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March 11, 2004
$5 Million Settlement Ends Case of Tainted Texas Sting
By ADAM LIPTAK

Five years after 46 people, almost all of them black, were arrested on fabricated drug charges in Tulia, Tex., their ordeal will draw to a close today with the announcement of a $5 million settlement in their civil suit and the disbandment of a federally financed 26-county narcotics task force responsible for the arrests.

The case attracted national attention because the number of people charged literally decimated the small town's black population. It also gained notice because the arrests were entirely based on the work of an undercover narcotics agent who has been accused of racism and perjury. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas pardoned the Tulia defendants in August, after a court hearing last March exonerated them.

"This is undoubtedly that last major chapter in the Tulia story, and this will conclude the efforts of people in Tulia to get some compensation and justice," said Jeff Blackburn, a lawyer in Amarillo who represented the people arrested five years ago in the civil suit. "With the abolition of the task force, it completely closes the circle on what was done."

Mr. Blackburn added that the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Trafficking Task Force failed adequately to supervise the agent, Tom Coleman, in its eagerness to win battles in the war on drugs.

Tulia is a poor town of 5,000 people between Amarillo and Lubbock. The $5 million will be divided among 45 former defendants based on a formula that will take account of whether they served time in prison and how long. One defendant has since died.

The settlement will be paid by the City of Amarillo, which had a leading role in running the task force. Marcus W. Norris, the city attorney, said many drug task forces in Texas were poorly organized and governed. That led, he said, to poor supervision of Mr. Coleman in Tulia, a lack of accountability and catastrophic misjudgments.

"There's a lesson here," Mr. Norris said, "that cities should be very careful about these alliances."

Mr. Coleman, who was named Texas Lawman of the Year in 1999 for his work in Tulia, will go on trial on perjury charges in May. He has pleaded not guilty. Jon Mark Hogg, a lawyer for Mr. Coleman, declined to comment on the civil settlement.

At a hearing last year in Tulia, Mr. Coleman testified that although most of the drug transactions he swore to were in public places and that he did not wear a recording device, arrange for video surveillance, ask anyone to observe the deals or fingerprint the plastic bags containing the drugs.

Instead, he said, he jotted down information on his leg. No drugs, weapons or large sums of cash were found in the mass arrest in 1999.

Mr. Coleman conceded that he frequently used a racial epithet, but he denied that he was a racist.

Judge Ron Chapman, who presided over the hearing, found that Mr. Coleman had committed "blatant perjury."

Judge Chapman wrote that Mr. Coleman was "the most devious, nonresponsive law enforcement witness this court has witnessed in 25 years on the bench in Texas."

Tonya White was among those arrested in 1999. She was able to refute Mr. Coleman's charge that she sold cocaine to him by producing bank records showing she was 300 miles away, in Oklahoma City, at the time. She said the most important aspect of the settlement was disbanding the task force.

"I'm glad they can't do this to anyone else," she said.

Swisher County, of which Tulia is the seat, was also a member of the task force but continues to deny any liability in the case.

"We have stated for the last five years that we don't think there was any wrongdoing in this case," said Judge Harold Keeter of Swisher County. But he suggested that the county might be prepared to make a contribution to the settlement.

Mr. Coleman was supervised by two task force officials who were also members of the Amarillo Police Department, Lt. Michael Amos and Sgt. Jerry Massengill. As part of the settlement, Mr. Norris said, they will take early retirement.

"They were good officers," Mr. Norris said. "They exercised poor judgment in this case."

Lieutenant Amos declined to comment on that assertion. He said he had been planning to retire this year, anyway. Sergeant Massengill said he had no comment.

Mr. Norris noted that Mr. Coleman was not employed by the Amarillo Police Department and did not meet its standards.

Vanita Gupta, a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which also represents the plaintiffs along with the Washington firm of Hogan & Hartson, said it was a mistake to focus only on Mr. Coleman's actions.

"The task force is ultimately culpable for what happened in Tulia," Ms. Gupta said. "They hired, supervised and sponsored Tom Coleman's activity in the 18 months he was operating there."

