This story is from Texas Monthly’s archives. We have left it as it was originally published, without updating, to maintain a clear historical record. Read more here about our archive digitization project.
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,” Osborne 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, creditors 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 for testing and verification, and then to head for the grand jury with hard evidence for conviction.
The most shocking revelation, though, was that narcs used dope—some more than others, but it was Osborne’s impression that they all did it. “It’s impossible to work undercover without using drugs,” Osborne told the jury. This was a lesson he learned his first time out.
Duane and Rusty hadn’t hung around a derelict’s bar on Austin’s East Sixth Street more than an hour when they found a wasted old Mexican who wanted to score some reds—drug world code for seconal. Part of the ritual is that when you score from a cat you then turn him on; it’s an act of good faith. To refuse to turn on a client would be like blowing your nose on a customer’s necktie in the straight world. Immediately after the sale Rusty and the victim of their trap shot up, but Duane had a lifelong fear of needles and when it came his turn he swallowed the red. Swallowed it! The victim game him a long, funny, worried look; and Rusty’s eyes went moist like a dog anticipating his daily whipping.
Back at headquarters, Duane got a tongue-lashing from his supervisor, who then disappeared into a private room with Rusty. That night Rusty taught Duane how to use a needle. Next time out, Duane earned his wings, and also his appetite for barbiturates. A few weeks later, again in the line of duty, he shot heroin and really got off. That was about the time he was sent off on his first solo assignment, to the central Texas Army town of Killeen.
On that winter day when he turned the wrong way, Agent Osborne had just completed his Killeen assignment. While Gail worried with bills and kids and nosey neighbors in Waco, Duane lived the life of the drug culture, from his bare feet to his scraggly beard and drugged tongue, talking cool, moving dreamlike among those he was trapping, sharing their food, sometimes their beds, playing with their children, petting their dogs, reading their books, watching their paranoia, and feeling his own.
He thought about Gail. He remembered his supervisor asking her: “What would happen if you accidently ran across your husband kissing on some little hippie girl? Could you take it?” Yes, she thought so. But could she? What could she tell the neighbors about the nocturnal refugee who was the father of her children? I mean what could she say?
Duane had done his job well. He had more than 20 cases, and all that remained was the sweeping up—his testimony in court. There, he would face the people who had befriended him; coached by his supervisor, he would tell some truths, some half-truths and some boldfaced lies about people who would be watching his face. Still the heartland-of-America, black-and-white thinker, Duane knew something was wrong: —but what?
“This was a young man who had always said ‘Sir’ to policemen,” Laird explained. “All of his life he believed in a specific situation, a way that things were. It was like falling into ice water.
“It was a shattering experience—the lies, the deceits, the treachery, policemen breaking the law. I truly believe he was temporarily insane. I suppose that Freud would say he just couldn’t take all the stuff that was going down. I think maybe he decided to rob Dial Finance because jail seemed like a very safe, very secure place.”
The Department of Public Safety, with the explicit exception of the narcotic division, stood behind Osborne after his arrest. They found him a lawyer (Phil Nelson, a former assistant DA who once specialized in prosecuting drug cases), and advised him to plead guilty and say nothing. Several veteran highway patrolmen, men with years of experience, testified for the defense, over DPS objection, but there wasn’t a single narc in the court room. Instead, DPS Agent Bobby Adams was sent to Waco to advise Gail Osborne that her husband had gone bad and to stay away from him.
Paranoid out of his mind—seeing double agents in his jailhouse cornbread—Duane refused his DPS-appointed attorney, Phil Nelson, and the court was forced to appoint new counsel. Judge Mace Thurman found Laird Palmer, who had the wisdom and patience to convince Osborne that he wasn’t a government plant.
The jury didn’t go for the insanity explanation: they were convinced Osborne knew the difference between right and wrong. But there was another consideration. Osborne was a police officer. That counted, it counted big. The prosecution asked for 40-years hardtime, and the jury gave him 10-years probation. It was a way of punishing and rewarding him at the same time.
After the trial, Duane and Gail moved back to Amarillo. Life resumed more or less as it always had. He found a new job, driving a truck. There were new bills. They argued about paying Laird Palmer—Gail didn’t want to, not yet, but Duane insisted. He went back on heroin. She got a divorce, and Duane went out and robbed the Northside State Bank of Amarillo. He is now doing eight years in the federal penitentiary at El Reno, Oklahoma.
The jury that sat in judgment of Duane Osborne was spared this fundamental consideration: What is there in the experience of the hangman that leads him willingly to the gallows? What act of conscience? If Osborne knew the consequences of his act of armed robbery, as the jury believed, then he also knew that the more than 20 drug cases he had made in Killeen would be dismissed for lack of a credible witness.
Drug cases are unique in that the only victims are the willing participants. Since these participants are also, in most cases, the only witnesses to the crime, the essential ingredient in the anatomy of a drug cases is what happened just before the crime. Whose dope was it? Whose idea?
Entrapment is the act of drawing a victim (or “potential defendant”, as they say at narc school) over a vaguely-drawn line and causing him to commit a crime he would not otherwise have committed. The burden of proving entrapment rests with the citizen. A lawyer must convince the court that his client was not “pre-disposed” to commit the crime. As DPS agent-in-charge Elmer Terrell reminds every narc class, if a potential defendant in a drug case can not prove entrapment or discredit the officer’s testimony, then he will be convicted.
But what is entrapment?
“I can’t place the thought of an illegal act in your mind,” Terrell told me.
“You mean, if you come up to me and say, ‘Boy, I sure would like to have some dope’ and I give you some . . . .”
“Then that’s entrapment.” Terrell assured me.
I was in the office of DPS publicity man Bill Carter, talking to Terrell and Carter. Agent Terrell is a stone-faced, no-nonsense, black-and-whiter, a man like Duane Osborne grew up wanting to be. Terrell’s hair has turned gray in his 21 years with the DPS, and his department has grown from 15 in 1968 to more than 100. Terrell says his office investigates every complaint of entrapment, but they’ve never found a case yet where an agent went over the line.
“Sure,” Terrell said, “you’re gonna hear a lot of jailhouse lawyers yelling entrapment. What would you do if you were arrested for drugs?”
The problems of entrapment are considerably more complex—in theory, as well as practice—than Elmer Terrell would have his pupils believe.
“The problem with professional undercover agents,” says Austin attorney Sam Houston Clinton, “is that they are very good at stretching the truth to suit what the court and the jury want to hear. They claim never to use drugs, only to simulate the act. They claim that they never solicit drugs; they are always asked. Now that’s so contrary to human experience that you can’t help but believe that many of them are trained liars. The judge and jury tend to accept the officer’s word for what went on. At the trial, the narc looks like any plainclothes detective. Shaved . . . groomed . . . highway patrol haircut. All the while the DA is telling the jury: this man is out there in the slime and filth, risking his life for you and your children. Unless the defense can catch a narc in an outright and very obvious lie, he’s gonna come out looking like a hero.”
A lawyer in the state Attorney General’s office gave me an example of entrapment: “I come up to you and say, ‘Hey, man, I’m hungry. I sure could get off on a couple of reds.’ Now say you blow me off, but I keep coming back. You keep putting me off, and I keep coming back. Finally, just to get rid of me, you go next door, borrow a couple of reds and give them to me. That is entrapment.”
I asked the man in the AG’s office about the practice of granting immunity to informers. I mean, who gives Duane Osborne or any other agent the right to grant immunity to a man who has been caught in an illegal act? He didn’t have an answer, but he defended the practice. “It’s either that,” he said, “or try to get the department to give you buy money [to purchase drugs]. It’s almost impossible for an agent to get buy money. It’s next to impossible to even get flash money (to show to a potential seller). An agent has to do what he can. Allowing an informer to work his case off is one way of getting the job done.”
