The Tulia, Texas Scandal
Justice At Last
In April 2003, Coleman was indicted on three counts of aggravated perjury by a
That June, a bill signed by Texas Governor Rick Perry passed through legislature, which allowed 11 men and a woman to be freed from prison on their own recognizance, pending appeals. Two other defendants remained incarcerated because one faced drug charges in another county and the other's bail was pending on a direct appeal. Phil Magers' 2003 United Press International article, quoted Blanca Labord, the general counsel for Senator John Whitmire saying that the senator, "felt it was unconscionable that they [the defendants] remain in prison when everybody including the prosecutor, the judge and the defense lawyers-had agreed that it was a travesty of justice for them to remain incarcerated when the only witness against them had been completely discredited and indicted for perjury." The senator was one of several lawmakers that passed another bill through legislation in 2001, known as the "Tulia Law" that prohibited convicting a felon based on the sole evidence of an undercover agent. It was clear that the defendants were finally on their way to receiving the justice they had long awaited.
In August, Governor Perry granted full pardons to 35 of the defendants convicted in the Tulia drug sting. According to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's article "Bad Times in Tulia, TX," Vanita Gupta, a staff attorney for the organization, was quoted as saying that the pardons were "a huge victory in these cases" commending the governor for "doing the right thing." However, the battle was not yet over.
In March 2004, the City of
Pay $5 million in damages to the 45 former Tulia defendants (one person died shortly after conviction and did not collect damages);
Disband the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Task Force that it established to oversee the sting operation; and
Require early retirement for two Amarillo Police Department officers who were responsible for supervising the sting's sole undercover agent, Tom Coleman.
In Adam Liptak's 2004 New York Times article, Jeff Blackburn was quoted saying that, "This is undoubtedly that last major chapter in the Tulia story, and this will conclude the efforts of people in Tulia to get some compensation and justice." Liptak stated that the money would be divided amongst all of the defendants, "based on a formula that will take into account whether they served time in prison and how long." Tulia's black community and the attorney's who represented them were pleased with the final outcome. They had finally triumphed after a long battle.