HERE COME THE FEDS
The U.S. Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into possible civil rights violations by law enforcement authorities in Tulia, Texas. This is the latest development in the story, first broken in these pages last summer (“Color of Justice,” by Nate Blakeslee, June 23), of a racially-tainted undercover drug sting, which resulted in the arrest of over ten percent of the small Panhandle farming town’s black population. According to sources in Tulia, federal agents have already interviewed at least two of the men on the hot seat: Swisher County Sheriff Larry Stewart, who hired the undercover narc and arranged the operation, and District Attorney Terry McEachern, who prosecuted the cases, many of which ended in enormous jury verdicts for delivery of relatively small amounts of cocaine. At issue is not only the targeting of the sting–35 of 41 suspects arrested were black–but also the quality of the evidence. The undercover agent, Tom Coleman, has had a less-than-stellar law enforcement career, including one assignment as a deputy that ended with a West Texas sheriff eventually seeking an indictment against him. Coleman did not wear a wire during the sting, nor did the prosecution provide video evidence or the testimony of corroborating officers, as is common practice in similar operations in most major cities. At press time, it’s unclear whether the G-men have questioned Coleman, but he is undoubtedly next on the list.
One silver lining in the dark cloud over Tulia is that a “Tulia package” of bills will be filed by the Texas ACLU when the Legislature convenes in Austin in January. According to Central Texas ACLU board member Kathy Mitchell, the package tentatively will include a provision requiring some sort of corroborating evidence that a controlled buy has been made by an undercover agent. This would prevent cases from being made solely on the word of one officer, which has in the past led to some disastrous results in cases involving dishonest undercover agents. A second Tulia bill in the works would strengthen the watchdog role of the state’s licensing agency for peace officers, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards-Education (TCLEOSE). At the time he was hired in Tulia, Coleman had a very damaging letter in his TCLEOSE file from a previous employer, a sheriff in Cochran County, who warned that Coleman should never be employed in law enforcement again. Yet it’s unclear how accessible that information was to Swisher County authorities, whether they had an obligation to review the file, or whether TCLEOSE should have been required to ensure that they did. Public access to the contents of an officer’s file is also restricted, something an ACLU bill may seek to rectify.
BALLOT BOX THIRTEEN
The last vestiges of the Dukedom of Duval were laid to rest when Archer Parr, former Duval County Judge, died on November 2. His death may also mean the loss, once and for all, of the secret of Ballot Box 13, the infamous “missing” South Texas ballot box, which many believe allowed LBJ to steal the 1948 election that put him in the U.S. Senate and rescued his flagging political career. Like other family members, Archer Parr had an uneasy acquaintance with the law, serving three years of a ten-year federal sentence on charges related to mail fraud. In 1978 he was convicted for stealing county equipment and services and given ten years’ probation.
But the convictions were minor parts of the family history, compared to the family’s legacy as political bosses in South Texas. His grandfather, State Senator Archie Parr, ran a legendary South Texas political machine. Upon Archie’s death in 1942, his son George took over the family political business, despite a conviction for tax evasion in the Thirties. That was cleaned up a little later, when Harry Truman granted George a presidential pardon. Truman’s benevolence was a fortunate turn of events for LBJ, because George went on to become County Judge in Duval County. Judge Parr was running the county when, in 1948, Lyndon Johnson won his senate seat, beating Coke Stevenson only after 202 missing votes were found in Box 13 (which was actually just over the county line, in Jim Wells County, but well within the powerful Parr family fiefdom). The Parrs were said to have “taken an interest” in the electoral outcome. George Parr continued to rule the politics of the county until 1975, when, faced with yet more federal charges, he committed suicide. His nephew Archer had been serving as County Judge since 1959. Archer would have stepped into his uncle’s shoes as county boss were it not for the inconvenience of his conviction that same year.
WAR OVER, DRUGS WIN
As has been frequently observed, regardless of who wins the White House, we will have a past recreational drug user overseeing the federal Drug War, which is now more punitive and heavily financed than at any time in history. Both have vowed to continue the war; at press time we are just waiting to see which one it will be.
But a ballot initiative in California put the Drug War itself to a vote, and drugs won. Or rather, the taxpayers, drug addicts, and the U.S. Constitution won. Proposition 36, a voter initiative placed on the ballot by petition, mandates treatment instead of incarceration for first- and second-time non-violent drug offenders in the state. Supporters estimate it will divert about 37,000 people a year from jail to treatment, and state budget authorities project the state will eventually save between $100 and $150 million per year in incarceration costs, the San Jose Mercury News reported. The measure is also expected to forestall the construction of a new, $450 million prison in California. Support for the initiative was funded in large part by investor George Soros, together with John Sperling, chairman of the University of Phoenix, and Peter Lewis, the chairman of Progressive Insurance in Cleveland. Soros also funded California’s medical marijuana initiative, which has effectively legalized simple possession in much of the state. The billionaire investor has been a major thorn in the side of the federal drug warriors, as evidenced by the disgustingly fascinating transcript of a phone conversation between outgoing drug czar Barry McCaffrey and former New York Times columnist Abe Rosenthal (recently obtained and reprinted by Harper’s Magazine), in which the two commiserate over Soros’ successes and discuss whether and how he ought to be punished by the White House.
Also in California, residents of Mendocino County can now grow up to 25 marijuana plants on their own property, following the passage of a local proposition in that northern coastal county. Of course, state and federal laws still prohibit this, but growers will no longer be troubled be local law enforcement, it seems. A considerable portion of the economy of the county comes from the sale of premium marijuana, for which the area is world famous.