This was one area of operations that Elmer Terrell didn’t care to discuss, other than to admit that neither the DPS nor any other law enforcement agency had the power to grant immunity. Immunity, he said, was always arranged through the court and the DA’s office. “Ninety percent of the time,” he said, “it’s the defense attorney who approaches us.”
I told one defense attorney what Terrell has said about immunity, and he laughed. Then he gave me an example of how informers are created. Four years ago, near Memorial Stadium in Austin, two DPS narcs stopped a university student for a minor traffic violation, searched his car and found two diet pills. They also accused him of driving a stolen car, although he quickly proved that he had borrowed the car from his mother. “Now possession of two diet pills is a very marginal case, as any experienced officer knows,” the attorney said. “But they threw the fear of God into this kid. When they felt that they had him, they offered this deal: he could work it off by turning in five people. It wasn’t enough just to turn them in, five cases had to be made, cases they could take to court, with a reasonable assurance of conviction. The kid came to me and said he just couldn’t do it. We sued the DPS for violation of his rights, and in the course of trial both agents involved . . . as well as their supervisor . . . admitted, in writing, that this was the standard practice for recruiting informers.”
Sam Houston Clinton cited another common abuse—what he called “search and destroy missions.” A team of narcs going through a private home in search of drugs can resemble My Lai. A few years ago Dallas police raided an underground newspaper, supposedly for a drug search. They didn’t find any drugs, but they wrecked the newspaper, carrying off typewriters and other office equipment, mutilating advertising lists, even destroying checks and bank statements.
In another case, Sam Houston Clinton asked a narc how his team gained entry to a home.
“With a master key,” the narc answered.
“And where did you get this master key?”
“We always carry it with us,” the narc said.
“And could you describe the key to the jury?”
“Yes, sir. It was a 16-pound sledge hammer.”
The fifth-floor jail in the Travis County Courthouse smelled like starch and chicken-fried steak. Sheriff Raymond Frank called out, “Open Number Two,” and I followed him inside with my tape recorder.
A veteran of 27 years in the Air Force, most of it as an investigator and supervisor with the OSI (the FBI of the armed services), Raymond Frank unseated Travis County’s longtime incumbent sheriff, T. O. Lang, in 1972. As he promised in his campaign, Sheriff Frank has made some dramatic reforms, including humanizing what was once one of the worst jails in Texas.
Raymond Frank has launched his own drug investigation, but it is not one that endears him to other narcotics agencies: the sheriff is investigating illegal practices of the narc trade.
“It has got to the point,” he told me, “where entrapment is the standard method of making a case. Agents are not only using drugs themselves, they are planting the seeds of the crime. When an undercover agent says to a peddler, ‘Can I score with you?,’ that is entrapment. Now it’s a shame to do away with entrapment because it is very effective in terms of arrest and conviction. Unfortunately, arrest and conviction seem to be the only concerns of these agents. I don’t want my children victimized by agents like that, and I don’t think the people who elected me do either.”
Faced with the near certainty that narcs had to break several laws to enforce just one, Raymond Frank abolished the infamous Travis County narcotics squad. He hit this theme time and again in speeches to civic groups—when enforcement of a law becomes a worse abuse than the thing the law was designed to prevent, we’re all in trouble. We have lost sight of where we are. Sheriff Frank’s statement (in The Texas Law Forum) that entrapment is standard procedure outraged Elmer Terrell and other agents, but the sheriff pointed out that he was an elected official, then added: “I think it would be a healthy situation if the head of the DPS had to run for office. That way, if he refused to clean his own house, then the voters could help him along.” Incidently, that same issue of Law Forum revealed that 75 percent of the students at the University of Texas Law School have sampled marijuana, and that 25 percent of them sample it regularly.
