Pubdate: Sun, 14 Apr 2002
Source: Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (TX)
Copyright: 2001 The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
Author: Linda Kane
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


TULIA - Drug charges against a black woman from Tulia were dismissed 
Tuesday after overwhelming evidence shot holes in criminal 
allegations brought against her by a police undercover agent.

Jeff Blackburn, an attorney for Tonya White, said the evidence that 
proved her innocence also casts doubt on the trustworthiness of Tom 
Coleman, a white drug agent whose operations in 1998 and 1999 led to 
the arrests of 43 people, 37 of whom are black.

Special FBI agent Tim Reid in Amarillo said Tuesday that he will add 
White's dismissal to his investigation of the Tulia arrests, which 
already has been sent to the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., 
for review.

Coleman had accused White of selling him drugs on Oct. 9, 1998. White 
has contended for three years that she didn't sell drugs to Coleman 
because she was living in Oklahoma at the time. She now lives in 
another state and could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Bank records show that White was living in Oklahoma on Oct. 9, 1998, 
and made a deposit at her bank that day for $168.

In a report made to the drug task force in Amarillo, Coleman stated 
that he approached White in Tulia that day and asked her for drugs.

"Agent Coleman paid Tonya M. White ... $190 of Task Force money at 
approximately 10:15 a.m. on Oct. 9, 1998," said the report, which was 
signed by Coleman. "Tonya M. White gave agent Coleman a plastic 
baggie containing a white powder substance believed to be cocaine."

Coleman, who lives in Waxahachie, did not return calls to The 

Blackburn said that White withdrew $8 that day and had to sign for 
it, further proving that she couldn't have sold drugs to Coleman.

"What it says for the cases and all the cases that have been made in 
Tulia ... we have absolutely solid evidence that can't be argued 
with, that this man's a liar," Blackburn said. "That he's willing to 
send innocent people to prison ... to further his own career."

District Attorney Terry McEachern, the man who prosecuted related 
drug cases, said the recent developments should have no bearing on 
other cases built by Coleman.

White has two brothers and a sister in prison based on Coleman's 
testimony that they sold drugs to him.

Coleman spent 18 months working undercover in Tulia, 63 miles north 
of Lubbock, and made drug cases against a large portion of the small 
town's black population. Coleman worked alone and used no audio or 
video surveillance. Little or no corroborating evidence was 
introduced during the trials.

The cost of the drug trials spurred a 5.8 percent increase in Swisher 
County's property taxes.

After going undercover in Tulia, Coleman was charged with theft and 
abuse of his official position as a deputy in Cochran County, where 
he previously worked. He was accused of stealing gas and leaving a 
trail of debt. He paid nearly $7,000 in restitution and the charges 
were dropped. Swisher County Sheriff Larry Stewart and District 
Attorney Terry McEachern have stood by Coleman and his testimonies 
against the drug defendants.

On Tuesday, Stewart refused comment.

Of Coleman's credibility, McEachern said, "I believe everything that 
he has told me. I believe that he has made some mistakes."

He added, "No, it's not OK to make a mistake. Are mistakes made 
unintentionally? I'd say I've made mistakes in my life and I bet you 
have, too."

McEachern signed papers dismissing the case.

"I do not feel like dismissing this case is going to affect the other 
cases," he said. "I can see where a defense attorney might want to 
use this in future trials to discredit the credibility issue of Tom 

Blackburn said the dismissal is a significant step in proving that 
Coleman, the star witness in the drug trials, lacks credibility.

"This is really huge," Blackburn said. "This is direct, solid 
evidence this guy just lied. We have caught him lying about one of 
the Tulia defendants, and we've caught him red-handed."
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