A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE

HOW $20 IN CRACK LED TO FIFTY YEARS IN PRISON

On August 12, Louis Bernard Harper was sentenced to fifty years in prison. An unemployed black resident of South Phoenix, Harper had sold a single $20 rock of crack to undercover police officers.

It was his first drug offense.
The White House, as well as then- drug czar William Edward Bennett, have cited Phoenix's Demand Reduction Task Force program as the nation's best example of how to win President George Bush's War on Drugs.

The Demand Reduction Task Force pushes a bare-knuckle image with the slogan, "Do Drugs. Do Time." In practice, the "time" referred to is a single night in jail after your arrest. For those who qualify, the meat and potatoes of the program is the TASC treatment center, essentially a series of expensive seminars.

Putting aside the martial rhetoric, Do Drugs/Do Time is, in actuality, based upon an alternative to incarceration: classroom instruction.

Harper was never offered the opportunity to enroll. Instead he was slapped with a stiffer sentence than that of many killers in Arizona.

If Harper's sentence appears harsh-- the judge described the 25-year-old as "cocky"--the reality in Phoenix is that almost all small-time peddlers of crack who are caught will pull significant jail time. None of them will be allowed anywhere near the Do Drugs/Do Time program.

Ironically, the program championed across America as the cure to this nation's struggle against crack has virtually nothing at all to do with this insidious drug.

Although President Bush waved a plastic bag of crack and labeled it the enemy during his televised declaration of war, the Do Drugs/Do Time approach has graduated only one crack user during the almost two years of its existence.

The overwhelming majority of people who finish the Do Drugs/Do Time program are middle-class marijuana smokers or cocaine-powder abusers.

As waged in Arizona, the War on Drugs puts those arrested with crack in prison.

The double standard of this judicial apartheid is underscored by the very men who administer the Demand Reduction Tack Force: Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley and Phoenix Police Chief Ruben Ortega.

At the very time that County Attorney Romley's office prosecuted Harper for the sale of a $20 rock, Romley himself drew profits from a hidden interest in Club 902, the Valley's most notorious outlet for crack sales. Police Chief Ortega refused to take the steps required by law to shut down his colleague's nightclub.

BILLIE MOORE IS the mother of six children, one of whom is Louis Harper. She moved her family here from Texas in 1968.

"At first," says Moore, "I didn't like it. My mother and sister were here though. When I was in Austin with my kids, it was so hard to get someone to watch my children when I worked. Out here, I figured my mom and my sister might watch 'em." For the past fifteen years, she has lived in the same house in South Phoenix and she has worked.

Today, at the age of 53, Moore still works. In addition to her job as a janitor at Sky Harbor International Airport, she oversees five foster kids. Altogether that makes eleven children who've come under her eye.

"Louis wasn't no bad kid, not to me," says Moore. "But I don't care how you raise your child, there's always someone else to show them something different." Though he moved out years ago, Moore's living room contains many photos of Louis, as well as numerous pictures of tykes and family portraits. An inflated balloon reads, "You're the Greatest," and on the walls, above a piano, plaster molds of singing fruit demonstrate the craft of young hands.

As she sits in the living room with her husband, a teenage girl works on Moore's hair. Her grandchild Squeaky approaches a white visitor, touches the stranger's skin and smiles broadly in wonder.

Though Squeaky is growing up in one of the few black enclaves in Phoenix, the visitor is obviously not the first white man he has seen.

On June 11, 1989, a squad of police officers raided the Moore residence.
"They put guns right in my face. They made me lie down on the floor and face the wall. They handcuffed my husband Jessie. All five of my foster kids were here and my grandchild. They were in here two hours and thirty minutes. They brought the dog in. They still didn't find nothing."

The police were searching for crack.
After the search proved fruitless, the police then called Child Protective Services and informed the state agency that Billie Moore's foster kids were underfed and dirty.

She is not so much mad at the raid as she is frustrated. Though the cops asked her about Louis, Moore figures the police just had the wrong address. The building next door to hers used to be a crack house, and more than once she's called the cops herself to chase the young men that used to hang out in front of her home.

Five weeks later, on July 18, 1989, two undercover police officers slowed their unmarked vehicle as they cruised through the 2000 block of East Nancy Lane in South Phoenix. They slowed down just a block away from Moore's home. Dressed in tee shirts and jeans, the two cops looked like anyone else who might have been hoping to score.

According to police records, a young black male flagged them and asked, "What do you need?"