“We’re not turning our back on drug abuses,” the sheriff told me, “but we’re not making it our priority either. Our priority is burglary. A few weeks ago we stopped a car we were looking for in connection with a burglary and found 200 pounds of marijuana. We filed a case. What I’m saying, we didn’t stop the car to search for drugs.”
Raymond Frank’s crusade against the holy crusaders hit its high mark when the sheriff learned one morning that a narc who was at that moment upstairs in 53rd District Court testifying against 16 drug defendants was in fact a Navy deserter. The sheriff asked the narc to step out of the courtroom, slapped him in handcuffs, and escorted him to jail. Needless to say, both the University of Texas security police who had hired the narc (the busts took place at Jester Center on the UT campus) and the Travis County DA were outraged. With their star witness in jail, their cases against the Jester 16 were worth little or nothing. Assistant DA Herman Gotcher even hinted that the sheriff might be taking his orders from the Mafia.
The Travis County jail overflows with drug prisoners, almost everyone of them there because a jury believed a narc’s testimony. While we were waiting for a jailer to bring a certain prisoner to the interview room, Sheriff Frank told me:
“I’m not stupid enough to believe everything prisoners tell me. I know they’re con artists and jailhouse lawyers. But when you hear the same modus operandi in a number of drug cases . . . when you hear the names of the same undercover agents playing the same illegal tricks . . . where there is smoke there has to be a little fire. These agents are putting themselves above the law. There is no law in this country that allows an agent to use drugs, falsify evidence and lie on the witness stand. These guys are making it harder and harder for the rest of us to make a legitimate case. I talked to Duane Osborne when he was up here. Some of the stories he told make Texas sound like the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. And the really troubling part, there is no public outcry. People just seem to accept it.”
The prisoners I interviewed had several things in common: they were all under 30, all veterans and, except in one case, all started using drugs in Viet Nam. Since guilt has already been established by juries, the cases I am about to relate—those of Ron Arnot and David P.—were selected to give the reader the widest possible contrast, not only in terms of how laws are applied, but how people who are not otherwise criminals come in contact with this selective application.
Consider first, Ron Arnot, a young Viet Nam veteran from Western Pennsylvania who got 25-years hardtime for the crime of possessing several grams of heroin. Arnot was convicted in roughly the same span of time, and in the same Austin courtroom, where Duane Osborne got probation for a far more serious offense. What was the difference? Arnot was not a cop: his flaw, while terribly human, was not activated in the line of duty.
When I talked to him in early June, Arnot had been in Travis County Jail nearly three years. He was healthy and in good spirits. He had gained nearly 70 pounds since his days on the street, and he talked a lot about his commitment to God. He found God while doing 14 days cold turkey in an isolation cell. He memorized the 23rd Psalm (his only reading material) while beating his elbows and knees raw on his cell walls. However dismal the future, Arnot had learned to face it.
Arnot got his first taste of drugs from an Army surgeon in Viet Nam. He was not wounded in battle, although that’s the story his friends and family believed when he came home. Only recently did his mother learn he did not win a Purple Heart. Arnot got a broken jaw in a bar room brawl, but even that didn’t take him straight to drugs.
“I have a lot of explaining to do to a lot of people,” he told me in the tiny interview room. “What really happened, this doctor wiring my broken jaw happened to look down at my chest . . . at my nipples which had always been unusually large. Kids used to tease me about it. I’d always wear a shirt at the beach. He asked if it bothered me, made me feel inferior, and I had to admit it did. He suggested this simple operation to remove the fatty tissue. So they take me in and give me a pre-op shot of what I learned later was demerol.
“Well, well, well! Man, what is this stuff! I never felt anything that good. After the operation, my chest was flat and I felt like king of the mountain. This nurse I knew got me some more demerol and for a while things kind of got strung out. . . .”
