Coalition Letter to the House of Representatives In Support of "No More Tulias: Drug Law Enforcement Evidentiary Standards Improvement Act of 2005"

May 25, 2005
Coalition Letter to the House of Representatives In Support of "No More Tulias: Drug Law Enforcement Evidentiary Standards Improvement Act of 2005"

Urgent Need for Prompt Judiciary Committee Hearing on the ""No More Tulia's: Drug Law Enforcement Evidentiary Standards Improvement Act of 2005"" 

The Honorable James Sensenbrenner, Jr.
Chair, Committee on the Judiciary
United States House of Representatives 

The Honorable Howard Coble
Chair, Subcommittee on Crime
United States House of Representatives 

The Honorable John Conyers, Jr.
Ranking Member, Committee on the Judiciary
United States House of Representatives 

The Honorable Robert Scott
Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Crime
United States House of Representatives 

Dear Chairman Sensenbrenner: 

We, the undersigned, represent over 50 organizations who write in support of the ""No More Tulias:  Drug Law Enforcement Evidentiary Standards Improvement Act of 2005,"" introduced on May 25, 2005 by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee.  This bill will provide needed oversight and accountability of the millions of federal dollars distributed to state and local law enforcement agencies to fight the drug war. This legislation will help to minimize scandals and injustices by increasing the evidentiary standard required to convict a person for a drug offense and requiring screening of law enforcement officers or others acting under color of law participating in drug task forces.

One of the better known federally-funded drug task force scandals occurred in Tulia, Texas several years ago, when dozens of African American residents were arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to decades in prison based on the uncorroborated testimony of a federally-funded undercover officer  who has since been convicted of perjury.  The Tulia residents who were wrongly convicted based on the officer's false testimony have since been pardoned, but evidence reveals that what occurred in Tulia was not an isolated incident but the tip of the iceberg-all because of unfettered federal funding of narcotics task forces nationwide.  

A 2002 report by the ACLU of Texas identified seventeen scandals involving Byrne-funded anti-drug task forces in Texas, including cases of falsifying government records, witness tampering, fabricating evidence, stealing drugs from evidence lockers, selling drugs to children, large-scale racial profiling, sexual harassment, and other abuses of official capacity. Byrne-related scandals have grown so prolific that the traditionally conservative Texas legislature recently passed several reforms in response to them, including outlawing racial profiling and changing Texas law to prohibit people from being convicted of drug offenses based solely on the word of an undercover informant. 

Texas is not the only state suffering from Byrne-funded law enforcement scandals. Recent scandals in other states include the misuse of millions of dollars in federal grant money in Kentucky and Massachusetts, false convictions based on police perjury in Missouri, and making deals with drug offenders to drop or lower their charges in exchange for money or vehicles in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin. A 2001 study by the Government Accountability Office found that the federal government fails to adequately monitor the grant program and hold grantees accountable.

Two years ago, you pledged to hold a formal Judiciary Committee hearing on the causes of the abuses in Tulia.  Your spokesperson at the time pledged that you would initiate ""active and aggressive oversight of the federal task force"" responsible for hiring the rogue cop in Tulia.    The introduction of this bill represents the perfect opportunity for the expeditious scheduling of the promised Judiciary Committee hearing.  

Many regional anti-drug task forces receive up to 75 percent of their funding from the federal Byrne grant program.  The lack of meaningful federal oversight over these grants results in the proliferation of corruption and abuse.  As expressed in the bill's findings, 

""Byrne grants should be prohibited for States that do not exercise effective control over these task forces.  At a bare minimum no State that fails to prohibit criminal convictions based solely on the testimony of a law enforcement officer or informant should receive a Byrne grant.  Corroborative evidence ? should always be required for such convictions to be ordered.""

We urge you to follow-up on your commitment two years ago to scrutinize this issue by expeditiously scheduling a full Judiciary Committee hearing on the ""No More Tulias"" bill.  Thank you for your attention to this matter and we look forward to your response.

Sincerely, 

National Organizations 

Barbara R. Arnwine
Executive Director
Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law 

Veronica Ballard
Executive Director
National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice 

Graham Boyd
Director
American Civil Liberties Union Drug Law Reform Project 

Carol A. Brook
President
National Association of Federal Defenders 

Troy M. Dayton
Associate Director
Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative 

Kenrick Fealing
Executive Director
Call To Do Justice 

Steve Fox
Director of Government Relations
Marijuana Policy Project 

Jenni Gainsborough
Director, Washington Office
Penal Reform International 

Penda Hair
Co-Director
Advancement Project 

Morton H. Halperin
Executive Director
Open Society Policy Center 

Ronald Hampton
Executive Director
National Black Police Association 

Baba Hannibal
Co-Chair
National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America 

Wade Henderson
Executive Director
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights 

Stephanie Jones
Executive Director
National Urban League, Institute for Opportunity and Equality 

Rob Keithan
Director
Washington Office for Advocacy Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations 

Phyllis Lawrence
Consultant
Victim Services and Restorative Justice 

Kirsten Levingston
Director, Criminal Justice Program
Brennan Center for Justice 

Garry Mendez, Jr.
Executive Director
National Trust for the Development of African-American Men 

Onaje Mu'id
National Chair
Alliance of African and African American Peace Makers 

Janet Murguia
President and CEO
National Council of La Raza 

Ethan Nadelmann
Executive Director
Drug Policy Alliance Network 

Gregory T. Nojeim
Acting Director
American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office 

Dorsey Nunn
Program Director
Legal Services Prisoners w/Children
Co-founder, All of Us or None

Tyrone Parker
Executive Director
Alliance of Concerned Men 

Divine Pryor, PhD.
Executive Director
Nu Leadership Policy Group 

Deborah Peterson Small
Executive Director
Break the Chains 

Malika Saada Saar
Executive Director
Rebecca Project for Human Rights 

Barry Scheck
President
National Association of Criminal Defense lawyers 

Theodore Shaw
President
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People- Legal Defense Fund 

Hilary Shelton
Director, Washington Bureau
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People 

Ross Shepard
Defender- Director
National Legal Aid and Defender Association 

Gilda Sherrod-Ali
Co-Chair
National Conference of Black Lawyers 

Charles Sullivan
Executive Director
Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants 

Marsha Weissman
Executive Director
The Center for Community Alternatives 

Ross Wilson
Legislative Director
Students for Sensible Drug Policy 

Harmon L. Wray
Director
Vanderbilt Program in Faith and Criminal Justice 

Malcolm Young
Executive Director
The Sentencing Project 

Jason Ziedenberg
Executive Director
Justice Policy Institute 

Regional/State Organizations 

Tara Andrews
Director
Maryland Justice Coalition 

Gary Bledsoe
President
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People of Texas 

Thelma Johnson and Alan Bean
President and Director
Tulia Friends of Justice 

Joyce Ann Brown
President
Texas Justice Network 

Ron Clark
Chief Executive Officer
Regional Addiction Prevention, Inc 

Phil Fornaci
Executive Director
D.C. Prisoner Legal Services 

Will Harrell
Executive Director
American Civil Liberties Union of Texas 

Michael Israel
Editor
Criminal Justice Washington Letter 

Eva Owens
Executive Director
Texas Criminal Justice Coalition 

Doris Marie Provine
Director
School of Justice and Social Inquiry, Arizona State University 

David R. Schmidt
State Director
New Mexico Council on Crime and Delinquency 

Opio Sokoni, J.D.
Editor
Portland Medium 

Robin G. Steinberg
Executive Director
The Bronx Defenders 

Ana Yanez Correa
South West Legislative Liaison
League of United Latin American Citizens

 



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