Pubdate: Sat, 23 Aug 2003
Source: Plainview Daily Herald (TX)
Contact:  2003 Plainview Daily Herald
Author: Richard Orr


A massive, 40-page federal lawsuit has been filed in connection with the 
infamous 1999 Tulia drug raid that ultimately backfired and ended in 
pardons last week for most of the suspects.

The suit seeks monetary damages for alleged civil rights violations and was 
filed Friday in U.S. District Court Amarillo by Amarillo attorney Jeff 
Blackburn on behalf of Tonya White and Zuri Bossett - two of the 46 mostly 
black suspects arrested on the word of undercover agent and reputed racist 
Tom Coleman, who has since been indicted for perjury in the case.

Defendants include Coleman, District Attorney Terry McEachern, Swisher 
County Sheriff Larry Stewart and a total of 29 cities and counties in the 
region, Swisher County among them. A number of law enforcement officers, 
officials and drug taskforce agencies and their boards of governors are 
also named as defendants.

According to the complaint, plaintiffs White and Bossett were arrested in a 
July 23, 1999, pre-dawn raid that ended with nearly 10 percent of Tulia's 
black population charged with selling powder cocaine to Coleman during an 
18-month period.

"The only evidence linking the arrestees to the alleged drug transactions 
was the false and perjurious testimony of defendant Coleman - a white 
police officer whose statements were not corroborated by any credible 
independent evidence," the suit maintains.

It further claims Coleman had a long, well-documented history of "theft, 
fraud and abuse of power in his law enforcement career, made racist 
comments" on and off the job, "carried a Ku Klux Klan membership card and 
regularly used the word 'nigger.' "

The suit alleges that despite "knowledge of information that Coleman was 
dishonest, unreliable and racist, defendants still hired Coleman, placed 
him in the community without sufficient training or supervision and allowed 
him to continue with an investigation they knew was targeting African 

The indictment against Ms. White was dismissed by McEachern after a timed 
bank receipt showed she was in Oklahoma City on the day Coleman said she 
sold him drugs.

"Likewise," notes the suit, "Ms. Bossett was not living in Tulia at the 
time of her alleged drug sale, and the State was never able to produce any 
reliable evidence of a crime. Thus (McEachern) dismissed the indictment 
against Ms. Bossett as well. (Defendants) are responsible not only for 
plaintiffs' arrest . . . but for the entire Tulia operation." According to 
the complaint, because of Coleman's checkered past in law enforcement, his 
applications to the Odessa Police Department and the Department of Public 
Safety were rejected prior to his employment as a drug agent by Swisher 
County - a background the suit claims "made clear - or certainly should 
have made clear - that Coleman was not fit to serve as a law enforcement 
officer, particularly as an uncorroborated undercover officer with little 
or no supervision."

It maintains there were no witnesses to the alleged drug sales; that no 
audio or visual tapes were made; that Coleman refused to wear a wire and 
kept notes "solely by writing on his leg;" that no drugs or money were 
seized in the raid; and that "no forensic evidence was presented linking 
any of the accused in Tulia to the alleged drug transactions."

The suit alleges conspiracy to violate civil rights, due-process 
violations, malicious prosecution, violations of "the right of the people 
to be secure in their houses, papers and effects against unreasonable 
searches and seizures," and "intentional infliction of emotional distress."

It seeks unspecified compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney fees.

McEachern and others have declined comment. A trial date is pending.
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