April 04, 2003
Tulia's other problem

Now that all of the Tulia drug bust convictions have been vacated, Swisher County has another issue to think about: getting its ass sued off.

Minutes after a judge ruled Tuesday that the convictions of 38 defendants should be overturned, the county commission held a special closed session to try to head off costly civil suits by offering cash settlements to those who were improperly imprisoned.

"The decision was not about the guilt or innocence of any of the defendants," County Judge Harold Keeter said in a written statement after the meeting. "It was about protecting the taxpayers of this county and bringing closure to a situation that has disrupted and occupied our citizens for 3 1/2 years."

The settlement amounts offered range from $2,000 for those who served no time up to $12,000 for the 13 who are still in prison.

It was estimated the deal would cost the county $250,000.

Twelve grand for four years in prison? I don't think so. Let's start with four years' worth of lost wages, and go from there. And if that puts Swisher County in the red, let them appeal to the state of Texas, which was happy to name Tom Coleman "Lawman of the Year" when they thought he was one of the good guys. I don't care how they get the money, but twelve grand for four years in the joint just doesn't cut it.

Speaking of the pokey, Tom Coleman may find himself there as a result of this:

Rod Hobson, a Lubbock attorney who was appointed special prosecutor for the hearings ordered by the appellate court to review the convictions, said there is more work to be done.

"We are considering all options in this case," he said, "including seeking a criminal indictment from a grand jury."

One possible criminal charge is perjury, lawyers involved in the case have said. Coleman testified at length during the hearings and, the lawyers said, changed his story more than once.

Damn straight. Without Tom Coleman's make believe testimony, none of this would have happened. He's got to pay for it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 04, 2003 to Crime and Punishment | TrackBack

Without Tom Coleman's make believe testimony, none of this would have happened. He's got to pay for it.

Thanks for pursuing this. If it weren't for Bob Herbert and, I suspect, Thom, efforts, this miscarriage would still exist. Texas litterally had to be embarrassed into correcting it. I know Cornyn (sp?) didn't find it very interesting.

I would be curious to know exactly how much the prosecutors knew about Coleman's background. Were they culpable as well?

Posted by: Charles M on April 4, 2003 3:40 PM

I would be curious to know exactly how much the prosecutors knew about Coleman's background. Were they culpable as well?

The short answer is Yes, though theirs is a sin of omission rather than comission and thus less likely to be a criminal matter. Here's the goods from the Texas Observer, which I linked to in my original post:


It would not have taken a very thorough exam to determine that Tom Coleman was far less than a good candidate for the job Sheriff Stewart brought him to Tulia to do. According to records reviewed by the Observer and interviews with past associates of Coleman, each of his last two law enforcement assignments, as a deputy sheriff in Cochran County from 1994 to 1996, and as a deputy in Pecos County from 1989 to 1994, ended when Coleman abruptly left town, with no notice to his employer, leaving his patrol car parked at his house. In both cases, Coleman disappeared owing thousands of dollars in delinquent bills. His most recent employer, former Cochran County Sheriff Kenneth Burke, wrote a letter to the state agency that licenses peace officers, following Colemanís departure. "It is in my opinion that an officer should uphold the law. Mr. Coleman should not be in law enforcement if he is going to do people the way he did this town," he wrote.

Because of strict rules governing the admissibility of evidence about an officerís history, Tulia juries have yet to hear the full story of Tom Colemanís law enforcement career. He grew up in Reeves County, the son of former Texas Ranger Joe Coleman. The senior Coleman, who died of a heart attack in 1991, was one of the most widely respected lawmen in West Texas. Tom left high school in the eleventh grade. He eventually received his G.E.D., at age twenty-seven, and shortly thereafter began work as a jailer in the city of Pecos. His first assignment as a peace officer was in tiny Iraan, in Pecos County.

In interviews with former co-workers and associates compiled for this story, as well as in documented interviews conducted by a court-appointed investigator during Colemanís 1994 divorce from Carol Barnett, an unflattering portrait of Coleman emerges. According to an officer (who requested anonymity) who served with Coleman in Pecos County for several years, Tom developed a reputation as unstable and untrustworthy. "He was a nut," the officer said. "He was very paranoid." Coleman was in the habit of carrying as many as three guns on his person at one time, according to the officer. On one occasion, according to Pecos County chief deputy Cliff Harris, Coleman accidentally shot out the windshield of his own patrol car with a shotgun, while he was seated in it.


There's a lot more. Go to the link, scroll down to "Deep Cover" and start reading.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on April 4, 2003 5:21 PM

I have not heard all of the story, but I assume that Tom Coleman did in fact turn over cocaine to be used as evidence. In my opinion, Tom Coleman could be charged with possession, and possibly with possession w/intent to distribute, if the aggregate amount of cocaine that he turned in as evidence is used against him. He certainly did not have legal authority to possess the cocaine, as he was acting outside the scope of any law enforcement duties when he possessed the cocaine. I hope the prosecutors look into that.

Posted by: Roland McKneely, III, Attorney at Law on November 1, 2003 1:20 PM