Pubdate: Mon, 26 Dec 2005
Source: Lufkin Daily News (TX)
Copyright: 2005 Cox Texas Newspapers, L.P. - The Lufkin Daily News
Author: Emiily Taravella, Cox East Texas


NACOGDOCHES - Kim Courtney-Graham nearly died when she was shot while 
working undercover as a narcotics officer on Aug. 26, 1998.

She lost 50 percent of her blood, and her trauma surgeon didn't think 
she would pull through.

Her daughter was in the seventh grade at the time, and her son was 6 years old.

Courtney-Graham fought for her life, because of her children. And 
after she recuperated she returned to the streets and kept fighting 
drugs, because of her children.

"I see what drugs do to kids every day," she said.

Courtney-Graham has dedicated the past 10 years of her career to 
narcotics enforcement, and she has spent the past seven years at the 
Deep East Texas Narcotics Trafficking Task Force.

Funding for the task force will cease March 31, 2006 - and 
Courtney-Graham is one of 15 local narcotics officers who will lose her job.

Her husband, Kent Graham, is another. One legal adviser and two 
secretaries will also be looking for work.

Beginning March 31, Task Force Commander Reynold Humber said he 
intends to work full-time at Walker Motors, where he has worked 
part-time for the past few years.

"Most of our people are looking for jobs, and most have pretty good 
prospects," he said. "Right now, I'm uncertain - but I'll probably 
retire. This has pretty much soured me on law enforcement. When the 
top leaders of our country are folding to ultra-liberal groups for 
political correctness . . . "

Humber said he doesn't think the plan to dissolve narcotics task 
forces will last.

"Our job is essential," he said. "The drug problem drives all crime. 
It's going to get so bad they'll have to come up with something to 
redo it, but by then no one will be interested in doing it because of 
everything that's happened. I never thought this would happen. A sad 
aspect is that a bunch of people will be out of jobs, and things are 
going to get real bad, real quick at the end of March."

Courtney-Graham said narcotics officers still go to work every day, 
and do their jobs.

"They could be killed, knowing they don't have a job as of March 31," she said.

In recent weeks, law enforcement officers in Fort Worth and Dallas 
have been shot by people who were high on methamphetamines.

Methamphetamine use is rampant in East Texas - maybe more so than 
anywhere else in the state, Courtney-Graham said.

Anyone who doubts it need only ask an officer for the Deep East Texas 
Narcotics Task Force.

History Of The Deep East Texas Narcotics Trafficking Task Force

The Deep East Texas Narcotics Trafficking Task Force opened its doors 
in 1988 under funding from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant.

The task force is comprised of five counties and three municipalities 
in East Texas encompassing 4,385 square miles and a population base 
of more than 200,000 people.

Methamphetamine production, sales and usage is the No. 1 targeted 
problem, followed closely by crack cocaine distribution and sales, 
Courtney-Graham said.

Presciption fraud and illegal sales of prescription drugs is another 
growing problem, she said, adding that marijuana distribution and use 
is ongoing.

Byrne grant funds are dispersed through the criminal justice division 
of the governor's office.

The CJD announced earlier this year that the Bryne Grant program 
would be "closed out."

Agencies were given the option of applying for funding to carry them 
through March. Some agencies that had enough funding to be 
self-sustaining chose to withdraw from the program.

The Grahams, along with others in narcotics enforcement, believe the 
funding cuts for narcotics task forces can be attributed to problems 
that were uncovered in 1999, in Tulia. Undercover narcotics officer 
Tom Coleman arrested 46 people - nearly all black - on charges of 
being drug dealers in Tulia.

These people were later pardoned by Gov. Rick Perry, after a lengthy 
investigation into their arrests. Their convictions were based solely 
on the uncorroborated word of Coleman, who wore no wire, had no 
partner to corroborate his testimony, collected no fingerprint 
evidence and had no surveillance video or still images to prove guilt.

The Grahams said measures were taken years ago to ensure that there 
would never be another Tulia.

"What happened there was due to lack of supervision," Graham said.

Officers at the Deep East Texas Narcotics Task Force follow the same 
procedures as DPS narcotics sergeants, Graham said. The agency is 
under DPS oversight, he said.

"We've been DPS-compliant since 2001," he said. "We follow their same 
reporting procedures."

Courtney-Graham said narcotics officers are called "jump-out boys, 
rogue cops or gypsy cops" by those who don't understand their mission.

"It's insulting, it's demeaning, and it's ACLU propaganda," she said. 
"We don't just arrest people who use drugs. We try to get them some help."

