Darnell Garcia has lived a storybook life to say the least. So much so that a Hollywood movie is being scripted based on his life story. Bridal Path Films are in the midst of negotiating with major studios to tell the story of a man many would call nothing short of controversial.
Why controversial? Well Darnell Garcia is an ex-Drug Enforcement Agent (DEA) that served 21 years in federal prison. In 1988, at 43 years of age Garcia was charged with drug trafficking, money laundering and providing intelligence information to a fugitive drug dealer. He was released from federal prison in November 2011.
Garcia was a former Los Angeles police officer who was recruited by the DEA to become an agent.
“Probably the biggest mistake I ever made was leaving LAPD and going there,” Garcia said.
“While a DEA agent, after a few years on the job, I was involved in and the principal person who sued the agency for racial discrimination,” Garcia said. “The case ended up matriculating its way up to the 9th circuit court of appeals where they issued a written opinion that’s in the law books today (Garcia v. Lawn 9th Cir. 1985). Basically found that the DEA is discriminatory in threatening agents with transfer to a different city if they didn’t play ball.”
After winning the famous 1985 lawsuit, Garcia was reinstated as an agent and given about a $100,000 of past time. He would quickly resign six weeks after the ruling. Little did he know at the time but the DEA had an investigation underway and it was clear Garcia was the man they wanted.
Garcia’s mother and close family and friends felt he was a marked man, as well.
“My mother who is originally from Arkansas, she told me, ‘You’re hit, you’re so finished there, you’re a marked man’,” Garcia said.
While serving as a DEA agent he was a popular person among peers. Garcia won the international Karate Grand Championship in 1972 and was known for having received a black belt under the tutelage and training of Chuck Norris. That relationship and notoriety led to Garcia playing a role in the cult – classic film “Enter the Dragon” starring Bruce Lee.
“I was a big friend of Bruce Lee’s,” said Garcia.
He later went to work for Fred Williamson, better known as the “Hammer” and his movie company Po’ Boy Productions.
“I did a few film’s with Fred but mainly behind the camera, I did some acting and stunt work…but I don’t think the movie business bit me that much,” said Garcia. “I think the that the high profile worked for me as well as it did against me.”
In late 1988, John Jackson, Wayne Countryman and Darnell Garcia were indicted for theft of 180 Kilos from a stash house in Pasadena and were set to go to trial.
“For one year I was a fugitive, I wasn’t in the country, I was in Europe,” said Garcia.
“A year later when I am extradited back from Europe and we have a trial in front of the honorable Judge Terry J. Hatter, Jr. who we thought was going to be extremely fair because he was a (President) Jimmy Carter appointee and he had talked like he was always going to be fair. Come to find out since I didn’t plead guilty and the other two guys plead guilty to testify against me, the case went from John Jackson being a principal drug dealer to him cooperating and it immediately changed to where I was the principal because I was pushing back. All about this time South Central L.A. was racked with Freeway Rick, who Jackson indirectly or directly worked with I do not know that part.”
Garcia revealed exclusive evidence and information during his sit-down interview with the Sentinel that he expressed would once and for all redeem his name and paint the proper picture of the so-called Ex-DEA agent from south central who went rogue.
Garcia produced a video recording of John Jackson recanting his testimony during the trial that assisted Garcia in being locked up for 21 years. The recording was made in October of 2015 and Garcia owns the copyright.
In truly shocking testimony, Jackson can be heard explaining how he lied under oath to save himself and to receive less jail time. In addition to the video recording Garcia provided a signed declaration from not only Jackson but also Jackson’s wife Barbara Jean and Wayne Countryman. Countryman signed the declaration in November 2015.
“In the DVD (video recording) Jackson finally tells the truth after 21 years,” Garcia shares.
“Everything he said at trial, the entire 21 years I lost of my life was all a lie simply because they were going to give him life and his wife was going to go to jail also. I went to prison for 21 years, Jackson did 4 years and Countryman did 3 years,” Garcia said.
“Everybody was appalled (that) I got an 80 years sentence. Well there is a tax in America as everybody knows, if you fight and go to trial you are going to get more time than if you plead out and say I am going to take the hit. I wasn’t going to plead out under no circumstance simply because I wasn’t going to plead to something I didn’t do to satisfy to get less time. My mentality was kill me, I am not going to lie to myself.”
