Pubdate: Wed, 15 Oct 2003
Source: San Antonio Express-News (TX)
Copyright: 2003 San Antonio Express-News
Author: Cary Clack
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


TULIA - Stepping outside his house on a recent gray morning, Freddie
Brookins Jr. swept his neighborhood with a glance and said, "I can't
believe I'm still here." Except for 3 1/2 years, the 26-year-old
Brookins has lived in Tulia all of his life. But it's those 3 1/2 years
spent in prison that have changed everything.

On July 23, 2000, Brookins was one of 46 Tulians arrested in a predawn
raid stemming from an 18-month narcotics sting operation by a now
infamously discredited undercover agent named Tom Coleman, who had
claimed to have bought cocaine from them.

Some of those arrested, like Brookins, had never met Coleman.

"I'll tell you what freaked everyone out in the community," says Jeff
Blackburn, the Amarillo attorney who led the defense efforts that won
gubernatorial pardons in August for those convicted. "It was when
Brookins got 20 (years). They knew he was a good kid who didn't use

"Freddie was the ultimate sacrificial lamb. He was a kid getting ready
to go to college, man, and watching him go down just made everybody
say, 'I'll make a deal.'"

Inside Rip's Country Grill, one of the employees asks Brookins how
he's doing.

"It's been hard trying to find a job. I've been looking everywhere,"
he says. "Here, Plainview, Amarillo. Nothing."

Brookins thinks that his conviction is still on his record. His friend
tells him to attach a copy of the governor's pardon with his job

A soft-spoken and polite man, Brookins is married with three children.
He'll enroll in Amarillo College next semester to study business.

Before his arrest he worked at a cotton gin, sometimes 12 hours a day,
seven days a week.

"I'm still upset about it," he says of his arrest. "Then at the same
time, how am I going to be able to move on if I just stay upset about
it all the time?"

Since almost 10 percent of Tulia's black population were among those
arrested, he believes the sting was racially motivated.

He calls Coleman the biggest liar he's seen.

"I don't see how you can do that. I couldn't do that to my worst
enemy. I still can't believe these people let it go on."

When asked if he sees Tulia differently, he answers, "Not really." But
he shifts in his seat as if he wants to say something else. For about
30 seconds he's silent before saying, "I really take that back. I do
because this is a town I used to love. I never wanted to leave this
town. But now, after all that's happened, I'm ready to get the hell
out of here."

He pauses again before saying, "But you still have good people here.
You still have good white people here."

He leaves the restaurant with an application in hand.

On S.W. Second Street, a 72-year-old white woman who served on one of
the juries and doesn't want her name used, says, "They shouldn't have
let Tom Coleman run wild."

Choking up, she says, "I'm hurt that so many young people got

One of the things that changed in Tulia during Brookins' time in
prison was the ownership of a motel on U.S. 87 that's now named
Liberty Suites.

On June 16, the day he returned home on a bus, Brookins saw a replica
of the Statue of Liberty standing in front of the motel.

Not knowing what to make of it, Brookins just shook his head and
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