Pubdate: Fri, 22 Aug 2003
Source: Tyler Morning Telegraph (TX)
Copyright: 2003 T.B. Butler Publishing Company, Inc.
Bookmark: (Racial Issues)
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


TULIA, Texas (AP) - Gov. Rick Perry on Friday granted pardons to 35 people who
were convicted of drug charges based on the testimony of an undercover agent
later charged with perjury.

"Texans demand a justice system that is tough but fair," Perry said in a
statement. "I believe my decision to grant pardons in these cases is both
appropriate and just."

Perry said he was influenced by questions about the testimony of Tom Coleman,
the only undercover agent involved in the busts. In June, Perry signed a bill
allowing the release of the 12 Tulia defendants who were still in prison.

"It feels good to finally be completely free," said Freddie Brookins Jr., who
had been sentenced to 20 years in prison on Coleman's word. He was released in

His father called Friday's pardons "fantastic."

"We've been waiting for this for four years," Freddie Brookins Sr. said.

An attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which marshaled law firms in New
York and Washington to represent the defendants for free, said Perry did the
right thing.

"This is just really incredible news. This is what we saw the facts showed,"
said the lawyer, Vanita Gupta.

Coleman worked alone and used no audio or video surveillance to substantiate
drug buys he said he made from 46 people from Tulia, a small town of about
5,100 residents 60 miles north of Lubbock.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, asked by Perry to review the cases,
unanimously recommended the pardons last month.

Of the 46 people arrested in July 1999, 39 were black, which led civil rights
groups to question if the busts were racially motivated.

A judge this spring ruled that Coleman was "simply not a credible witness" and
recommended the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturn the convictions of the
38 people prosecuted and order new trials.

Coleman was indicted for perjury in April in connection with testimony he gave
at evidentiary hearings this year. He faces a preliminary hearing next month.

Of those convicted but not pardoned, one is on deferred probation and two were
not eligible to seek pardons because of convictions on other charges.

Also Friday, two women who were indicted but never prosecuted after the drug
busts filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Amarillo against law
enforcement officials. Zuri Bossett and Tonya White said they were not in Tulia
at the time Coleman claimed he bought drugs from them.

The women sued Coleman, Swisher County and its sheriff, Larry Stewart,
prosecutor Terry McEachern and several officials with a narcotics task force in
Amarillo that worked with Coleman. The women, who did not specify damages in
their lawsuit, said the officials violated their civil rights and directed
racial bias against Tulia's black population.

Coleman's attorney did not immediately return calls for comment. Stewart
declined to comment. McEachern said he hadn't seen the lawsuit and couldn't
comment. Officials at the task force were unavailable.

Swisher County officials approved a $250,000 settlement for those imprisoned on
Coleman's word in exchange for the defendants promising not to sue the county.
Bossett and White did not receive any of the settlement because charges against
them were dropped.

Jeff Blackburn, an Amarillo lawyer representing some of those prosecuted,
called the lawsuit "the opening round in a new phase of this struggle." He said
officials responsible for the drug busts had not been brought to justice.
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