Pubdate: Tue,  9 Mar 2004
Source: Amarillo Globe-News (TX)
Copyright: 2004 Amarillo Globe-News
Author: Greg Cunningham
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


Both sides involved in a federal lawsuit filed over the controversial
1999 Tulia drug sting are participating in settlement negotiations,
and sources close to the talks say a deal is near. Potter County
Commissioners Court on Monday became the first of about 40 entities
named in the suit to vote for settlement, but sources say the final
agreement likely will involve all the defendants in a mass settlement.

"We're still working on a deal with the plaintiffs' lawyers," said
Scott Brumley, assistant Potter County attorney. "We've tentatively
struck a deal, but until the ink's dry on the document, we can't
release any details."

Attorneys for the two women who filed the suit - Tonya White and Zury
Bossett - confirmed the negotiations were ongoing but refused to
provide much detail.

"There isn't a settlement," Amarillo lawyer Jeff Blackburn said.
"We've been working on one since the day we filed this lawsuit. That's
what any lawyer does. There's a process going on, and so far
everything has been going positive."

Blackburn said attorneys from both sides met in Austin last week for
court-mandated settlement talks and made progress.

White and Bossett filed the suit in Amarillo's federal district court
last year only hours after Gov. Rick Perry issued pardons for all of
the defendants from the bust.

The suit names every county in the Texas Panhandle as a defendant,
along with numerous cities, all of which are part of the narcotics
task force that supervised the bust. It alleges the civil rights of
White and Bossett were violated in 1999 when they were among 46
people, 39 of them black, arrested following an 18-month undercover

Among the many twists and turns during the ensuing years, the
undercover agent who conducted the investigation, Tom Coleman, was
indicted for perjury after allegedly lying during a hearing related to
the cases.

Coleman's perjury trial is scheduled to begin May 24. His attorneys
have asked that his defense of the federal suit be delayed because it
may conflict with his defense against the criminal charges.

Swisher County Judge Harold Keeter confirmed Monday that Swisher
County is part of the settlement negotiations.

Keeter said with so many entities - and their insurance companies -
involved, coupled with the possibility of a long legal fight ahead, a
settlement was almost a certainty.

"When you start talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars in
litigation costs, that becomes a financial decision," Keeter said.
"When it was just Swisher County (being sued), we could have some
dialogue with the insurance company. But where you've got this many
entities involved, we pretty much have to let them (the insurers) make
a decision."

Sources close to the negotiations say any settlement likely will
involve all of the municipalities that were sued and also will provide
protection against further suits from the other people who were
arrested in the bust.

However, any settlement would not involve an admission of wrongdoing,
Keeter said.

"We still stand by what we have said for the last five years," Keeter
said. "You're never going to hear us admit there was anything done
wrong by Swisher County." 
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