"Can we get a twenty?" asked the driver.
"I got what you need," responded the peddler, who then reached under a small brick structure where he'd been sitting.

Pulling out a cellophane wrapper from a cigarette pack, the suspect emptied a number of rocks into his palm, thrust his left hand through the driver's window and said, "Go ahead and pick."

"Yeah, this one looks good," said the driver who turned to his partner and asked, "What do you think?"

The officers took their rock and gave in return a marked $20 bill. As they drove out of the neighborhood, the undercover cops contacted uniformed patrol officers who drove to 2018 East Nancy where they arrested Harper and seized a cellophane wrapper with four rocks from behind a wall. Reached in prison, Harper maintains his innocence.

"I couldn't believe it," says Harper. "I wasn't involved in crack. It's all around the neighborhood. I never had no drug priors. They came down the street and picked me out of a crowd."

Though the officers' descriptions of who sold them the crack and whom they arrested are consistent, the police also admit that a number of other black males were present at the time of the bust.

"The cops couldn't identify me in trial," says Harper. "They didn't know who I was. They described me wrong. They refused me a line-up."

When asked about his prior record, Harper claims he can't remember the details.

Harper has been in trouble with the law since he was a kid. When he was sentenced, the judge was able to consider two priors, both felonies: Harper and a friend were arrested boosting $300 worth of car stereos out of a sales lot on Van Buren. Harper and another friend were also apprehended leaving a bar where $250 was swiped. The cash was found in the pocket of Harper's buddy.

As a result of convictions on these charges, detention authorities authorized a workup on Harper that pegged his IQ at 89 and his reading level at the fourth grade. Dr. Stan Cabanski reported that Harper "had poor language skills and a reading level of 4.1 . . . defendant was suffering from frustration and hostility which resulted in intermittent acting out of a highly assaultive nature."

While incarcerated in 1986 over the nightclub incident, Harper explained in writing for the parole board why he was arrested:

What had happen was I was given my friend a ride to this club and I decided to stop for a little while, and the next thing I know was the dude I was suppose to drop of was there stilling and I didn't know what was going on, so as I get of the dance floor to go use the restroom, some guy came up to me and said I took some money from the office. So they took me in the office and they they seach me and didn't find know money on me. So the next thing know the dude I drop of he had all of they money in his pocket and I said they the dude with ya money. So could ya let me go. After that they took us to jail and they got me for accesory. Through the years, Harper's alibi remains the same: He was present when the crime occurred, but he did not personally participate.

If Harper's record is consistent, it is also petty. Though Harper is not a character out of Miami Vice, his attitude and the judge's reaction to that attitude catapulted him to a prison term beyond his wildest dreams.

Almost the first word out of Judge Stephen Ventre's mouth to describe Harper was "cocky."

As you read Judge Ventre's remarks and in subsequent sections as you review the dialogue between defendant Harper and the judge, remember Tom Wolfe's description of a Bronx courtroom in Bonfire of the Vanities where the accused are black and everyone else is white:

He had the same pumping swagger that practically every young defendant in the Bronx affected, the Pimp Roll. Such stupid self-destructive macho egos . . . . They never fail to show up with the black jackets and the sneakers and the Pimp Roll. They never fail to look every inch the young felon before judges, juries, probation officers, court psychiatrists, before every single soul who had any saying whether or not they went to prison or for how long . . . Soon a stupefying tide of tedium and confusion rolled over them all. They were primed for action. They were not primed for what the day required, which was waiting while something they never heard of . . . swamped them in a lot of shine-on hyphenated language.

In an early-morning interview, Judge Ventre recalled what went through his mind as he listened to the testimony and examined the record of Harper.

"The blatant obviousness of what he was doing without any concern for anybody!" marvels Judge Ventre. "He was probably on his best behavior in front of the jury, yet he was very difficult with his attorney. The whole system is against him, picking on him because he's black. We were dealing with someone not at all impressed with the justice system, not at all impressed with what we could impose."

In the entire transcript of the trial before the jury, in the recorded comments in the judge's chambers, nowhere is there a single comment by the defendant that indicates he thought he was being targeted because of his color.

After being convicted by the jury, Harper appeared before the judge for sentencing. The presentence report recommended a term of fifteen years; however, the County Attorney's Office asked that both counts, possession with intent to sell and sale, be stacked so that Harper would have to serve his terms consecutively rather than concurrently. Although there was nothing introduced in the trial to prove his contention, at the time of sentencing the prosecutor told the judge that Harper was an associate of the Crips, a charge he denies.

