Pubdate: Wed, 02 Apr 2003
Source: Detroit Free Press (MI)
Copyright: 2003 Detroit Free Press
Author: Betsy Blaney, Associated Press
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


Race Is Alleged Motive Behind 1999 Arrests 

TULIA, Texas -- A judge recommended Tuesday that a higher court overturn 38
drug convictions that were based on the disputed testimony of an undercover

Most of the defendants were black, and defense lawyers and civil rights
groups charged that the 1999 arrests in the predominantly white town of
5,000 people were racially motivated. 

Other law-enforcement officials said the agent had faced theft charges and
used a racial epithet. 

The judge's recommendation, made to a state appeals court, was announced as
a hearing was set to resume to review evidence against four of the black men
who were arrested. 

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered the hearing, which began last
month. The star witness was undercover agent Thomas Coleman. 

"It is stipulated by all parties and approved by the court that Tom Coleman
is simply not a credible witness under oath," said retired state District
Judge Ron Chapman of Dallas, who was appointed to preside over the hearing. 

Chapman recommended that the appeals court grant new trials to everyone
convicted of cocaine charges as a result of the busts. 

In all, 46 people were arrested, 39 of them black. Thirteen are still in
prison. Others served time or were sentenced to probation. Cases against 10
of them were dismissed. 

Police found no cocaine on any of the suspects arrested during the largest
sweep, which occurred July 23, 1999. 

The arrests in the Texas Panhandle town prompted an investigation by the
Justice Department and the Texas Attorney General's Office. 

An attorney with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People said it was "hugely significant" that prosecutors acknowledged flaws
in their cases. 

The arrests on charges of possessing and selling crack and powdered cocaine
hinged on uncorroborated testimony by Coleman, the lone undercover drug
agent in the 18-month operation.
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