All of Arnot’s friends in Viet Nam used drugs: alcohol, tobacco, grass, hash, speed, downers and a relatively weak rusty brown heroin that they snorted. Back at Fort Bragg after Viet Nam, Arnot got heavy into heroin and was busted by a close friend, Turner, a fellow drug user who, as it turned out, got his supply from the CID (Criminal Investigative Division). Arnot was busted for a bag of grass that Turner planted in his car. Though the case reeked of entrapment, a court-martial sentenced him to 15 months of hard labor at Leavenworth. After serving nine months of his sentence, Arnot was freed and restored to honorable rank by an appeals court.
But Arnot had turned the corner. Embittered by the war, confused by his treatment in the army, he moved to Austin and dived into the drug scene.
Arnot was busted in his friend Arnold’s house on Bayor Street, the breadbasket of Austin’s drug culture. He was sitting at the kitchen table, cutting Arnold’s stash when the narcs broke down the door. An informer, a black youth Arnot had bought drugs from many times, supplied the information used to obtain the search warrant. Arnold, the man who owned the illegal drug, got 10-years probation. He moved to New York before Arnot’s trial, and refused to return and testify. The last time Arnot heard, Arnold was a skyjack marshal.
Like Arnot, David P. served in Viet Nam, with the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines. Unlike Arnot, he was never strung out on drugs. “I smoked pot in Viet Nam, like everyone else,” David told me. “It was no big deal. I first turned on in the eighth grade at St. Edward’s boy’s school in Austin. Catholics are very advanced in certain areas.” When I talked to David, he had been in Travis County jail 122 days for violating the terms of his probation, to wit: two cops caught him drinking.
David got hung in the tentacles of the law during a three-day toot in San Antonio, celebrating the joys of turning 21. Though the girl with him, his main alibi, claimed “we were just out riding around,” there is strong evidence that they were staying at the Howard Johnson’s Motel in San Antonio the weekend that David is alleged to have been in Austin, selling two grams of pure cocaine to a narc we will call Steakly.
Agent Steakly (not his real name) is a superzealous, scar-faced narc (“ugly as homemade soap”) who operates throughout north and central Texas. His was a name I heard many times while investigating reports of unsavory activities in undercover work.
Attorneys for David P. produced hotel records and three hotel employees who saw their client at the Howard Johnsons that weekend, but the prosecution claimed that only proved David was a seasoned dealer, having set up his alibi. The sale was supposed to have taken place on Sept. 24, 1971, between 9 and 10 p.m. David returned his girl friend to her San Antonio college dorm before the 10:30 p.m. curfew. The jury had to believe David could accomplish both of these things and still drive 90 miles.
Harder to swallow was the simple economics of the case. The state charged David with selling two grams of 100 per cent pure cocaine for $40. Even if there was such a thing as 100 per cent cocaine—and there is nothing close—the street price for two grams of 40 percent coke is at least $200. David’s motel and gas bill totalled more than $90, which meant that if he did sell to Steakly he did so out of uncommon kindness and brotherhood.
There were only two witnesses to the sale: David P. and Agent Steakly. It was word versus word. The jury, somewhat reluctantly it appeared, found David guilty and handed him two (one for each gram) 10-year probated sentences.
I asked David if he knew Agent Steakly.
“Yeah, I met Steakly several times,” he said. “I was introduced to him by a junkie named Tibbs, a fellow who grew up in my neighborhood, a fellow I’d known for 17 years. Tibbs and Steakly brought some pot over to my place, and after we’d turned on Steakly got real mellow and said, “Hey, man, like you know where we can score any coke?’ I told him I had no idea. Everytime I saw Steakly—three times in all—it was the same routine. He would bring some grass to my house, and sooner or later he’d ask if I could score him some coke. The last time I talked to Steakly was about 15 minutes before he and eight other narcs pulled me out of bed at 5 a.m. and told me I was under arrest. Steakly called just before they came—I guess to make sure I was home. He asked if I’d run across any coke yet. I hung up on the bastard.”
