Friday, March 12, 2004
Deep in the Heart of Texas

The debacle in Tulia, Texas where rogue officer Tom Coleman was allowed to run roughshod over the civil rights of 46 defendants while under the protection of a federally funded law-enforcement task force has ended with some small measure of justice for those who were wrongly incarcerated based on Coleman's utterly false testimony.

Although nothing can ever really compensate these people for the time they lost with their loved ones, the $5 million settlement and the dismantling of the multiagency task force that ran the racially motivated operation will ease some of the pain.

"It's not simply that Tom Coleman was a rogue officer," said Vanita Gupta, an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund who also represents the plaintiffs. "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."

Although the settlement was partly based on fear of a larger judgment against the city, the town's counsel agrees.

Marcus Norris, Amarillo's city attorney, called the settlement the responsible thing to do, and added that the city recognizes the "misjustice" done in Tulia by the task force.

We hope that the dastardly agent will now suffer the consequences for the injustice he inflicted on the innocent citizens of Tulia.

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.

Meanwhile further litigation is pending and the victims may receive further monetary compensation down the road.

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.

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

All 46 people arrested -- except for one who died -- will receive some portion of the $5 million. A claims administrator will divide the funds.

Congratulations to the fine team who pursued this investigation into a corrupted system with such success. We love a happy ending.


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