"It's not that Tom Coleman was simply a rogue officer," Ms. Gupta added. "The problem is that federally funded narcotics task forces operate nationwide as rogue task forces because they are utterly unaccountable to any oversight mechanism."

Mr. Blackburn said the settlement had the potential to draw attention to the work of similar task forces.

"I am really hopeful that this will send a shock wave to Austin," Mr. Blackburn said, "and that it will result in a complete systematic overhaul of narcotics enforcement in Texas."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

© MBM

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What makes it so bad, is that this sort of thing is happening all over the country, especially in the south, and since it is too surreal for average Americans to fathom the frequency of such miscarriages of justice, no one really believes that it actually is happening to the magnitude that it is.

P.S.: Did you all see the 96 year old woman arrested in North Carolina for possession w/intent, while it was very evident that this woman confined to a wheel chair probable has grandchildren or great grandchildren who the drugs probably really belonged to . . . anyway, this is how these cases are handled, with such discrepancy, where if it had been a 96 year old white woman, she would have been given the benefit of the doubt that it did not actually belong to her.-----
This is a prime example of how more blacks wind up in prison than whites and a prime example of the disproportionate justice African American receive in this country.
There is ZERO evidence to suggest this happens at all frequently, lets not get your skirt in a bunch over this story. That 96 year old woman KNOWS whose drugs they were, but won't cooperate with law enforcement. Thats NOTHING like this story here.

What I'd like to know is how much drug abuse in this area is going to increase now, since they'll hardly be any narcotics enforcement going on. If I was a drug dealer, I know where I'd be heading!
"There is ZERO evidence to suggest this happens at all frequently, lets not get your skirt in a bunch over this story. That 96 year old woman KNOWS whose drugs they were, but won't cooperate with law enforcement. Thats NOTHING like this story here."
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Well Mississippi Delta,
I don't know what world you live in, but this sort of thing DOES happen very often. Just because you it hasn't happened to you, does not mean that it does not happen.

I personally know of numerous instances in my own city/county; numerous instance of the lawsuits handled or settled in the law offices I have worked in; numerous instances of police and prosecutorial misconduct that causes such thing to come about in the first place;
So, there is plenty of evidence that it does occur, regardless of the tunnel visioned racially veiled perception that you chose to see through.
Also, you don't know if the woman knows who's drugs they are or not, for God's sake, she 96 years old and we still have some parents in their 40's that do not possess a sufficient comprehension of drugs and what they look like , etc.
You just assumed that since she was Black, that of course the police were correct in arresting this 96 year old woman, regardless to the fact of not having any criminal record or history of drug participation.
Do you think her children (at her age, probably her great-grandchildren) came to her and said "great-grandmother, I have some dope, the kind that people call crack, and I want to put it in one of your medicine bottles and stuff in in between your wheel chair, because it is highly illegal for me to possess it and since I don't want to go to jail and do not care if my 96 year old great-grandmother is arrested and has her reputation ruined, I want you to take all the risk and the blame and the criminal record and the embarrassment and the arrest for it.
No, you just assume that the stero-type of African Americans being such BIG drug users and sellers, that as long as this woman was Black, surely she must know what crack is, that she was selling crack or that she was using crack or was "down" with her great-grandchildren's drug use and abuse.
African American are only 12% of the population, soon they will begin to run out of Black people to harrass, brutalize and railroad, then people like you will be able to see what is really going on in this country, because when they run out black and brown to harrass and keep under constant surveillance, you know who is next.
If those men who planted the drugs on her aren't men enough to come forward, then she's arrested because its the LAW to arrest her. I didn't 'assume' a damn thing, she HAD the drugs, those drugs are ILLEGAL. There's no assumptions about that.

Out of the millions of interactions between law enforcement and those possessing illegal drugs each year, what percentage exactly would you say constitute 'numerous'? Please, you are blowing this up needlessly.

