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Free Minds & Free Markets

Guilty Before Proven Innocent

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

(Page 6 of 6)

The question is how deep and far it goes. It’s worthy of an investigation at the highest levels.” He asked that Washington’s office either conduct its own investigation or have either the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas (where the prisons are located) or another investigator from the U.S. Department of Justice conduct it.

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.

None of the witnesses in the Colomb case has been indicted. In fact, the federal government plans to use some of them again. In May 2006, Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Clemons indicted seven men in another drug conspiracy case in Louisiana, also stemming from the prosecution of Houston kingpin John Timothy Cotton. According to Alfred Boustany, the attorney for one of the indicted seven, Clemons plans to call witnesses from the same prisons where the allegations of information sharing have lingered, including some of the witnesses from the Colomb case. There are already allegations of information sharing in the new case, including letters turned over by one inmate’s girlfriend in which a prison informant gives other inmates specific instructions on what to say to prosecutors.

Because Judge Melancon is scheduled to preside over that trial as well, he wouldn’t comment on it.

But sources close to the case say that in preliminary court proceedings, Melancon gave federal prosecutors a stern warning that he won’t allow uncorroborated snitch testimony and didn’t want to see a repeat of the Colomb fiasco in his courtroom.

“In my 30 years of criminal defense, the federal court system is the worst I’ve ever seen,” Boustany says. “Especially with drug cases. The government is prodding these people to lie. There’s no other way to look at it.”

Ann Colomb’s lawyer, Gerald Block, adds, “This case scared the hell out of me. These were clearly innocent people. And they nearly went to prison for a long time.”

Last July, Ann Colomb sifted through the half-dozen ratty briefcases cluttering her kitchen counter—cases spilling over with the court documents, arrest records, and statements from her boys and their friends she has collected over the years. She was putting together a short summary of what happened to her and her family to pitch to a Baton Rouge attorney she’d hoped might handle her lawsuit against the government. That attorney declined, as did many others, before she finally found someone to file the suit for her—just before the time limit set by the statute of limitations expired.

“What happened to us should never happen to anyone,” she says. “It breaks my heart that they’re trying to do it again.”

Radley Balko
is a senior editor at Reason.

ADDENDUM: On March 13th, after this article went to press but before it appeared in print, Judge Tucker Melancon issued an order stating that on March 10, 2008 he met with U.S. Attorney Donald Washington and several assistant U.S. attorneys (though not Brett Grayson). The subject of the meeting was his order that the allegations of information sharing and perjury among prison informants revealed in the Colomb and Cotton trials be investigated. As a result of that meeting, Melancon determined that his order for an investigation had "been complied with."

The results of that investigation, however, are sealed. A clerk for Melancon said the judge couldn't comment on what was in the report because some of it may pertain to cases that could appear before his court. While that's understandable, it's unfortunate for the Colomb family. Not only will they not get to learn exactly why they were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned, it's likely that the contents of that investigation could be relevant to their civil lawsuit against Grayson and the federal government.

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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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