Wonderfully competent government not restricted to Federal Level

Tue, 26 Aug 1997 15:59:20 -0400 (EDT)

I know this is not a political discussion group as such...and I promise
<cross my heart> not to do this again....well not very often...but it's too
good ....more government war on it's own citizens.


By Charles Ornstein / The Dallas Morning News
The Kaufman County sheriff, reacting to a botched drug raid last week
in which deputies stormed the wrong Terrell house and strip-searched
two innocent women, has replaced his head narcotics investigator and
vowed Sunday to take other action to prevent such mistakes.

Sheriff Robert Harris said Sunday that Capt. George Pelphrey will no
longer head the department's narcotics investigations. The sheriff
said he hasn't decided whether he will further discipline Capt.
Pelphrey, a 15-year department veteran, for approving last Tuesday's
raid of June Nixon's house on Sue Lane.

Ms. Nixon, 57, and her 28-year-old daughter, Melissa Cheek, were
watching television about 7 p.m. Tuesday when 15 Kaufman County
deputies burst through the front door.

They handcuffed both women, and then a female deputy strip-searched
them in front of Ms. Cheek's 6-year-old daughter, Sheriff Harris said.

Capt. Pelphrey, who heads the criminal investigation division, could
not be reached for comment Sunday. But the sheriff defended the
officer's record.

"He's very well-informed, he's very well-trained and he's done an
outstanding job over the years," Sheriff Harris said. "This is just
one of those things that we have to investigate to see if maybe he
didn't do everything he should have done. We just don't know that."

The real drug suspects, who live down the street, watched the raid
from their front lawn, Sheriff Harris said, and laughed as deputies
passed by. Those suspects had not been arrested by Sunday, but the
sheriff said they would be.

The deputies realized that they had entered the wrong home when they
did not find weapons or drugs on Ms. Nixon or Ms. Cheek, the sheriff
said. Officers offered to fix the front door, he said, but Ms. Nixon,
a schoolteacher, turned down the help.

Ms. Nixon and her daughter would not speak to reporters Sunday. Their
lawyer, Hunt Bonneau of Dallas, said they were considering a lawsuit
against Kaufman County.

"They're your all-American family," Mr. Bonneau said. "That's what's
scary about this. You elect your officials and you pay those guys to
protect you. And those are the very people that are coming in and
intruding on you. We're all kind of in awe at this point."

Sheriff Harris said he will finish an investigation into the incident
Monday or Tuesday. He won't decide on any action against Capt.
Pelphrey until then, he said. No other officers are under
investigation, the sheriff said.

The sheriff also said he would now personally review any search
warrants requested by his officers. He said he hasn't done that in the

"I will take a tremendously active role in reviewing the investigative
portion before the execution of any search warrant is approved,"
Sheriff Harris said. "I want to make sure that I am hitting the right

In last Tuesday's raid, the sheriff said, "I know we hit the wrong
house and there was some reason for it."

Investigators are supposed to check addresses at the post office,
confirm them with water and electric records and then conduct
surveillance at the prospective home, he said. Some of those things
apparently were not done, Sheriff Harris said.

Mr. Bonneau said his clients' civil rights were violated. He said he
is waiting on the results of his own investigation this week before
deciding whether to file a lawsuit against the county.

He said he doesn't understand how the mistake could have happened.

"With all the access to information that the government has, this type
of thing shouldn't happen unless there is a lack of due diligence
there," Mr. Bonneau said Sunday. "Our task is to make sure where the
breakdown was - who was lazy - and to make sure it doesn't happen

The lawyer said Ms. Nixon has lived in the house for more than 30
years. Neither she nor her daughter has a criminal history, Mr.
Bonneau said.

The Kaufman County deputies did not show a search warrant when they
entered the house, he said, and were "pretty invasive" during the
strip search.

Ms. Nixon and Ms. Cheek repeatedly told tactical officers that they
were law-abiding citizens, Sheriff Harris said. But because
investigators hear that all the time from true criminals, they
continued with their search, he said.

"We've arrested people 70 years old, who look like your typical
grandmother, for cooking drug labs," he said. "The physical appearance
of an individual doesn't always denote if they are narcotics

Kaufman County Commissioner Rod Kinkaid said he was troubled by the

"It appears to be something very serious and something that we need to
make sure never happens again," said Mr. Kinkaid, who has served for
more than two years. "I'd like to know what really did go wrong and
what the details are so corrective action can be taken."

Several searches by Kaufman County sheriff's deputies - one drug raid
and one arrest involving underage drinking - have drawn attention in
recent years.

In 1989, Sheriff Harris publicly apologized to two families for a raid
that turned up no drugs but left two houses damaged and family members

Three years ago, county officials agreed to revise some rules on the
handling of prisoners after parents of Highland Park High School
students sued the county. The parents contended that officers
illegally entered private property and raided a teenage party to raise
money in fines. The county paid $65,000 in legal costs, under terms of
the settlement.

Sheriff Harris said his department is competent and frequently trains
rural sheriff's deputies in other Texas counties. During his 12 years
as sheriff, his office has confiscated more than $40 million in
illegal drugs, he said. Deputies will not stop going after drug
targets following this incident, the sheriff said.

"We're one of the best trained sheriff's departments in Texas," he
said. "Our officers work hard. They have a large work load. If you
make one mistake, you are certainly going to be criticized for it,
much more than the praise you get for all the good things you do."

As for the actual drug suspects on Ms. Nixon's street, Sheriff Harris
said: "We're not going to take them off the list."

&copy 1997 The Dallas Morning News

Laughing so hard I can't cry
Knoxville Tn