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Guilty Before Proven Innocent

How police harassment, jailhouse snitches, and a runaway war on drugs imprisoned an innocent family

(Page 2 of 6)

In 1994 fighting broke out in the stands of a Church Point High School football game when Margeaux Coleman was announced as the school’s first black homecoming queen. Coleman at the time was dating Randy Colomb, Ann’s fourth son. Months later, former Ku Klux Klan leader and white supremacist David Duke took part in the town’s white Mardi Gras parade. Black Church Point residents say town officials invited Duke in direct response to the homecoming scandal. Boudreaux says Duke showed up on his own initiative.

Rodney and Lois Carrier grew up in Church Point but today live in Carencro. The Carriers, both white, say they not only witnessed Church Point’s racial bias over the years; they participated in it.

“It’s still a different time in Church Point,” Lois Carrier says. She’s sitting in front of her kitchen window, where, sitting on the sill, there is a collection of black minstrel figurines. “There are still a lot of people there who don’t accept blacks into their homes,” she says. “Black people and white people live in different parts of town. Walk on different sides of the street. We were like that too. I’m ashamed of it now. But yes, we were racist people.”

All of that changed in 1997, the Carriers say, when their daughter Elizabeth began dating a black man—Ann Colomb’s son, Danny. “We weren’t happy when we heard Elizabeth was dating a black guy,” Rodney says. “We didn’t even want to meet him.”

In fact, it took months for the Carriers to agree to meet Danny. “But once we did, we fell in love with him,” Lois says. Danny obtained his Catholic confirmation, and began attending Bible study at the Carriers’ church. “Danny healed us from our prejudiced way of thinking,” Lois Carrier says. “We could finally see past his color, to his heart.” Rodney Carrier’s eyes well up when he speaks of Danny. “Today, I wouldn’t want anyone but Danny for Elizabeth,” he says.

What Danny and his family went through in court also changed the Carriers’ way of thinking. “We were raised to trust the authorities, to have a certain fear of them,” Lois says. “Now, it’s like we’ve lost a lot of that trust. It’s almost a scary feeling, not to be able to trust the people you’re supposed to. What that family went through.…And watching them do Danny the way they did.…”

Elizabeth Carrier says she regularly did battle with Acadia sheriff’s deputies in the late 1990s. “I was pulled over all the time,” she says. “Whenever I left Ann’s house, they’d ask ‘What are you doing with those Colomb boys?’ or ‘Why are you here?’ ” She says the police also would ask her whom she was dating and, when she told them, ask to search her car for drugs. Eventually, she says, she stopped going to the Colombs and instead asked Danny to visit her house.

Brandy Hanks, 30, is a white woman who dated Danny Davis during and shortly after high school. “I was pulled over just about every time I left Miss Ann’s house,” Hanks says. “They’d ask me, ‘Why are you hanging out with those niggers, those drug dealers?’ Or they’d ask, ‘What’s someone like you doing over at the Colomb house?’ And they’d always ask who I was dating.”

It wasn’t just law enforcement. Hanks says the Ku Klux Klan once left a card on her windshield with threats about interracial dating. “People don’t know what it was like—what we went through,” Ann Colomb says. “You don’t know what it’s like to get a phone call in the middle of the night from somebody, saying if my boy Edward don’t stop dating white girls, I’m going to find him hanging from a tree.”

Colomb wipes a tear into her cheek, then grows defiant. “I told him to leave a branch open for me, because if he killed my boy, I was going to string his white ass up right alongside,” she says. “Then I disconnected our phone.”

By the mid 1990s, the Colomb boys say they were regularly getting pulled over. “We couldn’t drive anywhere in town without getting stopped,” says Edward. “They would pull you over, ask to search your car, make a big deal out of it. Sometimes they’d let you go, sometimes they’d take you in and try to get you to plead to something you didn’t do.”

“I’ve battled depression for 15 years because of all this,” Danny says. “I couldn’t leave my house without getting harassed. I still take Lexapro and blood pressure medication. I don’t think I was paranoid when I thought they were going to kill me. I had police try to run me off the road. Other times, it was petty stuff, just to mess with you. One deputy pulled me over and took my license from me for no reason. He never gave it back.”

In February 1996, local authorities claim to have witnessed Danny Davis participate in a hand-to-hand drug deal in a Church Point parking lot. That evening, a police team clad in camouflage, black ski masks, and full SWAT attire stormed the home of Brandy Hanks’ parents, where Danny and Brandy were staying. The police broke the family’s door open with a battering ram just as Hanks’ partially paralyzed mother approached to open it. She was thrown over the back of her couch, triggering a cardiac event that put her in the hospital. The police roused Danny from sleep at gunpoint, handcuffed him, and marched him outside the house, where newspaper photographers and television crews waited with cameras to capture the fallen football star in shackles.

“They pointed their guns at a two-week-old baby,” Hanks says. “My little sister was so scared she peed herself.”

The police found no drugs, weapons, or anything incriminating in the raid. But Danny Davis says they still attempted to get him to plead to a drug charge for a transaction he says never happened. He refused and was never charged. Davis would be hauled into the police station two more times and pressured by local authorities to plead guilty. He refused both times, and both times the charges were dropped.

It was from these multiple run-ins with local authorities throughout the 1990s that the U.S. Attorney’s Office plucked the four incidents included in the federal conspiracy indictment against the family. These incidents—plus a questionable sting on Ann Colomb’s house in October 2001 that turned up two guns and 72 grams of crack—were the only evidence presented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett Grayson that the Colomb family ever sold any illicit drugs. The rest of the testimony came from jailhouse informants accusing the Colombs only of buying cocaine, and lots of it.

