than it did in the previous five years combined. Little’s emphasis on stats has paid off. As the task force’s numbers have improved, its annual budget has grown, from about $450,000 in 1995 to about $710,000 last year. Little has used the money to hire more officers. He now has eleven, virtually all of them commissioned as D.A.’s investigators working directly for Little. He has also hired a special prosecutor and legal secretary in the D.A.’s office to work on task force cases. All told, Little has assembled a force that, in terms of manpower and budget, rivals that of either sheriff’s office in his jurisdiction. In a region where county governments are starved for cash, Little’s officers drive nice new cars and SUVs, purchased in part with seized currency and trade-ins of seized vehicles. “That task force is his baby. He’s never going to give that thing up,” said one area defense attorney. Yet even as Little has expanded his operation, some in the commu nity have questioned the task force’s effectiveness. “Anytime it’s anything of any quality or quantity it’s DPS, and I’ve got the utmost respect for DPS,” said Walter Fontenot. “They are professionals. But these other, peripheral agenciesI just don’t know what they do.” Former task force agent Barbara Markham witnessed what they do firsthand. She has become the task force’s most outspoken critic, testifying at the state Legislature on behalf of drug war reform bills and taking her story to whomever will listen, including the FBI. M’arkham came to the task force in August of 1995 with 10 years of undercover narcotics experience with local police departments and task forces in North Texas. A short woman with hawkish features, a fragile frame, and a serious smoking habit, Markham, now 41, did her first undercover work in a North Texas high school, posing as a student at the age of 26. She came to the CCNTF well recommended, with a reputation for being able to buy dope from anyone, and several awards to her credit. “Barbara is. an excellent narcotics officer,” said Don Jones, a 23-year veteran of DPS narcotics, who supervised Markham when she worked undercover at a Denton-area task force in the early 1990s. “If Barbara says something is true, I would believe it.” Nineteen months after going to work for Mike Little, Markham was fired, ostensibly for incompetence.The real reason for her firing, Markham says, was her unwillingness to play ball the way it was played at the task force. “People don’t understandeverybody’s talking about Tom Coleman,” Markham said, referring to the officer who conducted a nownotorious undercover operation \(chronicled in the in the Panhandle town of Tulia, which led to a civil suit and an ongoing FBI investigation. “Well, there are whole task forces of Tom Colemans out there,” she said. During her tenure at the CCNTF, Markham was one of three undercov er agents. In the entire time she worked there, she says, her two fellow undercover agents, Lynell “Tyree” Beals and John Davis, did virtually nothing but street-level crack buys, one and two rocks at a time. Streetlevel buys are the simplest of any undercover operation. An undercover officer, sometimes accompanied by a snitch \(or than not, a street corner, buys a few rocks, and drives off. When the officer has made enough buys in a given area over a sixor twelve-month period, warrants are obtained for all suspects and a roundup or “bust-out” is made, usually with the assistance of every available cop in the area. This is how one former CCNTF officer described a typical bust-out: “It’s probably better known as a free-for-all. You get a bunch of warrants, search and arrest, get ’em all ready to go, get 30 or 40 officers from different jurisdictions, anybody who wants to come along can play. During the course of this, the wrong doors get kickedyou could wind up in Billy Graham’s house. A whole lot of illegal searches and seizures go on.” More than anything, a focus on street-level buys means targeting black suspects. The result of that focus is spelled out in the case logs, the actual handwritten logs in which task force officers record every case they make, each highway stop and undercover buy. The logs list the defendant’s name, sex and race, as well as the date the buy or stop was made, the charge, and the amount of dope or money seized, if any. The logs also note whether an arrest was made or not. Together with the task force’s quarterly reports, which summarize the 10126101 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9
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