Dozens Falsely Imprisoned for Years in Tulia, Texas
At a press conference and Congressional briefing on Wednesday, May 25th, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) will introduce federal legislation that could cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in federal law enforcement grants to local anti-drug task forces. The legislation, which is being co-sponsored by Representatives John Conyers (D-MI), Charles Rangel (D-NY), Donald Payne (D-NJ), and Ed Towns (D-NY), would prohibit states from spending federal Byrne grants on regional narcotics task forces unless they adopt laws preventing people from being convicted of drug offenses when the only evidence against them is the uncorroborated testimony of a law enforcement officer or informant. States could still use the money for other activities, such as drug treatment and domestic violence prevention. Named after a small Texas town rocked by scandal, the "No More Tulia's: Drug Law Enforcement Evidentiary Standards Improvement Act of 2005," is the latest in a series of bi-partisan attacks on a federal grant program, known as the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, that critics say is wasting taxpayer money and perpetuating police corruption and civil rights abuses.
"Congress needs to pass Representative Jackson Lee's bill in order to prevent more innocent people from going to jail," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Liberals and conservatives agree, the federal Byrne grant program is doing more harm than good."
After dozens of people were falsely imprisoned for several years in Texas because of false allegations by one Byrne-funded undercover police officer, a coalition of Christian conservative state legislators including Rep. Rick Greens (R-Dripping Springs) and Rep. John Shields (R-San Antonio), and civil rights groups including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and ACLU of Texas, launched a campaign to change Texas law to prevent more innocent people from going to prison. In 2001, the Texas legislature outlawed drug convictions based solely on the testimony of an informant. The campaign to protect innocent people is now coming to Washington, with Rep. Jackson Lee's legislation.
Numerous criminal justice reform and civil rights groups have signed a statement urging the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), to hold prompt hearings on the bill, including the ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, NAACP, National Black Police Association, National Council of La Raza, and Open Society Policy Center. (Rep. Sensenbrenner pledged two years ago to hold hearings on the causes of the abuses in Tulia, but has yet to do so.) Five leading conservative groups have issued a sign-on letter urging Congress to support President Bush's proposal to completely eliminate the Byrne grant program, because the program "has proved to be an ineffective and inefficient use of resources," (the groups are American Conservative Union, Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform, Citizens against Government Waste, and National Taxpayers Union).
WHAT: Press Conference on the introduction of the "No More Tulias: Drug Law
Enforcement Evidentiary Standards Improvement Act of 2005" by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (followed by two short movies on corrupt anti-drug task forces)
WHEN: Wednesday, May 25th, 1:45-2:45
WHERE: 2325 Rayburn House Office Building