Judge Ventre asked Harper if he had anything to say.
Harper: " . . . See, both of the police officers were, you know, just telling-- lying. I don't know, didn't nobody even see it? He [referring to his public defender Robert C. Billar] didn't see it. I kept telling him what was going on and he wouldn't even listen to me. Therefore, that's probably why I lost it because I didn't have no help on my side."

Judge Ventre: "Are you telling me you're not satisfied with the services of Mr. Billar?"

Harper: "No. He did not help me at all. You know what I'm saying?"
Judge Ventre: "Can you cite anything in particular other than what you've told me?"

Harper: "Well, the more I got, you know, written down I didn't think I was going to need it."

After reviewing the verdict, Harper's record and the presentence report, the judge concluded that Harper was a threat to society, sentenced him to fifty years and fined him nearly $6,000 to be paid at the rate of $75 per month after he is released from prison .

Judge Ventre: "Mr. Harper, do you understand the sentences that have been imposed upon you?"

Harper: "Not really, but I would like to say something, though."
Judge Ventre: "Certainly."
Harper: "For one thing, okay, I asked for a line-up, man, the police, they didn't know who I was and they admitted that. You know what I'm saying?"

Judge Ventre: "These are matters you want to talk to your attorney about on the appeal. I'm sure one will filed in this matter."

Harper: "I want this down anyway. They admitted they didn't know who I was and they said I was weighing 150, they never did see me. Why didn't they give me a line-up, why couldn't they give me no line-up?"

Judge Ventre: "Mr. Harper, this has all been gone over and I'm not sure . . . "

Harper: "I do have a right to a line-up, right?"
Judge Ventre: "Mr. Harper, I don't know, okay? What I'm trying to make sure of is if you understand the sentence."

Harper: "No, I don't understand it, man."
Judge Ventre: "What you're looking at is fifty years in prison, consecutive, two 25-year terms. Do you understand that?"

Harper: "I guess, man."
Judge Ventre: "I'm satisfied from what I see in your record that the longer I keep you off of the street, the longer you and the community at large are going to be safe from each other."

Harper: "Well, whatever."
Judge Ventre: "Apparently you don't even care."
Harper: "I do care, man. Don't you know I do care, myself? If I had had a lawyer, I wouldn't have even had to go through this. You know, something that's going to help me, man, you know, man. I really shouldn't have had to go through this, man. The police didn't know who I was, you know, they still don't know who I am."

Judge Ventre: "They're going to know after fifty years."
Harper: "Yeah, they know now. Yeah, they know now."
Judge Ventre: "Mr. Harper, the evidence at trial was somewhat conclusive that you were the person involved in this situation."

Harper: "Even if I was the person that sold them the dope, how come they came back with four pieces when there was supposed to have been one rock, why did they come back with four? That's not the same dope."

Judge Ventre: "I can't explain that, but what I want to make sure of is if you understand the sentencing. I'm going to ask you to sign a notice of right to appeal together with such other documents that might require your signature. Your attorney will explain those to you, sir.

"If you wish to exercise your right of appeal, you must file a notice of that right within twenty days or forever lose that right of appeal. If you cannot afford an attorney to prosecute the appeal, then the court will provide you both with counsel and copies of the necessary records and transcripts of these proceedings. Do you understand that? Mr. Harper, do you understand what I have said?"

Harper: "I don't know what you're talking about, understand what?"
Judge Ventre: "Do you understand you have to file a notice of appeal within twenty days if you want to appeal from the judgment of the court or the sentences that have been imposed? Do you understand you need to file that notice of appeal?"

Harper: "No, I don't understand."
Judge Ventre: "All right, the court is directing the public defender to file a notice on behalf of the defendant . . . "

IN HIS OPENING STATEMENT to Harper's jury, these were the very first words out of prosecutor Patrick Schneider: "I know that you've all heard about what's called the war on drugs, and I'm sure that you've all read about it, seen it on TV, heard it on the radio. Everywhere you go, everywhere you look, you see something that relates to the drug problem and what we call the war on drugs. Ladies and gentlemen, what we're about here today and what we're doing here is part of that war on drugs."

But by his closing statement, even the prosecutor was describing Harper as the operator of "a lemonade stand."

Louis Harper was not a major dealer; he wasn't a middle-level dealer. In the prosecutor's eyes, he was at the bottom of the food chain and a pretty typical crack peddler at that.