After his trial, David P. found another job and another girl, this one the teenage daughter of Austin’s most remarkable redneck, a former UT football player who has a reputation for pole-axing hippies and anit-war demonstrators who wander too close. This man is a close, personal friend of the judge who sentenced David. On Jan. 26, 1973, two Austin patrolmen stopped David and told him he had run three red lights. They never bothered to issue him a ticket, but they did run a radio check on him, and when they learned he was on probation for drugs, they hauled him in on a DWI. They didn’t give him a breath or blood test, but took him straight to jail, as is the practice with probation violators. David stayed in the slammer until April 3, six weeks later, when he was brought before the judge who offically revoked his probation and sent him back upstairs.
In June, after spending more than four months in jail, David P. was again brought before the judge and offered this alternative—he could go back to jail, or he could get out of the state and stay out for the length of his probation. Davis was last seen on a plane to Louisville, Ky.
The case of Charles McDonald, a prominent Waco attorney and businessman, rounds out the file.
In the spring of 1972, McDonald had a run-in with two DPS narcs outside Nero’s bar in Waco. The run-in cost McDonald five broken ribs, a punctured eardrum, and multiple severe contusions and abrasions of the chest, stomach and head—not to mention a formal charge of assaulting a police officer. The McDonald case occupies the better part of a thick file in the offices of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. Says William Reid, general counsel of the TCDLA: “It was absolutely unbelievable what happened.”
Briefly, here is the story:
A task force of narcs, usually about a half dozen, had been hanging out at Nero’s for several weeks. Nero’s is a garish, ear-mauling rock place that caters to young people, some of them, no doubt, dope users. The narcs, however, were there for pleasure as much as business. There had been several incidents before the night McDonald was beaten. One narc propositioned a Nero’s waitress, a Baylor student, in that blunt way that some men succumb to power—he threaten to bust her unless she put out. Another night, there was a hassle when the task force refused to leave at closing time. One narc pulled his gun and tried to shoot out a light in the men’s room. He missed. Later that same night, the narcs went to an abandoned grocery store where they challenged a motorcycle gang known as the Bandidoes to a shootout.
On Saturday night, the night of the beating, the task force was celebrating the fruits of victory: 92 sealed drug indictments, handed down by a cooperative Waco grand jury. The record is twisted as to what happened next, but this much everyone agrees on—Agent Billy Clifton and attorney Charles McDonald (who owns the building where Nero’s is quartered) had words, at which time Clifton strong-armed the much older, much smaller attorney to the parking lot, where the beating took place. After that, Clifton and Agent Bobby Adams took McDonald to jail.
McDonald testified that on the way to jail, Clifton kicked him in the ribs. “He said it would be easy to kill me . . . that all he would have to do would be put some narcotics in my pocket and blow my brains out,” the attorney swore under oath. McDonald said that, in his opinion, Clifton was “either drunk, crazy or doped-up . . . one of the three.”
The narcs’ celebration didn’t end at Waco city jail, however. Later that same night a San Antonio dentist, Dr. Harry Wilson, was returning with his wife to their Waco motel when Agent Clifton threw a beer can at their car. Mrs. Wilson testified that “He (Clifton) threatened my husband . . .and insinuated I was a woman of ill repute.” When the Waco police arrived at the scene of this disturbance, Waco Sgt. Carlton Fisher told the Wilsons to forget it . . . that Clifton and the others were police and “that’s all we need to know and all you need to know.” Baylor law student Doyle Neighbours, who was riding in the patrol car, heard Fisher tell another Waco cop later: “If those guys (the narcs) keep that stuff up, we’re gonna have a hard time covering for them.”
The same grand jury that returned the 92 drug indictments also indicted McDonald for assaulting Agent Clifton with his rib cage. McDonald was acquitted after a brief but highly revealing trial in which Agent Adams admitted on cross-examination that sometime after the beating he, two other agents and their district supervisor conspired a plot to frame McDonald and his law partner, Tom Ragland. They approached a girl who had been involved with a drunk charge and asked her to lure the two attorneys to a motel room which would be bugged for sound and pictures. The girl refused and advised the two attorneys of the plot.
