Thursday, November 30, 2006

End of the Tulia saga?

Texas' 7th Court of Appeals has upheld the conviction of Tom Coleman, the undercover narcotics officer on whose testimony dozens of later-pardoned defendants were sentenced to prison in the notorious Tulia drug stings that received national attention ("Perjury verdict upheld," Amarillo Globe News, Nov. 29).

Here's the opinion and other information about the case. See also daily coverage of Coleman's trial in Lubbock from Grits guest blogger Rev. Alan Bean.

Is this the end of the Tulia saga? So many things have happened as a result of what Tom Coleman did:
  • All of the verdicts were overturned and 35 people received Governor's pardons.
  • About fifty multi-jurisdictional narcotics task forces were first placed under control of the Texas Department of Public Safety, then lost their funding when many rebelled; nearly all disbanded.
  • The Texas Legislature passed a law requiring corroboration for informant testimony in undercover drug stings (provisions to corroborate officers were stripped out in the Senate).
  • Certain records about fired officers were made public at Texas' peace officer licensing agency, and agencies were required to check those records before hiring to address the problem of "gypsy cops."
  • Provisions were created to let innocent convicts in Texas out on bail pending final appeals when prosecutors agree they're not guilty. This law could get even more use now with the proliferation of innocence projects.
  • A much-acclaimed book was written on the subject by the reporter who broke the story.
It's possible Coleman's final conviction could be the end of the saga. But as I suggested yesterday, Rep. John Conyers, who will soon chair the US House Judiciary Committee, is a co-sponsor of federal "No More Tulias" legislation by Houston Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee that would require corroboration for testimony in drug cases made with federal grant money.

If Congress picks up the ball on that bill next year when Democrats take power, the magnitude of reaction to Coleman's errors will grow further still, and what began as a pebble tossed into a small pond in West Texas will have grown into quite a wave of change. Really, it already has.

UDPATE: More from Self-Determinatin

NUTHER UPDATE: Not over yet, says ACLU of Texas' Liberty Blog, which notes that not all of the pardoned Tulia defendants have received compensation for their wrongful imprisonment.


Anonymous said...

I guess I'm a cynic but coroborrating bad or false information is kind of what they do now. I don't put as much blame on the snitch as I do on the officers because in Atlanta, a snitch was the coroborration for the police and somebody died.

I just recently came across a case in Springfield, Illinois involving two Springfield police officers who were fired. They started out as narcotics investigators where they received award after award. Based on the awards, they became Detectives working homicides and after ten years it all unraveled.

They are now fired and looking back it began in narcotics where they used false information in affidavits, committed perjury, used informants to coroborrate crime stoppers information, claimed they found drugs in trash searches when no trash was there and the list of misconduct goes on and on.

What bothers me about this is that two prosecutors caught them lying at least three times and neither one of them did anything about it. Not doing anything let them lie for another seven years yet nothing is being done to the prosecutors.

In this case, the snitches coroborrated bad investigations so at least 1/2 of the problem could be corrected.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the Task Forces and Grant money: they cured the symptoms not the disease. They can outright outlaw narcotics task forces, however, you'll just see "other" new-age programs pop-up. Whether it's "Homeland Security", Widgit Enforcement, or whatever other flavor-of-the-month that is used to soak up federal grant money; all you narc-haters need to follow the money, not the dope.
Congress needs to do full blown GAO investigations and audits of all these grants, as most of them are all fluff, and make no substantial dent in the local crime problems.