Pubdate: Fri, 25 Apr 2003
Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Copyright: 2003 Associated Press
Author: Betsy Blaney, The Associated Press
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


TULIA, Texas - The former sheriff's deputy whose sole testimony led to
drug charges against 46 people now faces charges himself - but not
stemming from his recently discredited 1999 drug stings.

A Swisher County grand jury Thursday indicted Tom Coleman, 43, on
three counts of aggravated perjury for allegedly lying on the witness
stand during evidentiary hearings involving the busts last month.

Prosecutors said too much time had passed to charge Coleman with lying
in any of the actual drug cases that bitterly divided this Panhandle
town of 5,000 residents. Some complained the arrests were racially

Coleman had claimed he bought drugs from the defendants during an
18-month investigation in which he worked alone and used no audio or
video surveillance.

Earlier this month, a judge recommended throwing out the convictions
against 38 mostly black defendants. The case has led to investigations
by the Justice Department and Texas attorney general.

The charges accuse him of lying under oath about what he knew about a
theft charge he faced in Cochran County, where he worked as a
sheriff's deputy before arriving in Tulia.

Coleman was charged with theft and abuse of power involving that job,
but the charges were dropped after he paid nearly $7,000 in

Specifically, the indictment charges Coleman with lying about the date
he first learned he faced the theft charge, about his not having
contacted a state agency to tell them of his arrest on the theft
charge and about having stolen gasoline as was alleged in the theft

Terri Brookins, whose husband is one of 13 people still in prison as a
result of the busts, said justice came a little closer with the
charges lodged against Coleman.

"I hate to say 'It's about time,' but I think things are going in the
right direction," said Brookins, 22. She and her husband were raising
his son and daughter and her daughter when the busts occurred.

Coleman could not immediately be reached for comment, and messages
left for him at relatives' homes were not returned Thursday. A warrant
will be issued for his arrest, said Rod Hobson, a special prosecutor.

If convicted, Coleman could face up to 10 years in prison and a
$10,000 fine on each third-degree felony charge. Coleman no longer
works in law enforcement or for Swisher County.

Vanita Gupta, an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education
Fund, Inc., who was part of the team of defense attorneys at the
hearings, said the indictments speak to Coleman's credibility.

"The developments today we just believe affirm the claim that we've
been making since we got involved which was that none of the
defendants had fair trials and that Tom Coleman lacked credibility and
none of the juries heard that testimony."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Derek