In July, 1972, Agents Clifton and Adams were indicted for violations of Sec. 242 of the Civil Rights Act. The DPS paraded its entire command into court, including several Texas Rangers, who had no interest at all in the case. “At one time during the trial,” says Tom Ragland, “I counted 28 narcs in the courtroom.” Not surprisingly, the agents were acquitted.
Following the civil rights trial, Houston attorney C. Anthony Friloux, Sr., chairman of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, wrote to members: “The atmosphere in Waco is unbelievable. The state narcotics agents had convinced the Grand Jury that criminal defense lawyers are responsible in large part for the narcotics problem and the ineffectiveness of the state in dealing with this problem.”
Like all wars, the War on Drugs has its ignorant armies slashing at anything that stirs. In the darkness of this holy passion, a mentality is created, just as it was in Viet Nam, just as it was at Watergate, the enemy is plainly labeled—you have your “slopes” and “gooks,” you have your “dangerous student radicals,” and in the War on Drugs you have what the chief of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, a Nixon appointee, recently termed your “vermin.” Thus are rules of civilization suspended. Thus does your cure become your disease.
In the 1930s, the nation’s Chief Narc, Harry Anslinger, coined terms like “killer weed” to describe marijuana. The movie Reefer Madness is now a campy hit on college campuses; but in the Thirties Anslinger showed it to Congress as a documentary. Four decades later, Richard Nixon set up his Drug Hotline, so that citizens can turn in their friends and neighbors, toll free. Gradually, the strike force has shifted its preoccupation from soft to hard drugs, but the method is the same.
“Harry Anslinger took a hardline approach, especially to heroin,” says Sheriff Raymond Frank, a graduate of Anslinger’s course. “Throw them in jail, throw away the key, let them suffer through cold turkey. This was supposed to teach them a lesson. I was stationed with the Air Force in England and saw how they dealt with addicts. Instead of stealing, an addict could get a prescription for heroin, period. I’m saying that approach has merit. I don’t know the answer to the drug problem, but I do know that something is wrong when addicts are forced to steal and burglarize to support habits. I know there are better approaches.”
“As far as marijuana goes, it’s certainly no more dangerous than alcohol. They make this point at the DPS Breathalizer School—that if gin were invented today, if it were a brand new product, just on the market, you would need a prescription to buy it. It’s dangerous. The time will come, I feel sure, when marijuana will be accepted as alcohol is now.”
I asked agent-in-charge Terrell why, in his experience, people used drugs, and Terrell said flatly: “I’ve always thought people used drugs because they like them.”
“And what about deterrent factors?” From the stricken pale on Terrell’s face, I gathered that the question was too broad.
“Uh . . .enforcement,” he began. “Uh . . . education . . . education may be as important as enforcement . . .get the people where they don’t want it . . .supply and demand . . . that sort of thing . . . uh . . . .”
There was a long, embarrassing silence, a breach in the conversation that lasted nearly 30 seconds, then publicity man Bill Carter thought of something. “Certainty of arrest,” he said. “Don’t forget that.”
I asked Terrell to think of himself now as a human being, not a narcotics officer, then answer this most basic question: should a man be sent to prison for abusing and misusing his own body?
Carter pretended to study a pamphlet on his desk, while Terrell took forever to formulate his reply. Finally he said, very lowly and honestly, “Probably not. He needs help. I don’t think 25 years in the penitentiary is the kind of help he needs.”
“The trouble is,” Carter interjected, “that user you’re talking about is probably also dealing.”
Elmer Terrell brightened noticeably as the litany returned: “That’s right, if I light up a joint here in this room, I’ll probably give you a hit, right? So I’m a potential problem to you. If you hang around me very long you’re gonna get in trouble ’cause you’ll probably be smoking grass too. This is your problem with the user. It’s like a disease.”
