Prosecutors Who Victimized Family Face No Discipline

Back in 2008, I wrote a long piece for Reason magazine about the Colombs, a black, working class family in Church Point, Louisiana.

Background:

The United States alleged that Ann Colomb and three of her four sons ran one of the largest crack cocaine operations in Louisiana. Over the course of a decade, prosecutors said, the Colombs bought $15 million in illicit drugs with a street value of more than $70 million. Judging solely from the indictments, the government’s case seemed formidable: a trail of police reports throughout the 1990s accusing the Colomb boys of possessing or selling drugs; a 2001 raid on the Colomb home that turned up 72 grams of crack, a Titan .25-caliber pistol, and a rifle; and more than 30 prison informants who were prepared to testify that they had sold crack to one or more members of the Colomb family. In 2006 a jury in Lafayette, Louisiana, convicted the African-American family on federal drug conspiracy charges. Ann and her sons served almost four months in a federal prison while awaiting their sentences, which would likely have ranged from 10 years to life.

But in the ensuing months, the government’s case unraveled, exposing some unsettling truths about the way jailhouse informants are used in America’s courtrooms. In December 2006, all charges against the family were dismissed. The federal judge who presided over the trial was so upset about what happened in his courtroom that he has since taken the rare step of speaking out about it publicly.

Read the update at The Agitator.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    How can prosecutors and law enforcement possibly be expected to do their jobs making the case for the state if they constantly have to worry about being called on their bullshit? It would be chaos.

    Welcome back, Balko.

  • anon||

    but ANARCHY!!!!11one

  • Pro Libertate||

    Little accountability for government officials of any kind, except in rare cases, regardless of the degree of ethical or even legal lapse. This is good how?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    "If you outlaw prosecutorial immunity, only outlaws will be prosecuted."

  • Pro Libertate||

    Exactly. Let's prosecute outlaws.

  • Nazdrakke||

    Well if you're a member of the ruling class it's just peachy.

  • John||

    The lack of accountability is bad enough. But even if they were accountable, they would still be craven and disgusting. What kind of a culture at DOJ produces people like Greyson? It is a big deal to send someone jail. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth even when they deserve it. You have to be a special kind of sociopath to push a case because you can with no regard to the truth. And people like that don't just arise spontaneously. They are a product of an organizational culture that encourages and rewards that kind of behavior.

    There are just too many of these sorts of cases for it to be the result of the odd bad actor. The entire culture of DOJ is evil and broken. No amount of accountability or reform can fix that kind of engrained culture. The only way to fix it would be to fire every single attorney in the Department and ban them for working for the Feds for life and rebuild the Department from scratch. But that isn't going to happen.

  • Pro Libertate||

    There should be check after check after check on power, with checks on the checks and the check-checks. And it should be easy to undo abuses of power--if someone gets locked up for some bullshit reason, they get out immediately.

  • ||

    It amuses me beyond belief to watch you peddle this same shit again and again. "Should be". HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    There should be rainbows and unicorns and cocaine and hookers too. Why on earth do you persist in these pipe dreams? The very nature of the kind of people who take these positions makes it certain that "check after check after check" will never be, yet you just keep acting like if you wish for it, it will be.

    Don't take this the wrong way, ProL, but you are part of the problem, because you seem convinced that if we just game the system the right way, it'll work. Yet every single instance of history shows you are wrong. Why do you ignore history?

  • Brandon||

    I could live without the rainbows and unicorns.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Yeah, yeah, I suppose it's better to just wish the government would go away. You know as well as I do that even the ultimate solution--a revolution--won't end in anarchy. Not today it won't.

    My ideal society is much less government than even the Founders envisioned, but there's no easy way from here to there.

    Government or even no government is a game of Whac-A-Mole--you can never completely beat it, and you can never stop trying to hit the random mole. It's a constant fight to limit and stop the people who want power over others, regardless of whether we're talking about politics, religion, economics, what have you. In this country, it's the failure to keep fighting that has doomed us.