If Do Drugs/Do Time represented a public policy breakthrough in the battle against crack, as President Bush would have us believe, you would think that Louis Harper would be someone the program would reach.

The fact of the matter is that Arizona's approach to drugs is not a new chapter but instead represents a page from the oldest book in the library: incarceration.

While Do Drugs/Do Time has generated national interest as an alternative to building new jail cells, the truth is that Arizona's prisons have exploded with inmates like Harper.

In fiscal year 1986-87, Arizona locked up 32 people in the state prison under the dangerous drug statute. The next year drug legislation pushed by the attorney general and signed by then-Governor Evan Mecham went into effect. The results were dramatic:

1986-87: 32 incarcerated
1987-88: 121 incarcerated
1988-89: 466 incarcerated
1989-90: 749 incarcerated

Even though Harper was a lemonade-stand operator, he was classified as a salesman.

Once you are charged with drug sales, you are automatically excluded from the TASC seminars.

The difference between the consumption of cocaine in black South Phoenix and the consumption of cocaine in the white suburbs is the difference between jail time and seminars.

In fact, Judge Ventre himself expressed the reality of Do Drugs/Do Time and crack: "I thought TASC was only for marijuana, only for nondangerous drugs, not for cocaine or heroin."

Actually, TASC does accept cocaine abusers but the rules for admission--first offense, possession not sale--are such that the odds are stacked astronomically against someone with a crack profile getting in. Although Judge Ventre expressed his disgust that Harper openly sold his $20 rocks on a street corner--"the blatant obviousness"--that is exactly how crack is marketed in America's minority neighborhoods. Unlike their suburban counterparts who move grams and ounces of cocaine powder discreetly, small-time crack peddlers are sitting ducks for undercover officers. Because crack is generally smoked immediately and quickly, there are seldom arrests where someone is charged with possession of crack. If the police are going to make any impact at all, it is the street hawker who is going down. These petty criminals are charged with sales, and instead of being offered the TASC diversion program they are put on the fast track to prison. Records for the twenty criminal divisions of Maricopa County Superior Court reinforce this reality.

On October 21, for example, in what court administrator Mark Weinberg described as a normal day, 17 percent of the drug cases involved crack. Each of these defendants was arrested with a small amount of the drug, yet each was charged with sales.

None of these people qualified for TASC.
Of the fifteen crack defendants, twelve were unemployed and all were penniless. (Typical arrest sheets show one man had $8.42 in his pocket when he was booked, another had a $5 bill and two combs.) All but two of those on their way to jail were black or Hispanic. The de facto racial underpinning of the Do Drugs/Do Time program is inadvertently highlighted by TASC's own statistical charts where headings such as "Possession of Marijuana" show white couples represented by stick figures in suits, black females in maid's costumes, Hispanic males in Mexican sombreros and "other" nationalities portrayed in Indian garb or grass skirts.

While minorities apprehended with crack seldom qualify for diversion into the TASC seminars, a cocaine abuser who did was Ken Roberson, who went on to become the best-known graduate of the program.

A drug abuser for more than a decade who lost his marriage to his addiction, Roberson was arrested when police responded to his suburban-home burglar alarm and accidentally discovered his coke paraphernalia and small amounts of the drug.

Shortly before his bust, Roberson consumed an eight-ball of cocaine, roughly $350 of the drug or nearly four times the amount Louis Harper possessed at the time of his arrest.

Once enrolled in TASC, Roberson went on to become something of a spokesperson for the program. Though he was addicted to powdered cocaine, not crack, Roberson appeared on an episode of the CBS news show 48 Hours entitled "Night on Crack Street." He also has made radio appearances as well as serving as a paid guest lecturer in TASC classes.

While the Do Drugs/Do Time program has processed more than 200 people arrested with powdered cocaine like Ken Roberson, only one actual abuser of crack has graduated. Roberson smoked his cocaine by freebasing it, a method of consumption experts classify as every bit as dangerous as smoking crack. But Roberson's drug life had one important distinction from Harper's: Because he earned $75,000 a year as a chemist at a major utility, Roberson had little need to peddle coke to underwrite his habit.

To a large extent, the problem of crack addiction nationally is an urban-black problem. In Arizona, blacks represent less than 3 percent of the state's population. If the president and the drug czar are going to sell Arizona's Do Drugs/Do Time program as the national model, they will have to make it work in Tom Wolfe's New York, Jesse Jackson's Washington, D.C., and a Los Angeles where the Bloods and Crips are a reality.

