Pubdate: Thu, 18 Mar 2004
Source: Amarillo Globe-News (TX)
Copyright: 2004 Amarillo Globe-News
Author: Dave Henry


It cost Amarillo $5 million to keep the Johnnie Cochran and Alan Dershowitz 
types at bay.

And strangely enough, that was a bargain.

It boggles the mind, if not the pocketbook, to fathom what it could have 
cost to fight the 40 or so victims of the infamous 1999 Tulia drug sting in 
a court of law.

For starters, the city of Amarillo had a degree of culpability, at least 
from the legal perspective, for what transpired in Tulia since it was the 
lead agency in the now doomed Panhandle Regional Narcotics Trafficking Task 

On paper, or more likely a legal pad, Amarillo was going to pay something.

Also, the legal fees must be taken into account.

For the sake of argument, which in this case costs mucho money, there would 
have been so many lawyers glomming on that even O.J. Simpson himself would 
have had to pirate satellite television just to make ends meet.

Had Amarillo decided to fight, the city would have been risking easily 10 
times the settlement amount it reached last week.

Clearly, the city was backed into a corner and decided to cut its losses.

 From a financial perspective, that was the best the city could do.

However, when it comes to Tulia, the money trail is so unnavigable and 
treacherous that Hansel and Gretel would need far more than bread crumbs to 
keep from getting lost forever.

"There are a lot of confusing aspects to (the Tulia case)," said Amarillo 
attorney Jeff Blackburn, who represents some of the Tulia victims and 
helped negotiate Amarillo's settlement.

That comment is a rarity for a lawyer - an understatement.

Blackburn went on to say the Tulia case is "as confusing as hell."

Now that's more like it.

What seems most confusing is how Amarillo gets socked with a $5 million 
payoff while Swisher County, which is home to Tulia, gets off for a measly 
quarter of a million.

Swisher County reached a $250,000 settlement with many of the Tulia victims 
who were fingered by former undercover officer Tom Coleman - provided the 
victims agreed not to sue the county.

Let's see.

The county officials who were primarily responsible for turning Coleman 
loose on the Tulia citizenry manage to get their county off the hook for 

It is when you head north to Amarillo that the logic goes south.

Amarillo, on the other hand, gets a $5 million whammy.

No matter how many times you punch the calculator, it just doesn't add up.

If anything, Amarillo is guilty of not having the foresight to see the 
legal ramifications of involvement - and leadership - in the PRNTTF.

There are five million reasons to see that the two soon-to-be-retired 
members of the Amarillo Police Department who were supposedly overseeing 
the PRNTTF's actions were either incompetent in their duties or simply a 
glaring example of how the PRNTFF operated without guidelines or standards.

Either way, it still doesn't add up.

Shouldn't those most responsible for the Tulia fiasco, that being Swisher 
County officials, be held to a higher legal standard than those whose main 
participation in the botched bust was signing on as part of loose-knit law 
enforcement group that was void of leadership?

More than likely, there are more than 20 counties and cities that will have 
to fork over money because of Coleman and those who put him on the streets 
of Tulia.

The overwhelming majority of elected officials and members of law 
enforcement in these counties and cities wouldn't know Tom Coleman from Tom 
Cruise, but they'll still have to pay up.

According to Blackburn, Swisher County is not off the hook.

"That $250,000 - that was done at a time when we were desperate to get 
these folks out (of prison) and we needed the county's agreement to do it. 
Frankly, I don't think any of us ever believed that was full justice or 
even close to adequate compensation for these folks. That never set a bench 
mark as far as we were concerned with an adequate amount."

Blackburn said Tuesday negotiations with counties and cities in the PRNTTF 
as part of a group settlement are ongoing, and those negotiations include 
Swisher County.

No one wants to see Swisher County bled dry like T. Boone Pickens sticking 
a straw in the Ogallala Aquifer. And obviously, those representing the 
Tulia victims are well aware of where the money is. Tulia may have the 
richest land and the finest people - but Amarillo has more riches, period.

But if someone, or some county, is going to have to ante up, shouldn't it 
be those ultimately responsible for the travesty of justice that occurred 
in Tulia?

Dave Henry is an editorial writer for the Amarillo Globe-News, P.O. Box 
2091, Amarillo, Texas 79166. His e-mail address is  His column appears Thursday.
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