  • ||

    Anarchy would be quickly rolled over by the first warlord with enough guns and the inclination, or replaced by majoritarian rule of one sort or another the first time somebody didn't get their way. In the context of American society I don't know which would be more likely. But it's not a sustainable social system unless you have total buy-in from every person on planet earth. Most especially the ones with the enormous fucking guns, who are the least likely of all to buy-in. Taking the regional warlord to private court and obtaining a judgment against him doesn't mean a whole lot when he will just shoot your judge and offer the equally attractive options of death or compliance.

  • ||

    In other words, Epi is right, but the system he proposes would be nothing more than a short interlude to what is going to happen anyway. Liberty is doomed. Shuffling around the distribution of the little of it we can retain is about the best we can do.

  • Pro Libertate||

    To be fair, what Episiarch has suggested before is that the attempted rise of a warlord would be easier to squash in an anarchy than stopping what we have today (or even more government). Maybe, but I think the leap from today's situation to there is a huge one. Not just the necessary political change but the cultural one, too.

    Whether it's minarchy or anarchy, the people as a whole generally have to want limited or no government, or we're eventually going to be fucked.

  • ||

    We simul-posted, but my tacked-on reply was getting at this:

    Whether it's minarchy or anarchy, the people as a whole generally have to want limited or no government, or we're eventually going to be fucked.

  • SomeGuy||

    which i think we all can agree on is that the general population is never going to consider having less of a government than we have today.

    By the looks of it we won't have a change in the general population until we have a complete hard police state with a tyrant in charge. So by the looks of it that won't happen unless they fuck up. They seem dead set on slowly establishing a soft/semi hard police state and keeping it there.

    I look forward to the breaking point and i plain on being ready for that breaking point....if it is in my life time. It is really hard to tell.

    We are definitely fucked for sure. I don't see anyway of changing the masses opinion.

  • ||

    It is a big deal to send someone jail. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth even when they deserve it.

    Yeeeeah, gonna have to disagree with that. It's hard to have a deep sense of justice, as most libertarians do, without experiencing a high degree of satisfaction in seeing the truly guilty actually pay for their crimes.

  • John||

    I have done it. And I found it to be less than satisfying. The problem is that the defendant has family too. And sending the guy or gal to jail is devastating to them and they didn't do anything to deserve that pain. Even the defendant is usually a real lost soul who has managed to totally screw up their lives.

    I am as law and order as anyone. And I am the last person to say some people don't deserve to go to jail for a long time. But the process of doing it is never pleasant even if the guy deserves it. And I saw this as a person who loved doing trials more than anything I have ever done. I would do them and get this huge high from the thrill of doing it and then at the end when I got the sentence always felt pretty empty about it. And that is with guilty people. The idea of doing that to an innocent person to advance my career is just unimaginable. But that is just me.

  • ||

    Eh, I'm afraid when it comes to the guilty I'm in the "cry me a fucking river" camp. I do feel sorry for their families and "second order effects", if you will. But tbh, (and speaking from a certain degree of personal experience) the kind of people who are capable of committing the types of legitimate crimes for which I would take satisfaction in seeing them locked away, are probably total assholes who have extremely dysfunctional family relationships, and they'll be better off in the long run.

    The idea of doing that to an innocent person to advance my career is just unimaginable.

    Given, of course. That's why I made sure to say the truly guilty. My total inability to exist as a nominally sane human being while either convicting the innocent or defending the guilty is a huge part of the reason I refused to apply to law school despite prodding from family and friends (ironically, my parents were also very enthusiastic about me applying to the NSA for a 6-year commitment; which again, I could not bring myself to apply to for ethical reasons; in hindsight, I'd obviously have been screened out immediately anyway; moral of the story: your family is universally wrong in dispensing career advice).

