South Plains Drug Task Force in Limbo - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

8/23/04

South Plains Drug Task Force in Limbo

District Attorney Bill Sowder is one of roughly 50 law enforcement agents trying to keep the South Plains Regional Drug Task Force from falling apart. "Unfortunately a few bad instance have caused the word 'task force' to be a dirty word," he said.

Tulia, Texas, a task force nightmare. 46 people arrested for drugs, most later freed. The arresting officer accused of racism and perjury. The subsequent lawsuit cost the city of Amarillo $5 million for an officer they didn't even hire, but were liable for because they were a part of the task force. The City of Lubbock does not want that to happen to them, so they have pulled the Lubbock Police Department out of the local task force.

But they have done so very abruptly, leaving a $650,000 program dangling in the air with other task force members looking to the Lubbock County Sheriff's office for guidance. "Was this a total surprise from the LPD?" we asked Sheriff Gutierrez. "Yes, it was a complete surprise," he said. Gutierrez is possibly interested in taking over, but likewise concerned about liability. "We must, I must protect Lubbock county from liability concerns," he stressed.

What's the solution. How do you uncuff the police? Gutierrez is hoping for new legislation which would limit liability. "That's the ideal," said Representative Delwin Jones. He's trying to keep the task force alive by fostering legislation in 2005. "It could be presented in January but then it's kind of like grinding sausage, you never know how its going to be ground and sacked up, but we could possibly get it done in five months," he said.

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