Response to FBI report on Tulia

Last month I noted this article about an FBI investigation into the infamous Tulia drug bust. That investigation concluded there was no racial aspect to what disgraced former undercover agent Tom Coleman did. I had my doubts about the story, but didn’t delve into in in any detail.

There’s now a comment in that post which points to this Plainview Daily Herald piece which responds to that FBI report. It’s pretty persuasive. I’m reprinting it beneath the More link for posterity. Thanks to Scott for bringing it to my attention.

My Turn: Tulian offers different view on TV report, article


Richard Orr´s article in last Sunday´s Herald (“Not so innocent after all” regarding the controversial 1999 drug sting in Tulia) summarized the findings of Todd Bensman, an investigative reporter with the CBS affiliate in Dallas.

Bensman reports that, according to an FBI report mysteriously obtained from an undisclosed source, eight Tulia defendants admitted that they sold drugs to Tom Coleman. The implication is that Governor Perry, had he only known, would never have pardoned the Tulia defendants nor would attorneys for the City of Amarillo have sanctioned a $6 million settlement.

Curiously, no one is asking why eight alleged drug dealers would be willing to damn themselves when it would have been so easy to lie?

The true child of God, King David tells us, “sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.” (Psalm 15:1)

Tom Coleman was paid with Byrne Grant money distributed through the federal Department of Justice. Asking the feds to investigate Tulia was like hiring the fox to check into a disturbance down at the henhouse. By the autumn of 2000, the Department of Justice had already ignored two civil rights complaints filed in connection with the Tulia sting. Only when the story hit The New York Times did the feds agree, albeit grudgingly, to launch an investigation.

According to the CBS report, Alberta Williams “boasted” to the FBI officers that she sold Tom Coleman “more drugs than she was prosecuted for.” Ms. Williams was not boasting; she was looking for answers. If Coleman failed to turn in evidence, he was in violation of the law.

A legitimate narcotics agent once told me that getting a crack addict to sell you drugs is “like shooting fish in a barrel.” The desperate desire for drug money eventually converts users into dealers if the narcotics agent keeps begging long enough. Police officers call it, “making a crook”; the technical term is “entrapment.” Either way it´s illegal.

Many weekend users had become full-blown crack-heads by the time Tom Coleman´s money-machine shut down in July of 1999. Coleman spent 18 months and thousands of your tax dollars funding the addictions of indigent Tulia residents. Nice work, if you can get it!

Poor drug dealers smoke tiny “rocks” of crack cocaine that can be purchased on the street for between $5 and $20. Powder cocaine is known as a “rich man´s drug” because it costs well over a hundred dollars to buy a little baggie of powder the size of your thumb. Poor users turn to crack because they can´t afford to buy powder cocaine. You can´t sell what you can´t afford to buy.

Tulia defendants told the FBI that Tom Coleman bought little rocks of crack cocaine then filed powder cases in Amarillo. If they were right, Coleman was tampering with evidence. Defendants swore to their own hurt because it was the only way to implicate Coleman. Admissions of innocence wouldn´t have done the trick.

Economic reality suggests that indigent crack addicts were falsely accused of selling Tom Coleman powder cocaine. But that´s just the beginning.

Tanya Michelle White proved she was in Oklahoma City when Coleman said she was selling him drugs in Tulia.

An aging hog farmer named Joe Moore identified Coleman as “the law” the minute the pony-tailed white man hit the streets. On more than one occasion, Joe ran Coleman off his front porch in front of witnesses.

Defendants like Freddie Brookins Jr., Michelle Williams and Vincent McCray never met Coleman until the day they were arrested.

The sloppy undercover man, by his own admission, misidentified a long list of defendants.

Tulia defendants swore to their own hurt because they knew Tom Coleman had fingered innocent people.

In March of 2003, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals requested that evidentiary hearings be held in Tulia. Tom Coleman´s credibility collapsed under a heap of strange and conflicting testimony. A long series of credible witnesses testified that Coleman was dishonest, incompetent, corrupt, irrational and racist.

After a week of this testimony, the State of Texas threw in the towel. A month later a Swisher County grand jury filed three counts of aggravated perjury against the Texas Lawman of the Year.

The remarkable honesty of selfless citizens lent integrity and credibility to a long, mystifying struggle. Viewed in the full light of day, the admissions of eight men and women demonstrate that Judge Ron Chapman, attorneys representing the State of Texas, Governor Rick Perry, and the City of Amarillo called it right.

Some would call those who swear to their own hurt foolish or naive. King David calls them children of God. My better angels are inclined to agree.

(An ordained minister, Dr. Alan Bean serves as executive director of Friends of Justice, a Tulia-based criminal justice reform organization.)

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