  • John||

    I hear you. And I think that way too a lot myself. And would think that way right up until the end of the process. Then I would just realize I made my living off of human tragedy. The whole thing is always one big pointless tragedy. And I just never had the feeling of being some kind of avenger for justice. I felt more the guy who cleaned the sewers, it was a dirty, nasty job that someone had to do.

  • ||

    Yeah, being the person actually making it happen is probably a different story than being able to make the judgment as an outside observer. Like I said, not being able to handle certain moral and ethical dilemmas is the reason I could never be a lawyer myself.

  • ||

    And I saw this as a person who loved doing trials more than anything I have ever done.

    John, I say this with the utmost respect because I think you are very perspicacious and I agree with you about 80% of the time, but I call bullshit.

    First, trials suck. Secondly, if you really did love them so much, you wouldn't be working on the public dole sharing your great number of pithy comments with the Reason commetariat,and be in a real trial law firm where you'd be expected to bill so many hours you wouldn't have enough spare time to share your erudite observations.

  • John||

    Troy,

    Civil trials suck. Criminal trials are a fucking blast. They are two totally different animals. And unsurprisingly, there is very little money in doing criminal trials. Civil trials is where the money is. A state prosecutor makes shit. Even an assistant US attorney makes less money than I do and has a hundred times the bullshit.

    So I work for a good living instead of struggling what I really love to do. Beyond that, doing criminal trials at least for me took a real emotional toll. I didn't like what it does to you. You make your living off of tragedy. You really do. Being around one horrible thing after another day after day makes you cynical. I wouldn't want to do it even if the US attorney's office came calling and could afford to pay me what I make now.

    So I call bullshit on your bullshit. Not all trials are trudging away doing motions work on civil litigation that will last years and be settled after thousands of hours of pointless work anyway. And no, I wouldn't want to do that.

  • fish||

    Welcome back, Balko.

    Seconded! How are the pups?

  • John||

    So an assistant US attorney pursued bogus drug charges against a black family who committed the crime of dating white women. You know if we could ever get a black man as AG or better yet President, that guy would lose his job. Just because he doesn't go to jail, doesn't mean DOJ can't fire him.

  • Dweebston||

    if we could ever get a black man as AG or better yet President

    Or both! There's no telling what change we could hope for.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Nevertheless, Assistant U.S. Attorney Grett Grayson pushed a federal drug conspiracy case against Ann Colomb and her sons.

    Typo at HuffPo: Isn't our hero's name Brett Grayson?

  • robc||

    Remember when the agitator used to have intelligent comments?

  • John||

    How about this beauty

    Racism exist. If you know you live in a racist town, why did the sons continuously date white girls. Especially at the expense of their working class parents. They could have dated white girls once they left the town.

  • SugarFree||

    Huh? I mean, I'm fairly fluent in idiot and I can't figure this one out.

  • RBS||

    I'm confused, are they supposed to date their parents?

  • ||

    The full comment doesn't make much more sense, either.

    6 Fans
    37 minutes ago (10:02 AM)
    Racism exist. If you know you live in a racist town, why did the sons continuously date white girls. Especially at the expense of their working class parents. They could have dated white girls once they left the town. I would not have put my parents through this type of harassment for an interracial relationship. No, not as hard as my parents worked and sacrificed for us. This is why years ago many interracial couples fled the south to areas that were more tolerate. The Colombs' life is ruined because of the choices of the children.
  • SugarFree||

    OK, I think I understand. They got what was coming to them because their sons dated white girls. FFS.

  • John||

    Exactly. They were black people living in a racist town. So they should have known better than to try and date white girls.

    It is about as stupid and vile of a comment as you can get. I mean Holy Cow.

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    TLDR version: Rednecks don't like it when black men date white women. Therefore, if bad things happen to black men who date white women, it's the fault of the black men for provoking the rednecks.

  • some guy||

    It's like blaming a rape victim for going out without a male family member to look after her.

