HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Investigation Opened in Case Criticized by Rights Groups
Pubdate: Wed, 28 Aug 2002
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2002 The New York Times Company
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)
Bookmark: (Racial Issues)
Bookmark: (Perjury)


AUSTIN (AP) -- With a federal investigation dragging on, Texas Attorney 
General John Cornyn has opened a state investigation into a 1999 Tulia drug 
bust that civil rights groups say was racially motivated.

"There has been some confusion over whether there even was an ongoing 
investigation," Cornyn said. "I became concerned things had gotten bogged 

In a letter Monday to R. Alexander Acosta, deputy assistant attorney 
general for the U.S. Department of Justice civil rights division, Cornyn 
said he told his staff to open an investigation and has asked the Texas 
Department of Public Safety to join.

Cornyn said he didn't want to interfere with a federal investigation but 
said a state review is needed to see if any Texas laws were broken.

In his letter, Cornyn asked that state investigators be allowed to review 
the federal case. A Justice Department spokeswoman would say only that the 
federal investigation is still open and declined further comment.

Swisher County authorities arrested 43 people in a drug sting, including 37 
blacks. Of those arrested 11 were found guilty and another 17 accepted plea 

Civil rights groups have vigorously protested the Tulia bust, which brought 
national attention and questions about the way the state's drug task forces 
conduct investigations.

Many of the cases against black Tulia residents were based solely on the 
testimony of officer Tom Coleman, who said he spent 18 months working 
undercover to make drug cases against a large portion of the town's black 

Coleman worked alone and used no audio or video surveillance. Little or no 
corroborating evidence was introduced during the trials. Coleman himself 
was charged with theft and abuse of power during the investigation. The 
charges against him were later dropped.

The charges against the last defendant were dropped in July.

Jeff Blackburn, an Amarillo attorney who represents several of the Tulia 
defendants, said the investigation is long overdue.

"We have demanded an investigation for well over a year now," Blackburn 
said. "However, it's one thing to investigate, it's another to take real 
action. And Mr. Cornyn is in a position to take action. His office needs to 
take over these cases and see to it that some justice finally starts 
getting done."

"It's about time," state Rep. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said Monday night. 
"He's being very political. Where was he when it was going on?"

The case has drawn national media attention in recent weeks with Cornyn 
running for U.S. Senate. The Republican said Monday his decision to open an 
investigation during his campaign was a coincidence.

"This is part of my job," he said. "I do that regardless of whether I am up 
for election or not."

Swisher County Sheriff Larry Stewart and the district attorney, Terry 
McEachern, have denied allegations of racial bias and stand by the arrests 
and convictions. So has Coleman, who no longer works in law enforcement.

McEachern did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment.

While Cornyn's office investigates the arrests, it also has received a 
habeas corpus appeal from one of the Tulia defendants. The attorney 
general's office will have the job of defending the state in federal court.

Cornyn said the state investigation shouldn't conflict with the appeal.

"The job of every prosecutor is not merely to convict but to see that 
justice is done," Cornyn said. "There is no limitation to finding out what 
the facts are."
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