Monday, June 18, 2007

The Real Drug War Kingpins

Not a scene from a movie, or from the streets of Baghdad: "Police" -- that is, Pentagon-equipped and federally-funded occupation troops -- conduct a raid in Detroit.

Mike Nifong's career as the Torquemada of Raleigh, North Carolina is over, although the self-enraptured prosecutor couldn't resist one final lachrymose moment in the spotlight. But Nifong the Good – also known as Nifong the Wise, and Nifong the Misunderstood – deserves some company. He shouldn't be allowed to Bogart that pity pipe.

There are plenty of other corrupt and abusive prosecutors – US Attorneys, State Attorneys General, District Attorneys, and the like -- who deserve to be bathed in the same disrepute, and subject to the same professional ruin, that Nifong must now endure. Andrew Payton Thomas of Phoenix is one. Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker, who insists on prolonging the utterly insane imprisonment of Genarlow Wilson, is another.

But today let's focus on the case of John Paschall, one unfathomably vicious little distaff canine.

No photograph of John Paschall is available, so I offer this artist's conception of the prosecutor, seen here "drumming up" drug cases in Robertson County, Texas.

Paschall is District Attorney for Robertson County in Texas, in which capacity he has long been the local Narcotics Kingpin.

No, he doesn't synthesize, sell, or consume the contraband, at least as far as is publicly known.

Paschall is not in charge of drug manufacturing or distribution, but rather what could be called the “fulfillment” department: He heads up the local counter-narcotics task force, which – until quite recently – conducted an annual raid on the local black population in order to produce arrests in sufficient abundance to keep federal Byrne Grant money flowing.

A class-action suit (.pdf) filed against Paschall and the Task Force by the ACLU (insert standard disclaimer here) plausibly alleged that the DA and his associates “have for many years recruited confidential informants, facing criminal charges, by threatening them with extraordinarily lengthy prison terms unless they will implicate numerous named African-American residents in drug sales.... [T]he informant is required to fill a large quota or else he faces lengthy imprisonment.”

Starting in the mid-1980s, the Task Force would conduct an annual raid in Hearne, a Texas town of about 5,000 people. Paschall, according to witness accounts cited in the lawsuit, “publicly and openly joked about the sweeps, saying that it was `time to round up the n*****s,' and laughed about watching African-American residents run in fear during the sweeps. Paschall described the fleeing residents as cockroaches.”

Some of the raids would focus on a housing complex called Columbus Village, a federally subsidized complex housing many black residents. Paschall reportedly expressed the opinion that it would be better for the community if Columbus Village residents “were removed from Hearne by incarceration or other means,” specifically suggesting that the project should be “bombed” and “burned.” But this wouldn't be as profitable as drawing up rosters of Columbus Village residents to be hauled in during the annual paramilitary sweep, so Paschall didn't pull the trigger on his “Destroy Columbus Village to save the town” strategy.

In late 1999, Paschall hauled in a recently paroled petty criminal – a small-time thief with a recurring drug addiction named Derrick Megress -- and blackmailed him into acting as a confidential informant. Paschall had a long history with Megress, and in the following detail of that history we see the unique viciousness that distinguishes Paschall even in the detestable company of Nifong, Thomas, and Baker, the abusive prosecutors mentioned above.

As a juvenile, Megress was hospitalized for serious mental illness, a fact well known to Paschall, who was the one who had the youngster committed. Paschall exploited that vulnerability when the time came to recruit him as an informant, making use of his victim's fears and anxieties: The prosecutor threatened to send Megress to prison for “60 to 99 years,” and to prosecute members of his family who were innocent of any wrongdoing, if the young parolee didn't cooperate. While Megress was incarcerated, some Task Force members allegedly provided additional inducements by beating him regularly and threatening his life.

Megress was specifically required to implicate at least twenty suspects, and would receive a $100 cash payment for each additional name. He was given a tape recorder to document his alleged purchases. He eventually implicated 27 local residents, almost all of whom knew him, and all but one of whom were black. But the only “evidence” offered “that Megress purchased drugs from anyone ... was his own self-serving word,” contends the lawsuit.

In late October and early November, the “sweep” took place as planned, and police detained nearly the entire black population of Hearne. One young man with Down's Syndrome was thrown “onto the ground, handcuffed, and forced ... to lie immobile. They never asked him for his name or identification during his entire detention.” Clifford Runoalds was arrested while on his way to the funeral of his 18-month-old daughter.

Many were arrested and charged with drug dealing despite their ability to provide airtight alibis corroborated with time cards and even security camera footage proving they were at work at the time of the supposed deals.

When the police showed up at the Chelsea Street Pub and Grill in pursuit of Regina Kelly, the young single mother assumed that she was in trouble because of unpaid parking tickets. She went along peacefully, only to learn to her horror that she was accused of narcotics trafficking. She spent two nights in jail, wearing her waitress uniform, on a $70,000 bond. Regina would eventually spend almost a month in jail before the bail was reduced to a sum her mother could afford (she mortgaged her land to pay $1,000 bond).

The indictment “listed Kelly's first name as Jennifer,” notes an account in the Village Voice. That alone should have been sufficient reason to dismiss the case. In addition, “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....”

With no money, no help from distracted court-appointed defenders, and nobody at home to care for her children, Regina's cellmate, another single mother named Erma Faye Stewart, took a deal, pleading guilty to distributing narcotics in a drug-free zone. She received 10 years' probation and was required to pay $1,800 in fines. “Those who refused to take a plea and couldn't post bond, spent five months in prison awaiting trial,” observes a Frontline documentary on the case.

Victims of a "war" against victimless "crimes": Erma Faye Stewat (l.) and Regina Kelly.

About four months after the arrests, the first trial began, and the case disintegrated like cotton candy in an acid bath. Megress was exposed for all to see as a spectacularly worthless witness. So the charges against all of the defendants were dropped – except those who, like Erma Stewart, from whom a plea bargain had been extorted.

Describing Erma's plight three years ago, Frontline reported:

Three years after she pleaded guilty in order to go home and take care of her children, she is destitute. Because of the plea, she is not eligible for food stamps for herself or federal grant money for education. She can't vote until two years after she completes her 10-year probation. And she has been evicted from her public housing for not paying rent. Her children sleep in various homes and she spends her nights outside the housing project, waiting for the morning when she can go to work as a cook – a job that pays $5.25 an hour. She owes a $1,000 fine, court costs and late probation fees which she says she has been pressured to pay. `They see it like, as long as I have a job, I can pay them.... I already told them, I'm having a hard time, buying my son medicine. I have to have his medicine for his asthma. They don't really care about that. All they want is, you know, the money.'”

That's what this is all about: The money.

Getting a quota of arrests was necessary in order to qualify for continuing Byrne Grants – which are a form of welfare for local police. This meant treating the local federally subsidized housing project as a hunting ground for the usual suspects, and anybody else who looked like a suitable candidate for arrest. And Paschall and his cronies didn't scruple to steal the money honestly earned by one of their victims, even if it meant depriving one of her kids of medicine he needed in order to breathe.

After the Frontline special was broadcast, people from across the country donated over $18,000 to Erma. Unfortunately, she found herself in trouble with her probation officer after she tested positive for marijuana and cocaine use; this means she has a weakness, just like anyone who throws back one or a dozen brewskis too many. (If she's been spending some of her meager earnings on drugs while her asthmatic son goes without medicine, Erma's got some serious problems that only God can fix.) But she wasn't convicted of mere possession; she was forced to plead guilty to first-degree felony distribution, a charge for which no evidence was ever produced.

Oh, and Paschall, always the quintessence of class, offered this reaction regarding the humanitarian outpouring toward Erma: "She can get on TV and she can cry all she wants to, but she’s her own worst enemy because she continues using drugs. She’s going to have to get her act clean or suffer the consequences — TV show or not.”

Paschall, of course, is just the person to lecture others about accepting the "consequences" of their actions.

The lawsuit against him was settled in 2005. The terms of that settlement are confidential, but probably fairly lucrative to the ACLU (which does quite well for itself in cases of this sort – another issue I have with the “war on drugs”: It helps subsidize the ACLU, which has never gotten out of the business of brow-beating local communities over traditional religious displays and other cultural conventions the organization doesn't like).

Of course, before agreeing to a settlement, Paschall filed a motion asserting – I am not making this up – three different kinds of immunity: “prosecutorial immunity,” “qualified immunity,” and “official immunity.” US District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. rejected all of Paschall's claims with the same thoughtless ease Tim Duncan would display in stuffing my flat-footed “jump” shot. This no doubt explains Paschall's eagerness to settle the case.

And yet – there he sits, still clothed in whatever dignity and prestige his office confers upon him, while the victims of his corrupt ambition do what they can to keep body and soul, and families, together.

Video Extra

Regina Kelly recounts her experience to Radley Balko, senior editor for Reason magazine:

Former Texas counter-narcotics police officer Barry Cooper describes how police become addicted to the "war on drugs"; no, seriously:

Please be sure to visit The Right Source.


dixiedog said...

Why do you not look upon this kind police action as pure corruption, rather than merely a symptom of the "war on drugs"? As if there was no "war on drugs" this kind of sh** wouldn't occur.

And when I hear "victimless" act (forget the word "crime" as the semantics are not important...sigh), my blood boils! BS. These kinds of acts are not "victimless" unless you're a loner living in a cave somewhere bereft of family and friends or close associates. You said as much yourself, with a qualified "out" by stating that IF this woman is using drugs at the expense of her kid getting the medicine he requires demonstrates, Will. Pul-eez, she IS doing just that or has done that in the past!

It makes it seem as if you have some kind disdain for anyone opposing narcotics usage, rather than the corruption within various police agencies nationwide, irregardless of the vices or behaviors utilized in the futherance of the corruption, in this case drug trafficking. I do have a problem with the feds passing drug laws, but I have no issue whatever with the states doing so.

The core contentious issue that's often lost in these revelations is the Fed involvement, PERIOD, whatever the damn reason. The "reason" (drug enforcement, whatever) is irrelevant. Other than national defense, guarding the national borders, intrastate conflict resolution, and regulating interstate commerce, and perhaps a few other specifically enumerated things I can't recall right off, they have no constitutional jurisdiction.

As the maxim goes, whatever or whomever one subsidizes, regardless of amount, one in essence inevitably controls.

Aside from just the tired screams against the "war on drugs," a corrupt police department anywhere can and will use whatever means to agitate, irritate, and arrest folk, using whatever whimsical "lean-to" they want. Could be drugs, prostitution, religion, anything.

Instead of a so-called "war on drugs," we can just as easily have, or have had in the past, or do now have: an ongoing "war on terror," "war on Christianity," "war on discrimination," "war on the patriarchy," "war on tax antagonists or evaders," "war on constitutionalists," etc., etc.

Let's see, a group of Christians in Philadelphia were arrested for protesting at the 2004 "OutFest" rally. They were charged with criminal conspiracy, obstructing a highway, failure to disperse, disorderly conduct and violating Pennsylvania's "hate" crimes law, referred to as ethnic intimidation.

Why ain't many outraged at the "war on hate" that's being waged against targeted groups just as earnestly as the "war on drugs" is against a targeted group, a minority in this case?

The point of contention should be the CORRUPTION, if any, not the drugs. And speaking of the ACLU, they only made a noise about this matter, as I would expect, because it was involving BLACKS, not because the "war on drugs" is bad in and of itself, since it is quite profitable for them as you point out. And, naturally, these events make the ACLU look like they represent genuine opposition to State interference into black communities to the BLACKS themselves, making them a likely clueless ally in the ideological realm.

Also, let's not forget that the community in question here is federally-subsidized! Hello? Let's tell the hapless blacks who live there to get the hell out of this arrangement ASAP and move into their own abode, a trailer even.

Tell them that if you allow the Feds to pay for your existence, then you're also by default acquiescing control of yourself and your existence to them as well.

YOU get what YOU pay for, THEY get what THEY pay for. It seems pretty simple to comprehend to me.

William N. Grigg said...

D.D., as always your comments are plangent, pungent, and thought-provoking.

I didn't say that narcotics use was a victimless "act," but rather a "victimless `crime.'" My point is that the State has no proper jurisdiction over behavior of this sort, since it's not in the business of redemption.

There are many "legal" ways in which dissolute parents service their vices at the expense of their children. If someone blows his kid's medicine money on a ticket for the State-run lottery, or at a State-licensed casino, is this morally any different from what Erma apparently did? Not at all -- but this type of parental irresponsibility is not a "crime" under the prevailing positivist definitions.

I oppose the use of narcotics, as well as gambling, the production and consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and pornography. I vastly prefer living in a community that shares at least most of those views. But I'm not eager to use coercion, backed by the threat of lethal force, to require that others do so.

I also have to advert once again to the fact that a century ago, ALL of the narcotics presently proscribed by the government were perfectly legal, and just decades ago a serious and disastrous effort was made to ban the most destructive narcotic, alcohol. It strikes me as utterly perverse that the State gets to decide which recreational poisons are permissible. I'd prefer that everyone avoid all of them all the time, but I'm not willing to kill in an attempt to bring about that result.

Yes, states have the constitutional authority to enact prohibitionist policies (vide Federalist nos. 10 and 45). However, I consider prohibition to be what Madison called an "improper or wicked project."

In an earlier draft of the essay I made reference to the fact that federally subsidized housing projects tend to breed the pathologies that later provide rationales for enforcement measures of the sort we're discussing. This was the origin of the line about the local goons "treating the local federally subsidized housing project as a hunting ground for the usual suspects...." I should have made that point more forcefully.

Incidentally, one of the REAL injustices in this whole matter is that most of the people swept up in the project were like Regina King -- honest, hardworking people who were trying to get out of the death trap, or who didn't live there at all and were guilty of nothing but visiting at the wrong time.

dixiedog said...

I didn't say that narcotics use was a victimless "act," but rather a "victimless `crime.'"

I understand, which is why I said that the semantics was irrelevant to MY point. I should've said instead that the qualifying adjective was MY point and not the noun in my disdain for people who claim these acts "victimless." My apologies.

But I'm not eager to use coercion, backed by the threat of lethal force, to require that others do so.

I'm not either for that matter. But the reality of life is that if freedom of association truly existed and was paramount in this country, you would obviously live in a community that for the most part shared your core value system and the community would likely pass ordinances concerning some of these matters to "filter" out those who opposed that value system. That's just human nature, Will.

I guess my aversion to the libertarian, or perhaps it's "libertine," positions on many of these these matters is that unless "freedom of association" in ALL behavioral and cultural matters is restored, then I'm not about to align myself with the drug, gay, or other clique's personal pet peeves.

It just seems to me that the grander part of the noise uttered by most concerning coercion or threats of lethal force only seems to be loudest when it concerns their personal pet peeve, i.e. their love of narcotics, their love of prostitution, and other specific behaviors, vices, and desires on their part.

I also have to advert once again to the fact that a century ago, ALL of the narcotics presently proscribed by the government were perfectly legal

You can assert that about many things, Will, not just drugs. But about drugs specifically, could it possibly be that folk back then were less prone to become addicts because of the shame and the overall cultural aversion to the narcotics? Again, there was freedom of association then as well. The hippy communes, opium dens, dry counties (which still exist), et al, were a demonstration of real freedom of association in a former era.

I guess government elites didn't like the thought of a society that was becoming divergent and disunited over time, something I would support wholeheartedly, and so they had to "force" otherwise diverse folk to live together who would otherwise not be. Hence, drugs had to be banned. Perhaps, that explains why a number of behaviors or lifestyles are being banned even today. I wonder sometimes.

...and just decades ago a serious and disastrous effort was made to ban the most destructive narcotic, alcohol.

I agree. It's like what gays are doing now when trying to mandate that everyone accept their lifestyle in every venue of society. Except, of course, I don't think we'll see any so-called "hate" crimes laws rescinded, especially if one or more is successfully enacted at the Federal level.

Or abortionists who mandated baby murder be legal in every state and now are trying to force recalcitrant doctors in certain institutions to provide them in some cases.

I do wonder sometimes how the noisy cabal of opponents to the ongoing "war on drugs" would react if the State suddenly shifted gears and mandated narcotics use? Hmmm, see Will, I'm a hardcore cynic and I just don't think most folk are that concerned about State mandates themselves, only whether or not their particular pet peeve of pleasure and desire is easily accessible. If it was, say, mandated in their favor, they'd be no less ecstatic than if it was simply unregulated and free to indulge.

I'd prefer that everyone avoid all of them all the time, but I'm not willing to kill in an attempt to bring about that result.

I'm not either Will, but the point here is that unless freedom of association is reestablished in America across the board, FOR EVERYONE - those who wish to NOT associate with a given segment of society as well as those who wish to AFFIRMATIVELY associate with a given segment of society - then we'll always be afflicted with annoying prohibition laws.

If they were more localized, however, then they would be much more palatable and much less annoying, IMO.

The way I see it is that if the government-corporate-media complex is going to push for D-I-V-E-R-S-I-T-Y and M-U-L-T-I-C-U-L-T-U-R-A-L-I-S-M as they so loudly claim, then allow the society to so live, work, discriminate, and otherwise associate within their respective diverse segments, or NOT, in an incompatible segment. It's otherwise an obvious oxymoron to force cohesion within a diverse and multicultural group of folk.

zach said...

While it's axiomatic that the "war" on drugs should come to a halt, and the feds should get their noses out of state affairs, it is not obvious to me that local restrictions on the use of hard drugs be repealed. I have seen a neighborhood in which drug laws were not enforced at ALL. The fact that it was de facto legal did not stop the creatures (the term people falls short) of this community from loitering, intimidating, and burgling. This was in Chicago and it was the most wretched scene I've ever witnessed. Areas with similar kinds of people and heavier drug law enforcement didn't look this terrible. So, I'm not sure what my ideal laws would look like but some people just make the world much crappier and they need to be dealt with under some pretext. When I was in that Chicago neighborhood I temporarily fantasized about being a narcotics agent and exterminating all that human waste.