  • Virginian||

    Uh that reads a lot more like a black woman to me. In my experience, black women hate hate hate that white women date "their" men.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    You see, black men dating white women is a fetish of black men. They can choose to stop dating white women any time they want if they want a quiet, peaceful life. Or leave Louisiana because only hillbilly intolerant Southerners would hate interracial couples.

    So many "acceptable urban prejudices," (poor people, black people, southern people) so little time.

  • John||

    My wife and I watched the HBO series Hard Knocks about the NFL training camp this summer. And many of the players were black and had white girlfriends. And that doesn't bother me. But what I wondered watching it was what that fact says about black women. Here is a collection of the most attractive and eligible young black men available and they mostly choose to have white girlfriends and wives. And that is clearly a choice. It is not like they couldn't have their pick of black women.

  • RightNut||

    Might be talking out my ass but maybe its a status thing?

  • John||

    Some of it I would imagine. But guys think with their dicks. They will only do so much for status. I wonder if it is a cultural thing. Maybe white women are nicer to them and more supportive. It is not about attractiveness. There are plenty of attractive black women. But the attractive white women seem to win out.

  • anon||

    They will only do so much for status. I wonder if it is a cultural thing. Maybe white women are nicer to them and more supportive. It is not about attractiveness.

    Maybe they like the contrast of white skin with their black dicks. Kinda like you want a TV with really black blacks.

  • anon||

    Also, my best friend (black) refuses to date black women because he says, and I quote, "They're all self righteous bitches."

  • PH2050||

    In my experience, black chicks seem way less cool with giving oral. Never had a problem with white females I dated. I'm white and I'm a giver. YMMV.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    I couldn't give you a one-size-fits-all solution because I'm pretty sure there isn't one. There probably are some "look at me! I'm dating a white girl!" black guys out there. Some black guys' one true love (*retches*) just happens to be white. A maybe some black guys are similar to "I'm tired of men" lesbians, except they're tired of black women. They've had so many bad ones that they just say "fuck it! I'm goin' white!"

    What's funniest about the situation is watching black women and their pet simps devolve into screaming about how such men are "race traitors" and "can't handle a strong black woman."

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    I wonder, is it a trophy thing? Or is it an actual personal preference against black women?

    In the end, it doesn't matter, I've seen so many 50 year old white men dump their wives for younger, hotter trophies that the observation about successful black football players is totally irrelevant.

  • John||

    The question is Scruffy, why aren't hot black women trophies too?

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Don't know. Who wouldn't give up their eye teeth for Halle Berry or Aisha Tyler?

  • John||

    Alisha Keys would work for me.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Show me a man who wouldn't trophy-wife Stacey Dash, and I'll show you a liar.

    Warning: Dash has been married three times so...probably a little cuckoo for cocoa puffs.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Apparently the white women have some say in why they date black guys.

    Maybe the black dudes have deluded themselves into thinking white women won't steal their money.

    I'm sure the answer can be gleaned from My Name Is Earl.

  • ||

    Because everyone knows the solution to racism is segregation.

  • robc||

    That was the one that led to my comment.

  • RightNut||

    Ya its funny comparing the comments on huffpo to the comments here. Nearly every huffpo comment is about the racism angle of the story, and nearly every comment here is about the corruption and abuse of power angle.

    I get the feeling that huffpo commenters wouldn't care nearly as much is the skin colors were reversed.

  • ||

    What do you mean? Balko hardly ever approved my com...wait a a minute.

  • Andrew S.||

    I miss the old Agitator. The comment section was so great. Lots of good conversations there. Now, between HuffPo moderation and the idiocy of your typical HuffPo commenter, it's not the same.

    Especially when they blame everything on Team Red. That seems to happen in most of Radley's posts there.

  • John||

    Liberals always convince themselves that the out of control criminal justice complex is all the result of evil Rethuglicans. It is as if, DOJ is still run by Ashcroft and the police unions are all just Republican fronts or something.