“They took a bunch of unrelated police harassments of these people over 10 years, coupled it with a parade of jailhouse snitches, and called it a conspiracy,” says Rodney Baum, Sammie’s lawyer. “It was ridiculous.”

The Raid
On October 22, 2001, a local drug task force claimed to have conducted a “controlled buy” of crack cocaine from Ann Colomb. According to police reports, Stevie Charlot, a local crack addict who once toured the world as drummer for a zydeco band, was recruited to conduct the buy. Although police say Charlot wore a wire to record the transaction, they didn’t preserve any recording of it.

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  • ||

    If he does not stop causing trouble at the TJ memorial he will really find out what police harassment is!

  • ||

    Please allow me, once again, to thank you Radley for your diligent efforts in exposing prosecutorial incompetence and criminal(?) misconduct.

    I'm going to go throw up in disgust now.

  • ||

    I'm from Louisiana, and I can tell you that the "War On Drugs" has corrupted law enforcement there; in the town my parents live in, (about 40 mi. from New Orleans) the sheriff threatened to plant weed on the newly-elected mayor, before said-sheriff was caught running guns he probably got from drug-busts.
    Stories like Jena 6 are milked for drama by the Mainstream media, but it's stories like this that are much more common; thanks for covering it!

  • ||

    What I really wanna know is if one of the loyal H&R readers is moved to take up arms and plug a few crummy D.A.s (as daily does seem more and more likely) whether Radley would be brought up on incitement charges.

  • ||

    LMNOP,

    No. Reporting facts does not constitute incitement to violence.

    Yet.

  • ||

    No. Reporting facts does not constitute incitement to violence.

    And it won't get you a job at ABC News, The New Republic, The New York Times (unless you are Bill Kristol) or a lot of other places too.

  • ||

    another Reason i'm proud to be an american

    oh wait

  • ||

    Was it Jefferson who said, "I believe that Liberty from time to time must be refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants"? Or something like that.

    Would Bill Kristol be considered at tyrant?

  • ||

    Would Bill Kristol be considered at tyrant?

    No. Well, maybe to the meekest of shadow fearing webheads, or some of the writers and editors of his magazine.

  • ||

    I find it difficult to believe that Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett Grayson would knowingly seek out a conviction on these people. He, and his superior, based on his statement, still think the Columbs are guilty of drug trafficking. They are clearly delusional and therefore, I suggest, that they both be removed from office due to severe mental incapacity.

  • ||

    They are clearly delusional and therefore, I suggest, that they both be removed from office due to severe mental incapacity.

    And people scoff at Berlusconi's call for regular mental evaluations of prosecutors.

  • LarryA||

    "If you haven't done anything wrong, what do you have to worry about?"

  • ||

    Shit! Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit! The fact that the 'legal' system finally worked -- the Colombs have their lives back, with prejudice (literally and legally!) -- hardly imbues one with hope for a fine-tuned 'justice' system. Someone's head needs to role on this one -- and DA Washington and/or assistant DA Grayson seem front-and-center.

  • ||

    I'm pretty sure if Radley Balko ever decided to turn his attention to the "War on Sexual Predators," he'd find an equal number of egregious prosecutorial misconduct cases.

    However, I have to wonder if those cases would meet with as much sympathy, since drugs are cool.

  • Radley Balko||

    Michael,

    You haven't been reading this site long, have you?

  • RED GREEN||

    "Snitches"... has been a very popular strategy with the Feds...thats an old NAZI/Stalinist tactic,isn't it?

  • Angry African||

    Man, man, man. I have been in the US for 18 months. Before that the UK for 4 years, but I am a South African working on sustainability and African investment. I have been crying about the lack of good media out here in the US. I found it. Thanks for this piece. It reminds us what the media can be if they really want to be...

  • ||

    I was extremely disappointed in Mr Balko's article. What a disappointment! As a member of this family, this article presented false statements and inaccuracies. I think Mr Balko needs to check out Webster's and look up the definitions of "racist" as well as "prejudice", there are vast differences between the two. This only proves to me that crooked journalists are no better than crooked cops and prosecutors. Report the TRUTH, don't FABRICATE it!

  • ||

    bookworm333,

    As a member of what family? The Colombs? The Bookworm family?

    What are you talking about?

  • ||

    Time to bring in the feds and clean up law enforcement in this area. Also time for a lawsuit to drain the town dry of funds for allowing these racists to do this to these people. Make every person who turned a blind eye pay their taxes to reimburse the Colombs for what was done by their town to them.

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  • Alrazaak.com||

    If he does not stop causing trouble at the TJ memorial he will really find out what police harassment is

  • Alrazaak.com||

    As of press time, none of the Colomb lawyers, the Colomb family, or anyone else affiliated with the case were aware of any such investigation. Melancon says he’s confident it’s being done, although he’s heard nothing about the investigation since his December 2006 ruling. Phone calls to U.S. Attorney Washington, Assistant U.S. Attorney Grayson, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas inquiring about the status of the investigation were not returned.

  • ||

    As of press time, none of the Colomb lawyers, the Colomb family, or anyone else affiliated with the case were aware of any such investigation. Melancon says he's confident it's being done, although he's heard nothing about the investigation since his December 2006 ruling. Phone calls to U.S. Attorney Washington, Assistant U.S. Attorney Grayson, and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Texas inquiring about the status of the investigation were not returned.

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