Pubdate: Sat, 30 Sep 2000
Source: Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (TX)
Copyright: 2000 The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
Author: Deon Daugherty, Morris News Service

Notes from MAP:
Cited: Journey for Justice:
Drug Policy Forum of Texas:
Updates: From the Journey are at: and
Bookmarks: MAP's link to Texas articles is:
For Journey for Justice Protest news items:


Lawsuit Alleges Civil-Rights Conspiracy

AUSTIN -- Tynisha Winkfield plans to move her family out of the tiny
West Texas town of Tulia by the end of the year.

As she cradled her 8-week-old daughter Dora while standing on the
front steps of the state Capitol in Austin on Friday, the 22-year-old
said she believes the town is no place for her or her family.

Winkfield said that a 1999 drug bust -- which reportedly led to the
imprisonment of 16 percent of Tulia's black population -- was unfair.

Winkfield was with a group of Tulia adults and children angered by the
controversial bust who attended a rally at the Capitol.

About 200 people attended the rally, which was called ''Journey for
Justice'' and coordinated by the Houston-based Drug Policy Forum of
Texas, a group that wants drugs legalized and regulated.

Several of Winkfield's family members were among those she said were
wrongfully charged with drug crimes in the 1999 bust in which 40
blacks were arrested.

Winkfield said her family has called Tulia home since her
grandmother was 16 years old.

''This is the only place I've known. Everything is there,'' said
Winkfield, who was born and raised in the town of 5,000 people. ''We
have to leave our home because one person said that we, my family,
broke the law.''

Winkfield was referring to undercover agent Tom Coleman, the lone
officer who conducted the 18-month drug operation. Although described
by some as an excellent lawman, others have challenged his character.

Coleman couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

In another development Friday, the Texas affiliate of the American
Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit seeking $6 million from three
people connected with the Tulia bust.

The lawsuit, filed in Amarillo, alleges Coleman, Swisher County
Sheriff Larry Stewart, and District Attorney Terry McEachern conspired
to violate the civil rights of blacks in Tulia.

Amarillo attorney Jeff Blackburn filed the suit on behalf of Yul
Bryant, a man who Blackburn said protested his innocence for seven
months before the charge was dropped and he was released from jail.

Blackburn has been a civil rights attorney in the Panhandle and West
Texas for about 15 years, but the Tulia case still shocks him, he said.

''This case has got to be one of the most outrageous cases I have ever
seen,'' he said. ''What happened in Tulia is a real abomination and a
real injustice that has done incredible damage to a lot of human
beings. They deserve a real day in court.''

The suit asks for $1 million in actual damages and $1 million in
punitive damages from each of the three defendants.

McEachern said the allegation that race motivated the sting is

''There wasn't any list or target. We prosecute everybody that
delivers cocaine,'' he said.

Plus, McEachern said, a grand jury handed down indictments against
those accused, which triggered the arrests.

''If the grand jury returns an indictment, that is sufficient there is
probable cause. Period. And that is determined outside of my
presence,'' he said. ''I'm not even present when the grand jury votes.''

The Swisher County sheriff said Friday afternoon that he hadn't yet
seen the lawsuit.

However, he said, ''The investigation was conducted fairly, and no,
there was no racial overtone -- plain and simple.''

Among the Tulia children attending Friday's rally was 10-year-old
Brittany White, whose mother was imprisoned in the bust.

''I'm trying to get my mom and other family out of jail,'' she

LaWanda Smith, one of the 40 blacks arrested, is taking care of the
girl and six other children whose parents were incarcerated as a
result of the operation. Smith pleaded guilty to possession of powder
cocaine and was given three years' deferred adjudication. She contends
she is innocent and only took a plea agreement because she wouldn't
have had any chance at trial.

Plus, she said, she is able to take care of the children of others she
believes were victims of racial profiling.

Smith is a cashier at a small clothing store in Tulia. Feeding and
clothing the children will be a difficult task, but ''I just take one
day at a time,'' she said.

The 25-year-old said she'd like to leave Tulia and the racism she has
seen behind, but has to stay because ''there's nobody else to take
care of these children. Everybody else who would is

Speakers at the rally urged presidential candidate Gov. George W. Bush
to take the lead in reforming criminal justice in Texas and to ''show
what an efficient criminal justice system looks like.''

Bush spokeswoman Linda Edwards said the governor has ensured that
first time drug offenders possessing a small amount get probation and
treatment while repeat offenders are imprisoned.

''Gov. Bush has worked very hard on criminal justice and juvenile
justice reforms during his term in office. We have seen crime rates
decrease, and the revolving door in prisons is closed shut on violent
offenders,'' she said.

Edwards said the governor isn't aware of the case in Tulia. However,
she said, ''It is, of course, unlawful in Texas to stop people or
arrest people or charge people based on their race or ethnicity. Gov.
Bush absolutely does not tolerate people being stopped or arrested or
charged simply based on their race or ethnicity.''

Anita Barrow, whose twin sons are each serving 20 years as a result of
the bust, said there is no justice for poor minorities in Tulia.

''If you don't got money, or if you're not white, or if you're white
but you hang around with blacks, it's the same thing,'' Barrow said.
''No justice.''

The Rev. Charles Kiker, a retired Tulia Baptist minister, said, ''The
'war on drugs' is a war on people, and especially on black people.''

William Harrell, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, said law
enforcement's approach to fighting drugs has taken on genocide

He urged the people at the rally not to forget those imprisoned on
drug crimes and their children who live in Tulia.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake