "stale" evidence to obtain a 
search warrant, it is also true, given their assertion that Rick 
Patterson was a "major drug dealer," that they should've had enough 
to get a warrant. "At best that is disingenuous," said Blackburn. "At 
worst it is a load of crap."

Instead, to Blackburn, Edna's approach to eradicating drugs and 
taking down dealers suggests motivations far from pure. "If you are 
engaging in responsible law enforcement in drug laws, you target the 
number one dealer, build a slow and steady case and then take him 
down," Blackburn said. "If [your law enforcement] is politically 
motivated, and you want to be re-elected, then you do what [Bell] 
did: make a bunch of sloppy cases on users and then name a couple of 
'kingpins,' from among those who are better-liked and 
[well-respected] in the black community." That kind of "law 
enforcement" is typical in rural Texas, Blackburn said. "It's 
business as usual - a perverted function of the criminal justice 
system: to make yourself look good by grinding up black and Hispanic 
people. And it's all drug war shit; it's like an exile strategy [for 
African-Americans] that they've worked out."

To La'Trinda Patterson, that assessment hits home. Rick and Joycelyn 
Patterson owned their house, worked hard, were always willing to help 
others, and often had at least some money left over each month. The 
combination, she says, made them a clear target. "If you're black and 
you own something, you're fortunate, and they don't like that," she 
said. But that's the way it's always been in Edna, with several black 
families - the Pattersons, members of the Robinson clan (especially 
Jean and Olin) and Tracy Santellana, who owns the eastside mortuary 
(the only remaining black-owned business in town) - standing out as 
strong and well-respected, and thus, La'Trinda says, "targets" of 
Edna's power structure.

Indeed, in recent months Bell has indicted Santellana as well as Jean 
and Olin Robinson on charges unrelated to the Crackdown - and Jean 
Robinson is certain the charges against her and Olin were motivated 
entirely by her increasingly vocal opposition to Edna's status quo. 
Jean says she started going to city council and county commissioners 
meetings two years ago, after two black teens came to her complaining 
of harassment by police. Black kids are followed, harassed, and 
pulled over by police for no apparent reason, she says. And she's had 
enough: "This is a closed county; they do what they want," she said. 
"I'm not saying ... criminals should get off free, but we want the 
same justice."

Robinson's message hasn't gone over particularly well, at least on 
the whiter side of town. On May 8, Jean, her handicapped husband 
Olin, and her sister Patricia Bryant were down the block from their 
home after driving nearly two hours on their return from a family 
gathering in Austin, when five police cars - including several 
Jackson Co. sheriff's cars and two Edna PD cars - began following. 
Jean says one may have had its lights on, albeit not the lead car. 
Disconcerted by the show of force, she drove the final half-block and 
into her driveway before stopping.

The police were not happy. They cuffed her and Olin, searched the 
car, and would say only that the Robinsons were being arrested for 
"resisting." Olin was later charged with assaulting a police officer, 
after Olin's paralyzed hand hit a cop who was trying to get his arms 
behind his back, and Jean is now facing two criminal counts, one a 
felony charge of "evading arrest" - apparently for her failure to 
pull over immediately. (According to the Edna Herald, the brigade of 
police were trying to pull Robinson over for failing to stop at a 
stop sign, failing to use her turn signal, and for having a "faulty 
brake light." Robinson denies all three allegations.) The charges are 
pending and Bell says he's therefore not at liberty to discuss the 
case, but he assured me that he's "made her what are reasonable [plea] offers."

Thus far Joycelyn's appeals have been denied, and on Oct. 6, Rick's 
appeal was denied by the 13th Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi. His 
attorneys argued that the evidence used against him - Castaneda's 
weak testimony, supported only by the equally questionable testimony 
of the three plea-bargained go-betweens or "accomplice witnesses" - 
was simply not enough to sustain a conviction. "At the outset, this 
Court must decide a preliminary question of law: may an informant 
corroborate the testimony of an accomplice, and vice versa?" Justice 
Dori Contreras Garza wrote for the court. "No Texas court has 
addressed this question." In the end, the court declared the 
corroboration sufficient. "We are aware of the absence of guiding 
case precedent in this area of the law, but we are confident that the 
legislature would have combined the informant and accomplice 
corroboration provisions if it had intended to prohibit an informant 
from corroborating the testimony of an accomplice and vice versa."

So it goes in Edna - but perhaps not for much longer. At least that's 
the hope of La'Trinda and her family. Undeterred by the Corpus 
Christi decision, Blackburn and the small contingent of Texas Tech 
law students who work with him through the West Texas Innocence 
Project continue to research the Operation Crackdown cases. "I am 
continuing my own investigation ... looking at patterns, and 
preparing," Blackburn said.

La'Trinda says she is determined to see her hometown transformed into 
a place that treats everyone fairly. "Home is not home, and it should 
be somewhere you're proud to be from and would go back to. But Edna 
is hell. There's nothing there; there's no way to advance yourself, 
and you don't get a chance to. Nothing is fair there," she said. "I 
have to do what I have to do so that these boys will quit messing 
with the black people of Edna."

[sidebar]

'CRACKDOWN' BECOMES 'SHUTDOWN'

Although District Attorney Bell described Rick Patterson as Jackson 
County's kingpin dealer, Patterson's incarceration has apparently 
done little to curb Edna's drug problem  at least officially. On 
Sunday, Oct. 9, Edna police arrested 13 more people in connection 
with another undercover drug sting, this one code-named "Operation 
Shutdown." Bell has so far indicted 25 people  most of them 
African-Americans  in connection with the new sting, including 
several who only recently completed prison sentences as a consequence 
of Operation Crackdown. At press time, details of the Shutdown sting 
were still unknown, although Jackson Co. sources say the charges are 
based on the work of yet another confidential police informant.

[sidebar]

OPERATION CRACKDOWN CONVICTIONS

All of the Edna defendants were charged with at least one count of 
delivery of less than one gram of crack cocaine. Seventeen were 
charged with delivery inside a Drug-Free Zone (near a school), which 
allowed the state to seek a longer sentence; 12 defendants had their 
charges "enhanced" based on prior charges  in one case going back as 
far as 1975  for which they'd already served their time.

Jerline Robinson: 1 year

Tameka Robinson: 1 year

Kendra Dilworth: 1 year

Kevin Wayne Robinson: 1 year

Anthony Pernell Callis: 15 months

Myron Hardaway: 18 months

Joycelyn Patterson: 2 years

Joseph Hebert: 2 years

Lisa Robinson: 2 years

Jesse Darnell Chase: 2 years

Quincy Anderson: 2 years

Cassius Dewayne Clay: 3 years

Keith Levar Childs: 3 years

Acie Jones: 4 years

Frankie Jamel Brown: 4 years

Derrick Barnes: 4 years

Terrance Jerome Dilworth: 4 years

Toney Demetrice Dean: 5 years

Jeddrick Robinson: 5 years

Ira Donnell Dilworth: 5 years

Donovan Dwayne Dilworth: 6 years

Joseph Turner: 8 years

Rick Patterson: 10 years

Jovell Wallace: 15 years

Norris Lee Nollie: 16 years

Tvan Bryant: 20 years

Nikia Latrail Dilworth: 20 years

Tanya Williams: dismissed

Shaina Weitz: unavailable
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake