Stories of ACLU Clients Swept Up in the Hearne Drug Bust of November 2000
Regina Kelly v. John Paschall
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Police officers showed up at Regina Kelly's place of work on November 2, 2000, handcuffed her and took her into custody, all the while refusing to explain why she was being arrested. It would be nearly two days before Regina learned that she was being held on felony drug distribution charges. She wouldn't be released for well over a month.
The case against Regina, 25 years old and the mother of four girls, rested solely on the word of an informant. The voices on the supposed tape recording of Regina selling drugs to the informant were all male. Furthermore, the indictment had her name and address wrong. Still, the judge set her bond at a staggering $70,000 and Regina's court-appointed lawyer urged her to plead guilty. Because she was innocent, and a plea would have given her a felony record, causing her to lose her government subsidized housing, Regina refused to plead guilty.
Regina barely knew the informant, Derrick Megress. She did however know his aunt, who was the girlfriend to the father of Regina's children. She and the aunt had a contentious relationship. Regina suspects that Megress fingered as a drug dealer out of revenge for his aunt.
Just a few days before Thanksgiving, Regina's bond was lowered to $10,000. Regina's mother secured her daughter's release by offering her land to a bond company. Several months later, when the District Attorney's case fell apart in the trial of another of the innocent arrestees, Regina's case was dismissed.
The incident continues to haunt Regina. Although the manager at her job let her return to work, the other employees gossiped about her being a drug dealer, so she left that job. She applied and was accepted to attend a local college, but when they found out that she had been arrested for selling drugs, they revoked her acceptance. She was rejected as a teacher's aid at the local high school because of her arrest. Her children have been teased in school for having a ""dope dealer"" mom. She fears that her wrongful arrest and imprisonment will always limit her economically and damage her relationship with her friends and family.
In March 2001, Clifford Runoalds, 33 years old and the father of seven, returned home to Bryan, Texas to attend the funeral of his 18-month old daughter. Before the service began, local police summoned him from the church and handcuffed him. He pleaded with authorities to let him see his daughter's body one last time before she was buried, but he was denied.
While in police custody, Clifford was told he was needed to testify in the trial of Corvian Workman, a Hearne resident who was arrested during the November 2000 drug taskforce sweeps. The District Attorney wanted Clifford to admit that he had witnessed Corvian selling drugs to an informant. Clifford was told that the transaction, and his participation, had been recorded on audiotape.
Knowing he was innocent, Clifford asked to hear the tape, but the DA refused. Instead, the DA offered to help Clifford with his parole if he testified that he had witnessed the drug deal. But, if he refused to say what the DA wanted, he would be prosecuted for being part of the drug deal. The day after Clifford refused to testify as requested, he was indicted on felony drug charges and held in jail for one month until the District Attorney dropped the charges.
At the time of his arrest, Clifford was building a new life for himself. As a young man, he had served time in prison and did many years of probation. But in his new home in Silver Springs, he had secured a permanent job and an apartment. He even had plans to have his five-year-old son come live with him. Clifford felt that he was finally getting past the problems of his youth and starting to live on his own. However, that all changed on the day of his daughter's funeral.
As a result of his arrest, Clifford lost his job, apartment, furniture and car. Clifford currently lives in Bryan and works nights with the Labor Ready program.
Michael Wells, 30, admits that almost a decade ago he used to hang around with a bad crowd. But in 1995, he made a promise to his family that he would clean up his life. Yet in November 2000, Michael heard from a friend that the police were looking for him in connection with a drug bust. Already on probation for a crime committed years previous, Michael decided it was best to turn himself in to authorities, confident that his innocence would resolve any questions. Instead, Michael spent five months in jail before he was released on bond and eventually cleared of the charges.
As with so many other arrests made during the November 2000 sweep, Michael's case rested solely on the word of a confidential informant. Although the Task Force claimed to have an incriminating tape of the supposed transactions, Michael's voice on the tape could not be heard -- because he was never there. At the time of the alleged transactions, he was working at a local convenience store; he even had timecards to substantiate his whereabouts.
The aftermath of the arrest has been difficult on Michael and his six children. He and his children's sense of security have been shattered. After years of trying to improve his reputation in the community and prove his dedication to his role as a good father, he is now subject to the unfounded suspicions and distrust of his neighbors. Today, he continues to struggle to reestablish his good standing and find a job that will allow him to properly take care of his family. Although cleared of the charges, the arrest still appears on his record when potential employers run a background check.