Anonymous said...

Hearn, TX -- my, my; the memories. I fled North Zulch just ahead of Hurricane Rita, an hour's drive from Hearn, ending a four-year sojourn south of the Red River. I passed through Hearn quite frequently on my many trips to the VA hospital in Temple (another sad story, for another time). We drove a path of rural backroads, which path crossed Hwy 6 in Hearn. The east side where the housing complex stood appeared ratty. However, having stopped at convenience stores on both sides, my only reason for preferring the west side stores was the bathrooms being easier to access back when I was having serious leg problems.

There were many news stories about Hearn on the local Bryan-College Station TV channel. It was a troubled place, and racial identity figured large. As you might expect, there were few stories indicating questionable behavior by the authorities, but I heard much about police raids. Things being what they are, I seriously doubted there was any powerful criminal element demanding all that loving attention from the police.

Being myself a blue-eyed Caucasian, I still avoided the police more than the residents.

Bruce said...

Some very well reasoned and well spoken comments. I have no dispute with most of which has been said.
I, as a libertarian, prefer the free association mode and as such feel that would allow a free market, another preference, of association, if you will which would ebb and flow with the ever changing demographics of man.

Related to the many references to narcotics, I am of the belief most humans wish to avoid pain, ill health, injury, or death. In their work as well as play. As such, if all current drug laws were repealed I would anticipate a free market of business activity related to the new commodities on the legal market.
Just as most businesses wish to provide products and services which do not cause customers to become ill, become injured, or worse die, thus reducing repeat customers and inviting lawsuits, it would be in their best interest to produce safe products and services accordingly.
Just as the safety of alcohol improved after prohibition, so would the drug/plant market.
Pricing would be based on the same factors many other commodities are subject to. Generally speaking, a commodity like cannabis would be priced rather low given many could grow their own and the danger of ill health or overdose are virtually non-existent. However, a robust import system may re-occur, as there was in the 60's thru the 80's, that would mimic the alcohol trade in exotic liquors and beers.
Other possible lower priced, lower risk commodities could be hashish, cocoa leaves, mushrooms, peyote. In other words natural unprocessed plants of earth which in and of themselves do not cause overdose or death. As in all uses of anything which alters ones brain caution should be exercised.
Also reccomended when listening to a politician during election time.

I would predict that humans wishing to remain as healthy as possible while expanding their minds on occasion, will gravitate to the safer avenues.

Thank you for the opportunity to join in to this discussion.

Anonymous said...

Having grown up in Hearne, Texas, with John Paschall, I can assure you that he did not rise to the office of County Attorney with "clean hands" (or a clean nose). I have personally smoked marijuana and snorted both cocaine and methamphetamine with John Paschall, although it was nearly 20 years ago. It was usually during the weekly poker game, which John continued to frequent long after he became County Attorney, even though any kind of gambling is illegal in Texas. It doesn't surprise me or anyone who has ever known him that he's playing "concerned public servant", fighting drugs. A close personal friend of mine was arrested in Robertson county for possession of a small amount of methamphetamine. Granted, that's not a good thing. However, Paschall was convinced that my friend was a "big-time" drug dealer. He went to the County Jail, where my friend was locked up,uable to make bail. Paschall convinced the judge that a $50,000 bond was about right for 1/4 of a gram of speed. Paschall took him out for a ride and blatantly told my friend that for $25,000 cash, he would make everything (the criminal charges) "go away". while I personally was not a witness to the conversation, I have no doubt it took place. My friend was a normal working class person, who was barely making ends meet, with an income of about $25,000 a year. (That's considered "rich" in Robertson County). Since he couldn't come up with that kind of money, Paschall made up a cock and bull story about Meth Labs and Millions of Dollars in drug money. My friend ended up getting a large fine and 5 years probation, since Paschall had absolutely no evidence of him being involved in drug dealing or manufacturing. The original story titled "The Real Drug Way Kingpins" sums it up very well. John Paschall is, always has been and always will be a self-serving hypocritical asshole. Oh, and by the way, the picture that was displayed in place of a real picture of Paschall wasn't too far off. His nickname in high school was "Little Hitler".

Anonymous said...

For any Robertson County readers, next time you see john paschall, ask him the last time he saw his own sons. His own children hate him.

KPRyan said...

Funny, even today it is nearly impossible to find a detailed photo of this dirtbag on the internet.

Really, he should be featured on Wanted Posters everywhere.