By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
In the end, Kelly proved to be right. It was just tickets, though it took the Robertson County district attorney several months, from October 2000 to the following spring, to admit as much. In a case severely lacking evidence, the indictment listed Kelly's first name as Jennifer. The secret audiotape allegedly incriminating her did not have a single female voice on it. Her prosecution rested on the uncorroborated word of Derrick Megress, a covert police informant.
Still, Kelly stayed in jail for three and a half weeks before the judge lowered the bail to $10,000. Kelly's mother put up her land and $1000 and got her out. Along with 27 others arrested on the word of Megress, Kelly was later clearedat least technically. "We have a heavy burden, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a good burden for the state," D.A. John Paschall told the Texas Lawyer. "[The charges] weren't dismissed because I felt they were innocent. I think they were guilty. I dismissed them because I felt that was the right thing to do."
According to a report to be issued December 17 by the Texas ACLU, the right thing to do now is dismiss the authorities who pursued Kelly's arrest. The sting in Hearne, which snared 15 percent of the black males in the tiny town of 5000, was conducted by the state's narcotics task force, a branch of the Department of Public Safety. Like similar operations across the country, the Texas force was paid for through the $450 million Edward Byrne Memorial Fund, doled out by the U.S. Department of Justice. A state can use its allotmentfor Texas, that came to about $30 millionto back a host of crime-fighting measures. But its principal application in many states has been to raise a specialized army of policemen who can turn Mayberry into Copland.
Byrne grant recipients suffer precious little federal intervention. All they need to do is demonstrate a healthy arrest rate. In Texas, the task forces have been touted as another weapon in the war on drugs. But that weapon is starting to backfire, resulting in the mass arrest of innocent people and persistent allegations of racial profiling.
If not for the lives ruined, the mishaps committed by task forces in Texas, as documented by the ACLU, would make for high comedy. Consider a few choice selections:
The ACLU report argues that in a process called "buy-busts," crimes are quite literally created by the cops. "In Kerrville a task force roped in a pretty young blonde woman in a small possession bust," the study reads. "To avoid prosecution she agreed to set up five people. Police told her to sit in a bar, flirt with men, then ask whether they could get her marijuana."
But more than simply becoming a source of cringe-worthy police work, the Texas task forces have been accused several times of visiting their questionable tactics exclusively on minority communities. Barbara Markham has spent almost two decades working in law enforcement, part of it with task forces. Shortly after joining one in Rockwall, Texas, she noted a disturbing trend. "They were only going after blacks," Markham told The Houston Press. "If you were white you didn't have to worry much about task forces, because they were going after crack. But it doesn't take any skill to make a crack bust. All you have to do is drive up and roll down your window. It's like shooting fish in a barrel. But the drug problems in these various communities do not just involve black people, and it's not just crack."