As you all remember the El Paso Crime Lab was put on probation on June 24, 2011. The irony of the raging drug war going on in El Paso’s sister city, Cd. Juárez, at that time was not lost in me especially when subsequent to the city being put on probation county commissioner Willie Gandara was arrested for drug trafficking. District Attorney Jaime Esparza, County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal and Police Chief Greg Allen wasted no time proclaiming they “had no evidence that anybody in the lab intentionally did anything wrong”. Guess what’s back on the city’s agenda tomorrow?
I wrote about this fiasco in “The Drug Capital of the World can’t even test the drugs!” pointing out how the El Paso/Cd. Juárez was an important drug corridor into the US. For those that still live in the fantasy that the drug cartels do not operate in El Paso you might want to remember a former FBI Agent in Charge who spent time in jail for drug cartel ties, a former county commissioner now in jail for drug trafficking and a former police chief now a county commissioner who spent years trying to silence a deputy who alleged cartel infiltration of the El Paso police force.
Former FBI Agent in Charge for El Paso Hardrick Crawford Jr., was found guilty in 2006 for hiding his relationship with Jose Maria Guardia, the owner of the Juárez Racetrack, who has been implicated in drug cartel activity by Mexican law enforcement. Carlos Leon was the El Paso Police Chief when then Assistant Chief George De Angelis alleged cartel infiltration of the police department. It was Richard Wiles who initiated an internal investigation against De Angelis at the behest of Leon in order to attempt to discredit De Angelis. In other words, instead of investigating the allegations of drug cartel infiltration of the police department, Leon and Wiles focused on silencing the whistleblower; De Angelis.
Of course you all know about Wille Gandara, formerly a county commissioner and currently sitting in jail for drug trafficking. And let’s not forget the 2009 murder of Jose Daniel Gonzalez Galeana, a former ICE informant, who was killed literally a few doors down from current Police Chief Greg Allen’s house. For those that believe the fantasy that the cartels are afraid of El Paso police and therefore don’t operate on the US side consider Galeana’s murder.
As if those weren’t enough examples consider the many recent cases of police misconduct ranging from record falsification to outright theft from a wedding party, as further examples of an unprofessional police force. Many of the police officers currently under investigation or who have recently resigned under a cloud of suspicion have come up through the police ranks under the leadership of Carlos Leon and El Paso Sheriff Richard Wiles.
How does all this tie in with the city’s crime lab?
I have written numerous times how I believe that the drug war that erupted in Cd. Juárez had much to do with the cartel’s lucrative corridor into the US. For many years local officials have proclaimed how El Paso is safe. Many created the fantasy that the drug cartels somehow skipped El Paso on their way to Chicago, Dallas and other destinations. The cartels did not operate in El Paso was the illusion push forth, as if the drugs just magically disappeared as soon as they entered El Paso and re-appeared in the hands of the users in other cities. Contrary to the belief that the cartels are afraid of the local police department I believe it has more to do with an agreement of convenience between many players, including the local politicos.
Remember, you have a current county commissioner who avoided investigating an allegation of cartel infiltration of the police department under his command, who coincidently was helped by the current sheriff. You have a former county commissioner now in jail for drug trafficking. One of the tools used by drug cartels is manipulating the legal system. How better to do that then to make sure they can manipulate the results of the evidence used to convict them.
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety’s List of DPS Accredited Labs from Texas (October 11, 2013), the El Paso Crime Laboratory is listed as “withdrawn” on all testing disciplines. However, the Texas Department of Public Safety El Paso Laboratory on Scott Simpson is accredited on all but “toxicology” which is labeled as “limited or restricted” through 2017.
As you might remember the accrediting agency’s May 26, 2011 report detailed 18 significant issues with the local crime lab. Among the most significant findings were that the laboratory had a “malfunctioning” lock that effectively allowed drug evidence to be tampered with. Even more egregious was that an analyst confirmed cocaine was present based on one positive result of the same sample that had already failed 44 tests for cocaine. In other words it took the technician 45 testing times to get one positive result forcing the question of how many times is a sample tested to get the results the prosecutors want?
If you don’t think this is important or relevant consider the 2005 case of Mark James Bittakis.
Bittakis was arrested on January 30, 2005 at the El Paso International Airport after a TSA Agent summoned an El Paso Police Officer after he found “two small sandwich-type bags filled with a white powdery substance”. Although Bittakis claimed that the substance was “laundry detergent” he was nonetheless arrested based on two positive field tests conducted by the police officers.
After spending about 10 days in jail, Bittakis was finally released and charges were dropped after the Texas Department Public Safety laboratory determined that the substance “tested negative for the presence of a controlled substance”.
Tomorrow, December 10, 2013 city council will discuss and take action on item 19 on whether to continue to outsource some of the laboratory functions to Integrated Forensic Laboratories, Inc. or to use the Texas Department of Public Safety Crime Laboratory instead.
On August 28, 2012, after the city was unable to hire a laboratory manager the decision to outsource the laboratory was approved by city council. The item on tomorrow’s agenda recommends spending $2,492,496.76 over five years to continue the arrangement with Integrated Forensic Laboratories, Inc.
I expect the arguments at city council on this item to center around the need for the expenditure when the Texas Department of Public Safety can offer the same services without a cost to the city. In the 2012 vote, Michiel Noe voted against the award of the contract arguing that DPS could provide the services. Jaime Esparza argued that DPS takes too long to issue the results.
I’m not really sure how Esparza can argue the length of time when the judiciary has a mechanism in place to deal with the time it takes to prosecute a case. The mechanism is a bond that allows the accused the opportunity to remain out of jail until he can be prosecuted.
This brings me directly to a very important question. Why is it that city council wants to continue to spend $2 million for a service it can get without an additional cost? More importantly why is Jaime Esparza so adamant that the Texas Department of Public Safety is unable to offer the city an effective lab for drug investigations?