Graham said education, rehabilitation and enforcement all go hand-in-hand.

Unfortunately, many drug users do not voluntarily seek 
rehabilitation, he said. Many of them don't get the help they need 
until they are arrested.

Meth In East Texas

In June 2004, the Grahams were featured in Texas Monthly.

"Until five or six years ago, Graham could count on finding one or 
two methamphetamine labs a year," the article said. "Now, strangers 
stop Graham at the grocery store or take him aside at Wal-Mart. One 
man even approached him when he was hunting ducks to tell him about 
the neighbors who are making homemade speed or the house down the 
street where it is being sold."

Since 1999, while assigned to the Deep East Texas Regional Narcotics 
Trafficking Task Force, Graham has tracked down more than 350 meth 
labs in the Piney Woods, the article said. He has found meth 
ingredients in motel rooms, car trunks, mobile homes, suitcases, 
sheds, toolboxes, and clearings in the woods.

Some labs have been sophisticated operations equipped with 
professional-grade glassware and surveillance systems; others have 
had just a hot plate, a couple of Pyrex bowls, and ingredients bought 
at the hardware store, the article said.

"Pretty much any place you can think of, someone has cooked dope 
there," Graham said in the Texas Monthly story. "It gets so bad that 
I'll tell my partner, 'Well, I'm not on meth, and you're not on meth. 
So that's two of us.'"

Methamphetamines have created a different drug culture, Courtney-Graham said.

Families cook and use meth together, she said.

"I've seen a father who kept his son home from school, because his 
son was a better (meth) cook than he was," she said.

Just last year, the task force discovered that meth was being cooked 
in a house on Ferguson Street where a baby died. Autopsy results 
indicated that the 2-month-old baby died of natural causes, but 
Courtney-Graham said that did not diminish her disgust for the situation.

The manufacture of methamphetamines is extremely dangerous, in 
addition to being illegal, she said.

"We work closely with Child Protective Services," Courtney-Graham 
said. "Many child abuse cases are associated with meth use."

Courtney-Graham said narcotics officers could "do nothing but work 
meth all day and stay busy."

Local Impact

When the governor's office announced intentions to cease funding for 
task forces, "no one seemed to care," Courtney-Graham said.

Sheriff Thomas Kerss was one of the few who fought against the 
measure, she said.

He fought it, because agencies in rural areas such as East Texas 
don't have the resources to dedicate to drug enforcement. Most 
agencies in urban areas have their own narcotics divisions.

"Most sheriff's deputies and police officers don't have time to be 
proactive," Graham said. "They go from call-to-call, and they can't 
spend the time working cases that we do. We work cases until we're 
finished. This isn't the type of job you can schedule. The largest 
toll will be on small departments, and it's going hit East Texas 
harder than any other area of the state."

Graham said it's depressing, and his wife said it's been hard to be 
in the Christmas spirit.

Graham and a few other task force officers are hoping to go to work 
in Iraq, when the task force closes its doors. Courtney-Graham 
doesn't know what she will do.

Another unanswered question, is what will become of the 693 task 
force cases that are pending in district court.

If narcotics officers leave the area - or the country - it may be 
hard to bring them back to testify in court. Years of hard work could 
essentially fall through the cracks.

Seizure funds totaling $671,753 could eventually go to the state, 
depending on the outcome of the cases.

The DPS lab has informed the Deep East Texas Narcotics Task Force 
that all evidence should be picked up by April 1, Graham said.

"I don't know what will happen to it," Graham said. "We won't be 
here. This building will be empty."

But the Grahams say the worst part is what will happen in 
Nacogdoches, Angelina, Sabine, Tyler, Houston and Shelby counties, 
when the task force ceases to exist.

Nacogdoches Assistant Police Chief Mike Kelly, former task force 
commander, said he believes drug use will increase in this area due 
to the elimination of the task force, because the consequences of 
becoming part of the drug culture will be less visible than ever before.

"NPD has been expecting the loss of task force assets for some time 
and has addressed this by dedicating two officers to primarily drug 
enforcement duties," he said. "By March 31, we plan on having four 
officers working drug-related crime."

While this will help, Kelly said it does not make up for the loss of 
the task force and comes at a much higher price for the city.

"It cost the city $13,900 annually for the task force membership," he 
said. "It will cost $200,000 annually for four officers, benefits, 
equipment, training, etc."

That is a price that smaller departments simply cannot afford. But 
the greater cost will be to communities, Kelly said.

Kelly said there really is no way to explain how serious this loss 
is, especially to rural areas.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman