Pubdate: Thu, 11 Mar 2004
Source: Associated Press
Copyright: 2004 The Associated Press
Author: Betsy Blaney, Associated Press Writer
Note: Without the superb efforts of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, MAP, 
and others in the reform community to bring this to the attention of the 
media and the public from the start the results would not likely be as below.
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


LUBBOCK, Texas - More than 40 people snared in a now-discredited drug
sting in the Texas Panhandle town of Tulia will share $5 million as
part of a settlement, an attorney for the plaintiffs said. The
agreement with the nearby city of Amarillo, announced Wednesday, also
ends the multiagency task force that ran the sting operation. It was
cheered by the NAACP and attorneys representing those arrested in what
many believe was a racially motivated operation.

"The settlement that was reached is truly historic," attorney Jeff
Blackburn told The Associated Press. "It represents the first example
of a responsible city government putting an end to irresponsible task
force system of narcotics enforcement."

All but one of the 46 people arrested - most of them black - will
receive some portion of the $5 million. One defendant died before
going to trial and is not included in the settlement, Blackburn said.

A claims administrator will determine how the funds will be

The settlement also will disband the multiagency task force that
oversaw the only undercover agent involved in the busts, Tom Coleman,
whose methods and testimony have been questioned.

More details were to be released Thursday in a news conference in

The case cast an often-unflattering light on the farming town of about
5,000 between Lubbock and Amarillo on the High Plains. Amarillo saw an
"injustice" and wanted to right it, Blackburn said.

Coleman, who is white, said he bought drugs from the defendants, but
he worked alone and used no audio or video surveillance. No drugs or
money were found during the arrests.

Mediation is ongoing with others named in the lawsuit - 26 counties
and three cities that were involved with the Panhandle Regional
Narcotics Trafficking Task Force.

Swisher County officials earlier approved a $250,000 settlement for
those imprisoned based on Coleman's testimony in exchange for the
defendants promising not to sue the county. Coleman no longer is an

Vanita Gupta, an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational
Fund who also represents the plaintiffs, commended the city of
Amarillo for doing the right thing.

"It's not simply that Tom Coleman was a rogue officer," she said. "The
city of Amarillo has recognized that federally funded task forces are
ineffective tools of law enforcement and they operate as rogue task
forces because they are unaccountable to any oversight mechanism."

Coleman, who testified at trials that he bought cocaine from the
defendants, is scheduled to stand trial May 24 on perjury charges
related to testimony he gave during evidentiary hearings.

Former state Judge Ron Chapman, who was brought out of retirement to
preside over a review of the cases, said in a report that Coleman was
"the most devious, nonresponsive witness this court has witnessed in
25 years on the bench in Texas."

A task force leader had testified that Coleman's former employers said
he needed constant supervision, was a discipline problem and tended to
run to his mother for help.

After their arrests, some of the first defendants who went to trial
received lengthy sentences, one as much as 90 years. That prompted
other defendants to take plea agreements for lesser terms out of fear
of lengthy sentences.

Gov. Rick Perry granted pardons to 35 of those convicted.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake