I’ve heard secondhand from people close to Cory Maye that even some police officials, particularly with the sheriff’s department, will off-the-record concede that the Pearl River Basin Narcotics Task Force is excessively aggressive, and that it wouldn’t be all that surprising to learn that, indeed, they hadn’t announced themselves before kicking down the door to Maye’s apartment. “Cowboy mentality” was the phrase used more than a couple of times.
One law enforcement officer I met in Prentiss (who asked not to be identified) was more blunt: “Nobody around here wears a halo. People think the gun and the badge mean credibility. That if an officer says drugs were there, they were really there. It don’t. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they didn’t knock before kicking down that door. I wouldn’t be surprised if those drugs they found really weren’t there, either.”
I asked around to see if I could find anyone else who’d been subjected to a raid by the Task Force. Find another couple of cases in which the Task Force raided homes without knocking, and you begin to establish a pattern, making officer testimony at Maye’s trial that they repeatedly knocked and announced themselves less credible.
It didn’t take long. On my first day in Prentiss I met Debra Brooks, a 28-year-old white woman who says that in March 2004, officers from the Task Force raided her home after a confidential informant said she and her family were running a meth lab inside.
At around midnight, police kicked down her two outside doors without first announcing themselves, then stormed her home when her boyfriend opened the inner door to see what what going on. They trained their guns on the three young children inside, still in their beds, and held Brooks in a bedroom at gunpoint while they searched the house for contraband. They found no drugs, or evidence of meth manufacture. They did find a bong, brand new and unused, and a bottle of vodka, illegal in dry Lawrence County (Lawrence is adjacent to Jefferson Davis County). Police never produced a search warrant.
Police arrested Brooks’ boyfriend at the time, Landas Pate, and her brother, James Wesmorland. Pate would be held in prison for several months before his family could post bond. Wesmorland’s family couldn’t make the $40,000 bond. So he was held in the Lawrence County jail for 280 days, until December 2004. Remarkably, on December 30 of that year, Wesmorland was released. No charges. No explanation. He had been held on suspicion of selling meth and pills within 1,500 feet of a church. Police told him they had video surveillance of these alleged sales. They never showed him any video.
A man named Jim Kinslow heads up the Task Force. When Brooks and her mother began raising hell about the raid, Kinslow attempted to direct responsibility toward the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department, who then shifted the blame back on the Task Force. Eventually, an officer named Dwayne Tullis was pinned with most of the responsibility for the raid. Tullis was a Task Force Officer. According to Brooks and her mother, once Kinslow learned that one of his men was responsible for the raid, he stopped returning their calls. I have a call out to Kinslow today.
Tullis was soon fired from the Task Force, but soon after took a job with the Monticello Police Department (the county seat for Lawrence County). Soon enough, he was fired from that job, too. According to people around Monticello and Lawrence County I’ve spoken with, Tullis is now working for the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, making him a state drug officer — effectively a promotion.
Brooks and her mother started inquiring around the area for lawyers to take their case. Her mother called the FBI, who weren’t much help, but told her she might have a successful lawsuit in the making (my own research suggests that such suits are only successful in cases that garner significant media coverage, and even then, only in larger metropolitan areas, where officials can be shamed into a settlement). Shortly after they began asking around, they started receiving threats. Brooks says she was told her kids would be taken away from her if she insisted on pursuing the matter. One sympathetic officer warned her mother not to leave her car unlocked, because he’d heard her agitating had some officers discussing staging a marijuana bust.
All of this is of course the account of events given by Brooks, her brother, and her mother, all of whom I’ve spoken with. I’ve yet to hear from Capt. Kinslow and I’ve yet to have any luck tracking down Officer Tullis. But the details they’ve provided to me suggests they’re believable (I’d heard about Officer Tullis’s employment history, for example, from other people I spoke with in the area).
I found Brooks almost immediately upon visiting Prentiss (where she works). Makes you wonder just how many more like her there are. I heard lots of tales of other officers in the area who, like Tullis, were fired from one police department for excessive force issues, only to be picked up by another department a short time later.
Unlike many people I spoke with in the area, Brooks didn’t mind giving me her name (her mother was more reluctant and fearful of retaliation). She’s pretty pissed off about what happened. If her version of events is accurate, or even close to accurate, she has every right to be.
As for how this case pertains to the Maye case, I think it lends some strong credibility to the theory that (1) these raids can and are initiated on the slightest of suspicions, with very little corroborating investigation (although that’s true just about everywhere), and (2) there’s good reason to suspect that entry without knocking and without announcement is common practice for drug policing in the area, making Cory Maye’s version of events the night of the raid on his house a bit more believable, and officer accounts of the raid a bit less so.