The man in the Attorney General’s office had warned me about this story, had warned me of the dangers of prejudging. “It’s easy to have tunnel vision,” he said. “It’s easy to set a goal, then find ways to arrive at it.” Yeah, I admitted it, right up front. I feel narcs are repulsive, the lowest form of life: to paraphrase Duane Osborne, creatures different than you and me. Why? The man at the AG’s office had a good answer:
“It’s the old Code of the West,” the man in the Attorney General’s office told me. “It’s the Cagney movie . . . don’t squeal. Agents moving about surreptitiously, gaining confidence of their victims . . .it hits a wrong cord of American culture. You’ve got to have a weird gear to be a peace officer. Cops, by nature and by training, don’t trust. You see a group of kids in front of a widow lady’s house . . . are they fixing a broken screen, or breaking in? A cop’s nature is to think the worst.”
Right. Credit intentions. Read, with open mind, how the Nixon Administration paid Turkey $35 million not to grow poppies, even for legal, medical use. Result: a critical world shortage of medical codeine and morphine. Read, without irony, of a drug raid in Houston. Ten city and county officers rush a man whom their informer has fingered as a drug dealer. The man has a gun. At least three members of the raiding party draw their own weapons and fire. The man is shot dead. Only then is he identified as Monroe Scott, a rookie DPS narcotics agent.
These things happen in time of war.
Narcotics officers are employed on five levels (working together in many cases): the federal level, where most of the money is and, therefore, the most efficient prosecution; the state level, also quite active in Texas; the county level, somewhat less concerned with narcotics; the local police level where the force exerted on solving narcotics problems varies with the degree of the problem in each city; and finally the “other” category wherein may fall any agency employing narcotics officers beyond the four above-mentioned categories—one example is given.
Who Has Them?
Federal: DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) is a new agency bringing together all the federal agencies formerly concerned with drug law enforcement. It is made up of the staff of the former Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, the Office for Drug Abuse Law Enforcement (ODALE), and the transfer of 500 Special Agents from the Customs Agency Service. ODALE, Department of Justice, created by an Executive Order of President Nixon, became fully operational May, 1972. Its objective: to launch a concentrated attack on narcotics and dangerous drug traffic, specifically street-level heroin and cocaine pushers. It was unique for it represented the first totally integrated federal, state and local effort to combat the “heroin crisis”; it was the pilot project for DEA.
At present there are five DEA agents in Dallas working with the local police, one in Fort Worth, one in Austin, three in San Antonio, six in Houston, and four in El Paso.
State: DPS (Department of Public Safety) employs 112 narcotics officers
County: The Harris County Sheriff’s Office employs six narcotics officers who made 100 arrests from January to June, 1973. In the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office there are two officers who work with the local Metro Squad (consisting of themselves, officers from the San Antonio police, and officers from the District Attorney’s office) to investigate narcotics cases. There are no narcotics officers per se in the sheriff’s offices of Dallas County, Tarrant County, or Travis County. However they will investigate narcotics violations when they occur and, for example, in Travis County four cases have been filed in the past year.
Other: The University of Texas System, for example, employs five narcotics officers in the entire system; there are other U.T. police working on drugs part-time.
Where do they work
DEA: Included in the 36 target cities, countrywide, for ODALE/DEA are Houston, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, and San Antonio. On a consistent basis heroin is more predominant in the poorer section(s) of a city or town. Marijuana is somewhat more predominant among the more affluent.
DPS: The majority of their work is in the large cities, and they have a legislative mandate to work in school areas; the concentration is on pushers.
Police: In all five cities, the police say their work is all over the city, no predominant area.
Under What Laws Do They Operate?
Narcotics agents operate under no special laws except that, like all police officers, they can carry guns, can make arrests, and can apply for search and wire tap warrants. The “no knock” drug raid laws are still in effect but rarely used. Cecil Emerson, head of DEA Task Force, Region VI, says that they have never used them.
—Anne Bauer Barnstone