Settlement brings changes to policy in Tenaha

Tim Garrigan
Tim Garrigan

TENAHA, TX (KTRE) - "Shakedown lawsuit," "Highway robbery." An "addiction to asset forfeitures."

They've all been used to describe the alleged racial profiling in East Texas making national news.

Law enforcement in the Shelby County town of Tenaha are accused of forcing African Americans to forfeit cash or go to jail.

A legal step to settlement was filed in federal court in the four-year old civil lawsuit.
Under the agreement, an impartial policing policy must be adopted.

A mural proudly illustrates Tenaha's connections to the rest of the world.

Highway 59 is the link to good and bad.

Plaintiff's attorney Tim Garrigan led the effort to stop alleged racial profiling on motorists passing through the East Texas town.

"No longer can these corrupted officials just stop who they want, shake them down and then make up a story later for their report," Garrigan said.

The goal is complete documentation and monitoring  of traffic stops. A third party will make sure it's happening.

"There's a chance that this will be used as a sort of a template for correcting this kind of problem where ever it might crop up," Garrigan said.

The mayor, district attorney, investigator, city marshal and constable named in the suit have retired or resigned, but they'll be required to join the city and county in paying off planitiff's legal fees of $520,000.

"That's why we're settling," said County Judge Rick Campbell. "The cost would have been four times as much for what we're settling for.  It's a business decision there, but the other thing is it would drag all this stuff out again."

It's an unfavorable image which residents want to go away. After all, they're publicized as "good folks."

"I think it will be better from now on," said Francis Fallin, a resident in Tenaha. "I think it will fix whatever was wrong and do right from now on.">

"I think it will clear everything up once everything is settled and die back down," said Keontaqs Davis, a Tenaha High School student.

The story isn't going away. Garrigan is representing several plaintiffs in individual civil lawsuits and the federal criminal investigation into wrongdoing continues.

The documents filed Friday indicating a settlement still must be approved by a federal judge.

One of the measures agreed to is any money collected through future asset forfeitures can only be used for audio and video equipment, law enforcement training or donated to certain kinds of non-profits.

Copyright 2012 KTRE. All rights reserved.