They will have to sell it in Los Angeles where people read in their morning newspaper about Corey Feldman, a star in Stand by Me and other movies.

Feldman, 19, was arrested twice--September 20 and March 9--on drug charges after police confiscated 25 balloons stuffed with heroin and cocaine as well as two packets of heroin hidden in the socks Feldman was wearing.

Last week, on December 11, Feldman was sentenced to probation.

LINDA GREEN, 27, makes the trip to the prison in Florence as often as she can to visit her brother Louis Harper.

"I went to all his courts," says Green, "every last one. My sister missed one. Me and my brother was close. We used to eat together, bathe together. Go to the fair together.

"He seen his friends he grew up with having cars, stuff. We was poor. I guess he got tired of it. I remember being barefoot. He let his friends put shit in his head. Fast money ain't good money."

A resident of the Matthew Henson housing project, Green has seen crack in her South Phoenix neighborhood for years.

"It used to be all over, kids in the projects, near the store. I used to leave the neighborhood, to get away, go out with my girlfriends to the Club 902. You'd see guys selling all over the parking lot. I have seen police take someone dealing, take him around the corner, take the cash and let him go. Now my brother's in prison."

Green thinks she has the answer to why her brother is in prison for five decades.

"The judge was white, the jury was white," says Green. "So many years--that's just prejudice."

You don't have to agree with Green to notice that the laws in Arizona and the Do Drugs/Do Time program operate with a double standard. Nowhere is that more obvious than with the county attorney and the police chief, the men responsible for jailing Harper.

On July 18, 1990, the day Louis Harper was convicted, the county attorney who put him away, Richard Romley, was drawing cash payments from the very saloon where Linda Green socialized, the very nightclub where people like Louis Harper peddled crack.

Romley was co-holder of a $40,000 lien on Club 902 worth $800 per month in revenue. According to Lieutenant Ron Hergert of the Phoenix Police Department's antidrug unit, the bar was downtown Phoenix's most notorious outlet for crack sales.

Romley's stake in the 902 was masked from the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control, where state records listed the ownership interest as held by Romley's father, a man who died in 1984.

When Romley's role in Club 902 was exposed, he denied there was any conflict of interest with his responsibilities as co-chair of the Do Drugs/Do Time program or his duties as the county's chief prosecutor. Saying he saw no reason to divest himself of a financial interest in the 902, Romley simply refused to discuss the subject.

In a series of articles in January, this newspaper revealed that in 1989 police made 127 arrests at Club 902. Of those busts, 65 were for narcotics violations, the majority involving crack. Under state law, Police Chief Ruben Ortega's staff is required to forward copies of every arrest report to the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control for follow-up enforcement action.

Without this documentation, the state agency is powerless to act against a lawless bar. Yet a review of state records revealed that not one single narcotics violation at Club 902 had been forwarded by the police to the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control.

Saying only that he saw nothing improper with Romley's interest in Club 902, Chief Ortega declined to explain the missing paperwork in state files and then, like Romley, he, too, refused further comment.

Following the press revelations, Hugh Ennis, superintendent of the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control, personally reviewed each police report relating to Club 902.

On October 5, Ennis signed an order that permanently revoked Club 902's liquor license and shut the bar down.

Linda Green was unaware that the man who put her brother in prison also held an interest in the crack den Club 902.

"Only thing I know they got a fence up around the place and it's all closed down."

These days Linda Green is trying to figure out how to buy a car so that she can visit her brother without having to pay friends to take her to Florence.

"Last time I saw my brother I didn't know it was him. I said, `Why you look like this?'

"He told me he was thinking about killing himself. He said he couldn't do fifty years over no $20 rock.

"I told him to get on his knees and put God in his life. God is the answer."

end part 2 of 2

Almost the first word out of Judge Stephen Ventre's mouth to describe Harper was "cocky."

Judge Ventre: "Apparently you don't even care."
Harper: "I do care, man."

The overwhelming majority of people who finish the Do Drugs/Do Time program are middle-class marijuana smokers or cocaine-powder abusers.

"The police didn't know who I was, you know, they still don't know who I am."

Even in the prosecutor's eyes, Harper was at the bottom of the food chain and a pretty typical crack peddler at that.

The difference between the consumption of cocaine in black South Phoenix and in the white suburbs is the difference between jail time and seminars.

"He said he couldn't do fifty years over no $20 rock.

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