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“They’re like children,” Ed Lieck said of the task force. “They get caught in a lie, they amend it, then they amend the amendment’ .’ interdiction officers. By signing it, a suspect does not acknowledge ownership of the seized cash, but he relinquishes any ownership he may have had. More often than not, once the officer had the money and the signed waiver, the suspect was simply let go, according to the prosecutor. “It’s ‘Hey buddy, how you doin’ tonight:” the prosecutor said, describing a typical stop. “It’s just real good old boy: ‘Yeah, you can sign this and be on your way:” the prosecutor said. “It wasn’t lost on the defendant that that’s the quickest way to get the hell on down the road.” The CCNTF case logs are heavily sprinkled with entries noting seizures of currency with no case filed against the suspect. The use of such claims by task forces is common, according to Jesse Salazar, a former prosecutor for a drug task force in the Valley. “They really can’t file anything on them. But they’re going to maybe scare them ‘a little bit and they’re gonna put a piece of paper in front of them and say you want to get on your way, just sign over the money,” Salazar said. “It’s highway robbery.” Salazar, who currently works as a prosecutor in Hidalgo County, came to Austin at the request of McAllen State Representative Juan Hinojosa to help draft legislation outlawing this practice. The bill was part of a package of task force reform bills filed last session. The bill passed, and it is no longer legal for officers to offer to let someone go in exchange for cash. A former CCNTF interdiction officer, who asked not to be identified, said things got particularly bad when Dearl Hardy became assistant commander in early 1997. Currency seizures had been down for the past few quarters. “We were told to turn up the heat:’ the officer said. But Hardy took things too far, he said. In one incident, the officer said, he followed a likely courier all the way to the county line, but felt he could not get probable cause to do the stop and search. Instead, he radioed Jefferson County authorities, who eventually made the stop and seized 100 pounds of pot: The stat went to Jefferson County and Hardy was livid, the officer said. “He said, ‘You don’t need probable cause. The law says you can stop a felony in progress: I said, ‘Yeah, so?’ He said, ‘Well, every one of those cars is a felony in progress:”That’s when the officer began to consider leaving the task force, he said. “Yeah, our job’ is to get the crooks. But do it according to Hoyle. Play by the rulebook,” he said. “As long as you’re making cases for ’em, you can do pretty much anything you want,” the officer said. “But if it all goes wrong, they’ll pin it on the cop and say `We didn’t know!” Things often went wrong. Defense attorney Ed Lieck recalled one case in which his client had been stopped by the task force on I-10–or so it appeared. Lieck discovered two different police reports for the same incident. When he confronted prosecutors, it was determined that a sheriff’s deputy had in fact made the stop, but had done so against a standing order from then-sheriff Phil Burkhalter, who preferred to leave highway interdiction to the task force. So the deputy called task force interdiction officer Layne Mooney to the scene. Mooney, only too happy to get the stat, wrote up a false report claiming that he made the stop. “It’s perjury, tampering with evidence, falsification of the facts,” Lieck said. The case was dismissed. No charges were filed against either officer. By the time the falsification came to light this spring, Mooney had left the task force to work for the Chambers County Sheriff’s office, where the sheriff asked him to resign. 66 ask force cases were always the worst,” says one former prosecutor who served under Mike Little. “When I was first there . I was so green that I didn’t know =I took everything they said as the gospel,” the prosecutor said. “But it didn’t take long to figure out you can’t trust them,” the prosecutor said. “I just remember lost videos, ‘broken cameras’ so to speak, microphones not working,” the prosecutor said. “Any prosecutor that had any sense at all; we all complained about it,” the prosecutor said. Little is one of 11 district attorneys in Texas who are project directors for drug task forces.That is a problem in the eyes of some attorneys. “You have an inherent conflict of interest when you have a D.A. that owns his own police force,” Ed Lieck said. “The potential for abuse grows exponentially.” Jay Kimbrough, executive director of the governor’s criminal justice division, disagreed. “A prosecutor is responsible for ensuring that you’re not rubber stamping any police officer’s actions, regardless of which department they work for,” he said. In theory, prosecutors act as a check on officer malfeasance, a sort of quality control mechanism. As cases get prepared for grand jury, a prosecutor goes over them carefully in the presence of the officer. Searches, arrests, handling of evidence everything is reviewed. Bad cases get kicked out. But because 10/26/01 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13