The bigger point here is what happens now when there is no drug enforcement in this area, little kids openly buying drugs and killing their futures with them, police too timid to make arrests or provide survelience. You are missing a MORE important facet of the whole issue. You see, you shouldn't want drugs in the hands of our children. Yet, that doesn't seem to concern you one bit, as long as somebody gets 'sued' and you feel giddy about it. Typical.
Out of the millions of interactions between law enforcement and those possessing illegal drugs each year, what percentage exactly would you say constitute 'numerous'? Please, you are blowing this up needlessly.
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It blows itself up, I don't need to "blow up" the fact that Police just like people in any other profession, abuse their authority,power, or may just be incompetent, overzealous, using their position of authority to harrass people.

You can continue to live in your veiled society on the 'nile as long as you wish, and your denying that something is happening does not make it so.

Also, even if I were to post every intance of police and/or prosecutorial misconduct and/or abuse of power and authority and wrongfull arrests and convictions, it would "blow up" my computer right after such an enormous amount of activity shuts this site down.
Thats all I'm saying. The numbers of these cases is infinitely small when taken in the larger context of things, you can't even calculate this with a percentage of interactions its so small. Besides, these folks all get rich now. Where else would they rather be now?

So, police are just people when you get right down to it. I agree. They could some help, just like everyone else can. Problem is our community does too little to help them in cleaning up our own neighborhoods, and that is what leads more than anything else to mistakes, frustration, and confusion. Thats why you must take this in its proper context.

This is not a victory for anyone, except maybe the actual drug dealers themselves. Nothing to be snide about.
I remember some drug dealers hiding crack in the worn pampers of babies in housing projects. Should the babies have been arrested in such incidence? Many older people are not very alert and can doze off into deep sleeps. These unscrupulous descendants of hers could have taken advantage of this by placing the drugs in her prosthetics. It could be the case that the prosecutors know full well that the drugs do not belong to the 96 year old, but they threatened to prosecute her if she did not turn evidence against her ken folks.
quote:
Originally posted by DeltaJ:
Thats all I'm saying. The numbers of these cases is infinitely small when taken in the larger context of things, you can't even calculate this with a percentage of interactions its so small. Besides, these folks all get rich now. Where else would they rather be now?



So, police are just people when you get right down to it. I agree. They could some help, just like everyone else can. Problem is our community does too little to help them in cleaning up our own neighborhoods, and that is what leads more than anything else to mistakes, frustration, and confusion. Thats why you must take this in its proper context.

This is not a victory for anyone, except maybe the actual drug dealers themselves. Nothing to be snide about.


The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. DeltaJ you are simply IGNORANT to a fault. Look how many black males have been released from prison death row due to DNA evidence exonerating them from cases of rape or other crimes that can be disproved by DNA evidence. The fact is that most crimes cannot be proved by DNA evidence and that many blacks are in jail because of over zealous prosecutors and racism. It is much more believable that a person is guilty of a crime if they are black, plus have a history of some other crime. Many blacks in jails are guilty of crimes, but not the crimes they are convicted of.
quote:
Originally posted by DeltaJ:
This is not a victory for anyone, except maybe the actual drug dealers themselves. Nothing to be snide about.



Who says there really is a drug problem in Tulia? You had 46 people arrested and convicted for drugs ... all of them were released and pardoned. I suppose this may be your first time hearing about this story, but there has never been any mention of any confiscated drugs ... only that a corrupt, racist, ex-FBI agent says there were. Three of the people arrested were in different states at the times of the "alleged" buys by this agent!!!

One judge says he sees no evidence of wrongdoing ... the Federal Government is paying these people for the wrong done to them!! You wouldn't happen to be that judge, would you?? Both of your statements seem comparably ignorant! Eek

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soapbox

Sheesh ... where's the dang IGG button when you really need one?? Confused Confused

And why is it that the truly intelligent posters have a hard time getting in ... while others seem to be able to post to their hearts content?? Just asking .... Big Grin
Nothing sunnubian....you brothers and sisters have too mmuch intellect to offer to this site to be fucking off your time with racists, apologist negroes and those who excuse everything adverse black people face and approach the issue as if a certain level is acceptable and is to be expected. I sure wish people would come to me in person like that......i had some black conservatives do it before here at the job......now they avoid me like the plague.......i really do believe their mission is to antagonize....and they are usually people with self-issues and want to make others as angry and disappointed as they are with themselves.....because logically speaking....if they knew what damn fools they come across as.....they wouldn't even login............

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