Judge, Lawyers Won't Reveal Settlement Amounts
Just as Tulia residents began getting their checks from a $6 million
civil rights settlement, a new controversy began brewing over whether
the public is entitled to know how much each plaintiff receives.
Retired state district Judge Ron Chapman, who decided how the
settlement would be divided among the 45 defendants, said the checks
were delivered Thursday night. The defendants will share $4 million,
while some of the lawyers who represented them will receive $2 million.
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Defendants Get Share of Drug-Bust Settlement Cash
TULIA - When Billy Wafer fantasized about his share of a $6 million lawsuit
settlement, he imagined making the biggest purchase of his life within days
of getting the check. Payday came Friday for the 45-year-old, who was
ensnared with 10 percent of Tulia's black residents in a now-discredited
"At first I wanted to buy a house here in Tulia in the next few days, but
now we're going to wait a while," he said on Friday. "We're first-time home
buyers, and we just learned that there are a lot of things we need to do
before we buy a house."
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A concern about police conduct and respect for citizens' rights in the
crackdown, to start Aug. 1, brought about 20 residents to the
municipal courtroom to meet with Conroe Police Chief Charlie Ray. The
meeting placed individual citizens and community organizations of
Dugan, the mostly black area the crackdown will target, in a position
to ask questions and express their concerns.
The War on Drugs in Conroe was declared in June by Mayor Tommy Metcalf
and supported by Ray. It has already received unanimous approval from
the City Council to be funded from a citation collection agency. The
effort will include more officers and undisclosed tactics to the tune
of more than $300,000 between Aug. 1 and Sep. 2005. Monday night many
citizens made reference to the crackdown as "the mayor's plan" since
he first introduced the idea and the funding source. However, Mayor
Tommy Metcalf was not present at the meeting due to a previous family
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Judge Ron Chapman has played a key role in changing the fates of the "Tulia
defendants" caught up in a West Texas drug scandal five years ago.
Chapman, a Trinidad resident and former 5th District congressional
candidate, is now nearing the end of his task.
Interviews between Chapman and the 45 Tulia residents victimized in the
scandal are likely to conclude this week, the judge said, and $4 million in
settlement money from a civil rights lawsuit could be dispersed by next
week. Chapman was asked to determine how the settlement money from a federal
lawsuit against the multi-county task force was to be dispersed among the
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Local Officials Working On Plan To Use Money From Drug Task
Gov. Rick Perry will apparently get his way with $1.7 million in money
left over from the Panhandle's now-defunct drug task force. Local
officials have decided to get together and work out a plan to use the
money - seized over the years by the former task force - to pay for
local drug-fighting programs that the governor's office refused to
fund. "I talked to (the governor's office), and I don't think they're
going to change their mind any," Amarillo Police Chief Jerry Neal
said. "We certainly don't agree with this, but it looks like we're
going to have to go with what they want."
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Spokesman Says $1.7 Million Available
The fight over funding to replace the Panhandle's regional drug task
force got a little more complicated this week, with Gov. Rick Perry's
office telling local officials to look closer to home for the money
they are seeking. Robert Black, spokesman for Perry, said Tuesday the
Panhandle has plenty of money for fighting narcotics, but it is up to
Amarillo's local government to access that money.
"There is, right now, $1.7 million in the bank with the city of
Amarillo," Black said. "That's program income money left over from the
task force that they could be putting to use. Instead, they came to us
with their hand out looking for new money when they have the money
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In what could be the mother of all ironies stemming from the Tulia
drug bust, one of the few federal narcotics grants coming to the
Panhandle next year could be used to prosecute the man some say cost
the area its drug task force and hundreds of thousands in federal dollars.
Gov. Rick Perry's Criminal Justice Division is considering is a
$57,000 grant to Swisher County to pay for the prosecution of Tom
Coleman, the undercover agent who conducted the Tulia drug sting.
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Perry Nixes Request To Replace Lost Task Force Money
Panhandle officials are steamed at Gov. Rick Perry after his office
rejected an application to replace money lost when the area's
narcotics task force was disbanded last month. In a brief letter
received by the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission Wednesday, the
governor's Criminal Justice Division rejected the application for
narcotics fighting funds. The funds would have replaced money lost
when the Panhandle's own drug task force was dissolved in the wake of
the controversial Tulia drug sting.
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TULIA -- Showroom-new SUVs line the nubby roads that intersect Sixth
Street. The vehicles -- a loaded Ford Explorer, a Ford Expedition, a
convertible PT Cruiser, among others -- are the only outward signs of
the renewal of lives lost.
A year ago, the cars were not there. Some of the drivers weren't
there, either. They were in prison for drug crimes they may not have
committed; their convictions were based on testimony from an
undercover officer now charged with perjury.
Last June, Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill freeing those who were still
in prison, but their legal battles continue as they try to get the
bogus convictions expunged.
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Terry McEachern may soon discover what it's like to sit in the
defendant's chair in a Swisher County courtroom. The now lame-duck
district attorney prosecuted the convictions of 38 mostly black
defendants swept up in the now-infamous 1999 Tulia drug sting.
McEachern charged small-time drug users as dealers and then lied to
judges and defense lawyers to secure decades-long prison sentences. On
May 26, the State Bar of Texas filed a disciplinary petition against
McEachern with the Texas Supreme Court, the first step toward
disbarring the prosecutor. In the coming months, the state Supreme
Court will review the complaint and likely assign a visiting district
judge to preside over the case in a Swisher County civil court. If
McEachern is found guilty, he faces suspension, reprimand or
disbarment, says the state bar's Mark Pinckard. Observer readers know
the Tulia story well thanks to the groundbreaking reporting of former
editor Nate Blakeslee, whose story in these pages ["Color of Justice,"
June 23, 2000] exposed the tangled past of narcotics agent Tom
Coleman. Coleman's uncorroborated undercover work resulted in the
arrest of 10 percent of Tulia's black population.
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TULIA, Texas - A judge who ruled that an undercover agent in the now
discredited 1999 Tulia drug busts was not a credible witness is
returning to this West Texas town - this time to decide how to divvy
up a $6 million settlement among 45 defendants.
The Tulia cases brought national attention to this farming and
ranching town of about 5,000 between Amarillo and Lubbock. Several
civil rights groups claimed the drug arrests were racially motivated
because 39 of the 46 arrested or charged in the 18-month operation
were black. The agent was white.
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Man Claims He Suffered Abuse During 2001 Drug Raid
Almost two months after it was settled, the specter of the Tulia drug bust
lawsuit still hangs over the Texas Panhandle, haunting city and county
officials who were wrong if they thought they were done with the
controversy. The latest incarnation of the Tulia suit comes in the form of
a federal suit, similar in form to the Tulia action, that was filed this
year by an Amarillo man who says he was abused by members of the same drug
task force that conducted the controversial 1999 Tulia drug sting.
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The Amarillo Police Department Narcotics Unit is getting the word out.
"We'll let the dopers know they won't be tolerated," said APD Sgt.
The narcotics unit is dedicated to drug enforcement inside Amarillo in
the wake of the recent breakup of the Panhandle Regional Narcotics
Trafficking Task Force.
"We're just tired of all the negative publicity," Clay said, referring
to the Tulia case.
One way to create "good news" is to fax press releases to local media
outlets every time the unit makes a drug bust in Amarillo, he said.
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Amarillo is searching for a new way to fund its drug enforcement
division after the city had to pay those who were wrongly accused in
the Tulia drug sting and after dropping out of and effectively
dissolving the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Trafficking Task Force.
Perhaps now is a good time for the people of the Panhandle to think
about the war on drugs, since it will most likely affect their taxes
in the near future.
Many drugs that are illegal are very dangerous substances. But why are
they so dangerous? With most drugs, they are dangerous or they are
made more dangerous because of their illegal status. Let's consider
methamphetamine, for instance. Were meth labs as common in the 1970s
as they are today? No, because methamphetamines were easier to come
by. But as laws changed in an attempt to reduce meth use, more
inventive and dangerous ways of producing it were put into practice.
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David Maas (May 21 letter, "Tulia blackmail sets bad precedent") is
correct that the actions of the drug task force which oversaw the
controversial Tulia cases in 1999 are going to cost taxpayers across
the Panhandle huge amounts. He also is correct that a precedent has
been set - future arrestees may seek legal counsel to investigate the
actions of law enforcement involved in their own cases.
However he is incorrect that this is a "bad" precedent.
In fact, this sounds like a great precedent to me. Perhaps now the
future actions and tactics employed by police in not only Northwest
Texas, but also nationwide, more likely will respect proper legal and
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Entities Want Money Once Targeted To Task Force
The Amarillo Globe-News Cities and counties across the Texas Panhandle are
making a play to hang on to federal funds that used to go to the region's
soon-to-be-defunct narcotics task force. The Panhandle Regional Planning
Commission gave approval Thursday to a grant application that would keep
some of the lost funds in the area for use in youth drug treatment and
"We're trying to do something in advance of the end of this task force,"
said John Kiehl, regional services director with the PRPC. "The problem
with the loss of this group is there will be a lot of communities and
counties that will be left to hang with a drug problem that is not going away."
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Officials from the State Bar of Texas took the next step in their
disciplinary action against Hale and Swisher Counties District
Attorney Terry McEachern, the prosecutor in the controversial 1999
Tulia drug bust.
The State Bar on Wednesday filed a disciplinary petition against
McEachern with the Texas Supreme Court, the next step in the process
of bringing the disciplinary action to trial. McEachern opted for a
public jury civil trial rather than an administrative hearing. The
trial would likely be held in Plainview before the end of the year. If
he loses the trial, McEachern will face punishment ranging from a
public reprimand to disbarment.
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Bill Cosby is a beloved icon. So it gave me no pleasure to follow him
to the stage at Constitution Hall on May 17, the 50th anniversary of
Brown v. Board of Education, after listening to his remarks.
For his philanthropy toward institutions that have worked on behalf of
African Americans, Cosby was being honored by the three institutions,
including the Legal Defense and Educational Fund, that share
responsibility for winning the Supreme Court decision that broke the
back of American apartheid. In his acceptance remarks, however, Cosby
told the well-heeled, black-tie audience that "the lower economic
people are not holding up their end in this deal."
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Potter County left with no choice.
The aftershocks of the controversial 1999 Tulia drug sting continue to
rattle in Amarillo. Left with few alternatives, Potter County commissioners
unanimously approved Monday a resolution for a grant application to the
Governor's Criminal Justice Division.
The grant will partially fund the salary for an assistant district attorney
whose sole responsibility is the prosecution of drug offenses and also pay
for training for the sheriff's department to handle the cleanup of
methamphetamine labs. This is the cost of doing business these days when
those ultimately responsible for wrongdoing are not as accountable as those
culpable in name only.
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State Group's Report Says Task Forces Target Minorities
Regional narcotics task forces like the one that led to the ill-fated
roundup in Tulia five years ago should be disbanded and their funding
used to enhance other aspects of law enforcement, according to a new
The 18-page "Flawed Enforcement" study by the American Civil Liberties
Union of Texas also charges that the task forces ignore the stated
mandate of the federal agency that funds them of focusing on "violent
crime and serious offenders."
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