  • H. ReardEn||

    Like this:

    HUFFPOST SUPER USER
    Micheal Frisbie
    857 Fans Become a fan
    12 hours ago (11:22 PM)
    "Given the absolute prosecutorial immunity afforded to Grayson, and the sovereign and qualified immunity enjoyed by the sheriff's department and its deputies,"
    ... hmmm... aren't these the same people who are running around screaming about how big government is running over their personal rights and freedoms.

    This person make no sense. Who are the 'same poeple?' Is he saying that the prosecutor and sheriff are anti-government?

    The HUFFPOST SUPERUSERS make the least sense.

    I wish Balko would maintain his old site at a place for intelligent commenting on his HuffPo blog.

  • John||

    It is like they only know how to put out talking points. They just put out the same stock talking points with no regard to whether they make sense in the given conversation.

  • some guy||

    They want to be politicians, but don't have the connections, so they settle for playing pundit in a friendly environment.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    aren't these the same people who are running around screaming about how big government is running over their personal rights and freedoms.

    [Socratic Method Activated]

    I don't know. Are they?

  • Ted S.||

    The old Agitator wasn't also a ridiculous memory hog thanks to all the HuffPo shit. HuffPo is even worse than H&R in that regard.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    The federal judge who presided over the trial was so upset about what happened in his courtroom that he has since taken the rare step of speaking out about it publicly.

    But not sufficiently upset, apparently, to throw the prosecution team in jail for contempt of court and perjury.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Yes, it's not like judges don't have shitloads of power.

  • ||

    "You, you sonofabitch, you! You're supposed to *stand* for somethin'! You're supposed to protect people! But instead you rape and murder them!"

  • Pro Libertate||

    "You killed McCullough! You killed him! Hold it! Hold it! I just completed my opening statement!"

  • John||

    You have to remember, this is a federal judge. To a federal judge, a harshly worded letter is devastating. I mean they are a federal judge. Their words alone are killing. They really are that out of touch and self important.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Life tenure, with like three judges ever being impeached. Fucking take it to the man. Wield your power like a Nazgûl of Justice.

  • John||

    Presidents are very careful never to let such people get on the bench. This is why we will never be judges Pro. The legal system has an almost feral sense of people who might occasionally do the right thing and ensures they never get the opportunity.

  • Pro Libertate||

    True enough, but it's not entirely unusual for judges to do about faces when they get on the bench. Ask Eisenhower about Warren sometime.

  • John||

    There is something about being a part of the system that seduces people and keeps them from fighting it. That is the only thing I can figure. My best friend is a defense attorney and running for state judge in Texas. I so hope he wins. He is a serious stand up moral guy and would be a great judge. But I also hope being a judge doesn't corrupt him.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Look at the shit storm that happened when Janice Rogers Brown was appointed to the federal bench. They stalled her nomination for over two years. Because she's a libertarian and likes to tell the government to piss off. Or because the Dems secretly hate black women.

  • John||

    Janice Rogers Brown is a living breathing example of how hypocritical white liberals are. There is an example of a strong willed, independent black woman. She is everything white liberals claim to respect and want more of. But they hate her guts. The last thing they want is a strong, independent black woman questioning things.

  • ||

    Uppity negroes not thinking proper negro thoughts are race traitors, so they don't count.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    If the judge was actually upset, he could have had the prosecutor brought up before the bar.

    HAHAHAHAHAHA! Who am I kidding? They probably have a tee time every month.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    No amount of accountability or reform can fix that kind of engrained culture.

    These people are motivated by self-interest, and they're not dumb. This behavior is based on incentives. Watching a few of their colleagues being led away in leg irons might be pretty effective.

  • John||

    It wouldn't hurt. I am certainly willing to give it a try.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    Probably take more than given the disparate areas prosecutors work in. IE - do it to one or two - most think "won't happen here" - put dozens away - they start thinking more about the possibility.

    & like you - I'm certainly willing to try it.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    I'm fairly fluent in idiot and I can't figure this one out.

    She oughtta knowed better 'n ta wear that skimpy ole dress!

  • Floridian||

    I could have told you they weren't millionaires by the .25 pistol. Who buys a .25 cal pistol unless they only have 20 bucks to spend?

    Incidentally my brother carries a .25 and it drives me nuts but he doesn't have any money so I don't say anything about it.

  • ||

    At the end of the day, if you get into a situation where you need a gun, it's better to have a .25 in your hand than your dick in your hand.

  • Brandon||

    I carry a .25. It's a perfect concealed-carry weapon. It's small, light and shoots. What's wrong with it, unless you are planning on getting mugged by someone wearing body armor?

  • anon||

    What's wrong with it, unless you are planning on getting mugged by someone wearing body armor?

    You don't have police where you live?

  • Finrod||

    The police: when seconds count, they're only minutes away.

  • Virginian||

    It totally lacks penetration? I mean, it's better than nothing, but in terms of actually stopping a lethal threat, it's barely better than nothing.

  • Floridian||

    Rim fire ammunition tends to be less reliable that center fire. I think pulling a gun that misfires could be more dangerous than not pulling a gun. That said, if it is the only gun you have available at your price range it is better than nothing if it is in good working order. If small, concealable with little recoil is what you want, a .32 auto or .380 is probable a better choice.

  • ||

    If small, concealable with little recoil is what you want, a .32 auto or .380 is probable a better choice.

    The main advantage to .380 being that it's what the PPK is chambered in, so you can play James fucking Bond with it.

  • Redmanfms||

    Rim fire ammunition tends to be less reliable that center fire.

    .25 ACP isn't rimfire.

  • Floridian||

    You are correct. There was a .25 rim fire but it is pretty much extinct. I was thinking modern .25 were still rim fire.

  • Redmanfms||

    Ballistics. Penetration sucks, .22LR penetrates better.

    You can get a .32 in nearly identical-sized pistols, still pretty bad but a big improvement. There are 9mm handguns available that will fit in the palm of your hand.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Just the other day, I was pondering the notion of an imaginary Supreme Court justice who had spent his career as a criminal defense attorney instead of devoting his energies to academic navel-gazing from a lofty perch completely insulated from the messy realities of life among the teeming unwashed masses.

    There you have it; a fool and his crazy dreams.

  • John||

    The closest we have to that is the Magic Latina who was a district court federal judge. And to my great surprise and delight, she has turned into a half way reasonable justice.

    We are not served well by the Harvard Yale CON law priesthood. We end up with craven fucks like Roberts who was planning his confirmation while still in law school and total power loving hacks like Kagan.

  • ||

    I kick myself for giving up that prosecutor gig. I would have only have to have been marginally competent. AS most cases are plea bargained, only ever once in a while would I have to have been bothered with having to go to trial. And if I lost at trial, so what? Wouldn't have had to deal with paying my bar dues, retaining clients, maintain an IOLTA account so the State Bar could skim (read: steal) its share, or worry about billable hours. As long as I disclosed all my Brady material, I would have been practically immune from the state bar. But I grew a conscience.....what a fucking idiot. Should have stayed on the wellbutrin and lorazapam and manned up.

  • John||

    The moment you told your boss you were not bringing a case because you were not convinced the guy was guilty, you would have been sent down to traffic court.

  • ||

    Actually, Jace Zack, the Deputy County Attorney in charge of the criminal division in Mohave County was pretty cool in backing the decisions of his attorneys, good or bad.

  • John||

    You should have taken the job. But you never would have made dick for money.

  • godzleaf||

    Agreed, Jace Zack seems like a pretty good county attorney.

  • ||

    It's hard to put a price on cognitive dissonance. At some point there's not enough pharmaceuticals to bury it.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    If drugs won't do it, try booze, pussy, and money.

    Asset forfeiture money is best for drowning out the conscience.

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