Cops as Junkies

A tour through the dismal day-to-day world of narcotics agents, where anything goes. Anything and everything.

ON A WINTER DAY IN 1972 a 23-year-old Department of Public Safety narcotics agent named Duane T. Osborne, a model cop with an IQ in excess of 160 and a record for bravery and obedience, shot his daily dose of two grams of heroin and started home. He drove his supervisor’s unmarked car out of Killeen in the direction of IH 35, and turned the wrong way. He knew what he was doing, but not why.

An hour later, when he should have been at home with his wife and three children in Waco, he was 100 miles away, in Austin—holding up the Dial Finance Company, an establishment where he was well known. He made no attempt to disguise himself or his car, even though he carried with him the standard assortment of narc covers including several sets of fake license plates. He was naturally arrested and convicted.

“I watched myself do it—like watching me in a movie—like it was me, but I wasn’t involved,” Osbome told an Austin jury.

Duane Osborne’s case was open and shut, which was precisely the jury’s problem: it didn’t make sense. True, Osborne was heavily in debt. Gail Osborne, who came from one of those nice Amarillo families where you didn’t talk about rent money and telephone bills in front of the children, could freak out just opening the mail box. Lately, oreditors were telephoning Duane’s supervisor at the DPS, and there was heat from that end, too. But money wasn’t it. Osborne had $300 in his pocket the morning he drove out of Killeen, and even a rookie cop strung out on smack understood that whatever he took away from Dial Finance wouldn’t be his long enough to count.

True, Osborne had a two-gram-a-day habit, but he had five grams of smack in his pocket that day. Anyway, securing drugs is no problem for an undercover agent. Osborne had already learned from veteran narcs how simple it was to cut—divide by two—a cap of evidence before delivering it to the DPS lab, thus insuring the best of both worlds.

In one senseless, self-destructive act, Osborne had wiped out a lifetime of model behavior. Osborne’s court-appointed attorney, Laird Palmer, decided to base his defense on “a transitory state of mental disorder.” Caught in the squeeze of marital and financial difficulties, exposed to the treachery of a double life, his schoolboy idealism crushed by the sorry reality of the narc trade, Agent Osborne suddenly snapped. There was no other explanation.

“Duane felt the defense (of temporary insanity) would be a stigma on his entire family,” Palmer said, “but it was our only chance to get his background before the jury.” It was also the only way Palmer could enlighten the jury, and by extension, the public, on the practices of undercover agents, abuses that every defense attorney knows well but few are willing to articulate in public forum. Those abuses include lying under oath, falsifying evidence, stealing, extorting, entrapping, brutalizing and, in some cases, heavy dependence on drugs. If he couldn’t put the DPS on trial, he could at least show that Duane Osborne wasn’t the only bad apple.

Duane came from a large, upstraight, God-fearing, lower-income family in Amarillo. His father, a truck driver, suffered from attacks of emphysema. and Duane twice had to quit school to help support the family. Still, he graduated from Amarillo Caprock High with a B average. He was a star football and baseball player, one of the best in the school’s history. “He was very competitive, very ambitious, highIy motivated by the work ethic,” says Laird Palmer. “He had the potential to succeed in almost any field.” Married right out of high school to the daughter of an upper-income family, Duane worked for a while with an airline in Houston, but his wife was pregnant and homesick and he turned down a promotion to return to Amarillo.

In 1970, he joined the DPS as a highway patrolman. A year later he volunteered for narcotics school and graduated near the top of his class. It was the pay—narcs make about $133 a month more than patrolmen—that motivated Duane to volunteer.

Osborne told the jury that he had no preconceived ideas about drugs or drug users (he had tried marijuana once: he didn’t get off), but in narc school, “they gave us the impression of drug users as monsters, creatures different than ourselves.”

“The emphasis was on results and whatever it takes to get them… .you find that you can’t do some of it without doing something illegal,” Osborne said. Evidence, he told the jury, was routinely “rearranged” to suit the language of the court. Every bust had a script. You went out with an informer—a drug user who had been granted immunity so long as he was useful—and you bought drugs from whomever you could find. Entrapment was not only practiced, it was encouraged. The script took care of everything.

Elmer Terrell, the DPS agent in charge of narcotics service, the chief narc, had told them, “There are only two defenses in a narcotics case—entrapment and discrediting an officer’s testimony. If a defendant can’t prove entrapment, and if he can’t discredit an officer’s testimony, he’s going to get convicted.” In its purest form the script was designed to prevent these two defenses.

A rookie narc is first assigned an informer from a sort of informers’ bank that passes around DPS like knee pads in a locker room; later, he is expected to produce new informants himself. Duane’s assigned informer was named Rusty. Duane met Rusty in a featureless room where Rusty was unwillingly getting the dogmeat kicked out of himself by a veteran narc who was breaking in Duane. The vetnarc told Duane that he was whipping Rusty because the informer “forgot to make a phone call.”

In the field, Duane heard other agents brag about burning burn artists—unscrupulous drug merchants who sell sugar for heroin and ground-up parsley for marijuana. The practice was to substitute the real item, for the sugar or parsley, send it over to the lab

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