Barbara Jean Jackson’s written declaration expressed how the government at the time had wire tapped her telephone.
She went on the write, “I was not allowed by the U.S. District Court, Judge Terry Hatter, to give testimony in the trial of Darnell Garcia. I believe this taped conversation would have explained to the jury how the Government was coercing my husband. I was threatened and intimidated by the prosecutor in the case with me being sent to jail for along period of time if my husband did not testify against Darnell Garcia. Within the attached taped, I told Darnell Garcia, that everyone accused in the case would be leniency according to the prosecutor if they were to say things against Mr. Garcia.”
Garcia made it clear he didn’t contact the Sentinel to sell his life story for fame or notoriety. This was simply about the truth being told.
“I am in the business of trying to get some type of redemption for my sons, my grandkids,” he said. “So that (they) can see, ‘Well Papa went to jail for 21 years but he might of only supposedly had to be there a much shorter amount of time.”
Garcia was released early in November 2011 after violently appealing to President Obama through the clemency board and the parole board.
“God Bless the President and the parole board,” Garcia said.
According to Garcia, many of the harsher drug laws that affected minorities are slowly but surely changing.
“In 1988 the sentencing reform act was changed and they made this harsh mandatory minimum and it really affected the crack guys a lot…it mainly affected the Brown and Black communities and they are trying to revisit that,” Garcia said.
Despite it all Garcia notes that things like this, no matter how severe in nature, are a part of the job he signed up for.
“People ask me, who is your animosity toward? My animosity is not toward the guys that testified against me. I was an agent I have been a policeman. I have seen it before and I saw it at trial. You don’t realize the real life as an agent or as a law enforcement person. You tell people, ‘I have seen mother’s tell against their son’s I have seen son’s tell against their mother’s,’” Garcia said.
Instead, he remains thankful that he made it out despite the obstacles.
“Our system is that you cooperate or we will bury you. The only way you can get on the other side of that is you outlive the sentence, which I have done. Thank goodness again to the President properly putting people on the parole board who let me go.”
When asked was he innocent of all the crimes accused or did he simply commit some crimes as an agent, Garcia remained honest.
“By no means am I saying I am innocent. I am saying that I am innocent of the drug crimes.
Garcia notes that his decision to go to court was actually based on his faith in the justice system.
“The reason I chose to go to trial is I actually believed the system is designed so you can have your day in court. My day in court I took the stand. I didn’t choose to not take the stand. People said you shouldn’t do it because you open your self up to cross-examination and all the other stuff. I absolutely believed in the system,” Garcia said.
“ I grew up here in this city. When I became a policeman. That was very proud for me. I enjoyed being a policeman. I never lied on anybody, I never stole from anybody, and I never took a life, none of that. But to be in federal court and be a federal agent and ask for your day in court, I asked for my day in court because I knew I was going to take the stand and defend myself. I was going to take the stand and say let me tell you what I did do. I did cover for them in the sense that I knew what they were doing and I failed by not telling on them. And now I am in a position to where I see somebody stealing, dealing drugs and I should by the oath I took step up and tell on them. I didn’t, I will live with that. I failed the community in that.”
“I had the opportunity at trial, which I chose to take to get on the stand and tell my side of the story and my side of the story was I didn’t do the drugs but I did help them put their money overseas. I did help Countryman put his money in the Cayman Islands because he wouldn’t go to the internal schools we had to learn how to do it him self. I did that. I did take Jackson into a fiduciary in Zurich and introduce him to someone who do what they do in Switzerland is hide money, hide the money.
“I had to tell the Sentinel there are a lot of guys stuck prison because Bill Clinton took away habeas petition when he was President. A lot of guys have new evidence that can bring them home, or a 100 to 1 on a drug conviction, crack cocaine giving you a mandatory time where you can have 10 pounds of coke and go home in 5 years. So the habeas petition is the only way these guys are going to get it back. But for a sitting judge, a Black man (Judge Terry Hatter) to sit there and not suspect the system, meaning people who are in court telling, people you have let out while you had them on bail and you caught them again selling drugs and you are still going to go with what they say.”
Garcia does, however, feel that his case is a great example of what the justice system could do better.
“My condemnation from losing 21 years is the judiciary could have done better by me. They could have just asked all the people who wanted to recant, come into my court room and tell me face to face what you lied about. It’s never too late to save someone’s life.”