Thursday, January 29, 2009

Grits, Blakeslee on Tulia

It's been almost ten years since the infamous Tulia drug stings, but the fascination with and fallout from that unhappy case has yet to abate.

This evening at 7 p.m. in Austin at the Mexican American Cultural Center (600 River St.), author Nate Blakeslee and I have been invited as panelists for a discussion following the screening of the documentary film Tulia, Texas, which will air nationwide on PBS on February 10.

See Grits' review of the film when it premiered last year at the SXSW film festival, and a discussion guide for the event (pdf) created by the filmmakers.


Anonymous said...

Read Van de Kamp v. Goldstein (pdf), a strong endorsement of prosecutorial immunity from liability for official actions.

Even though this was not jailhouse snitch informant but a bad cop, how would this relate to the Tulia prosecutor, if any? No police reports, no evidence, etc.....

Was there any civil litigation brought against the prosecuotr?

Anonymous said...

Here is the link

Gritsforbreakfast said...

No civil litigation against the DA (Terry McEachern), but it's worth noting that he is the only prosecutor in living memory disciplined by the state bar for withholding evidence. He was later arrested over a DWI and lost his job over that indiscretion, not the Tulia episode.

The counties involved in the drug task force did see civil litigation - if I recall, they settled for $6 million total.

Alan Bean said...

Although the documentary itself just touches on the public policy ramifications of the Tulia story, the discussion guide you link to above goes into the matter in considerable detail.

Unfortunately, the unwieldy coalition that eventually exposed the problems in Tulia will never get media coverage. Journalists are storytellers and the story always works best when there is a single protagonist. In the case of this documentary, the hero is Jeff Blackburn. If the Tulia movie is ever made (and that is by no means certain) Vanita Gupta will be the prime mover.

Groups like the Texas ACLU, Friends of Justice and the Kunstler Fund will rarely be mentioned at all. The only problem(apart from the bruised egos of those involved) is that the impression is created that one individual or organization can single-handedly overturn the business-as-usual workings of the criminal justice system. It takes a diverse coalition; it takes time; and it takes luck. If Tom Coleman wasn't a psychopath it would have been impossible to overturn the Tulia sting. What happened was frightening; but it was all perfectly legal.

Alan Bean

Anonymous said...

"but it's worth noting that he is the only prosecutor in living memory disciplined by the state bar for withholding evidence."

I believe you when you say this, but it is truly incredible!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

He's definitely the only one in the last decade, and the only one I'm aware of, ever.

Anonymous said...

Charles Kiker here:

DA McEachern was appointed DA way back, maybe as far back as the mid 80s, (Alan Bean would know), and never had to face an opponent in an election until 2004. He had always been on the Democratic ticket, but ran as one of three candidates in the Republican primary in 2004, and came in third. It probably was the DWI in NM that did him in although the Tulia drug sting didn't help him any. He was unpopular with Hispanics,(he messed over a lot of them), and Irene Favila of Plainview was instrumental in getting many Hispanics registered, who then voted in the Republican primary and thankfully turned the rascal out.

Anonymous said...

Grits - if ya'll would provide beer and peanuts, me and ol' Charlie might drive down and view the festivities.


Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'd be happy to, Plato, but you'd have to set a land speed record to make the trek from Hub City in 2.5 hours. ;)

Definitely catch the show on Feb. 10, though.

Anonymous said...

I'll be coming to Austin the 30th for a meeting on the 31st. (Good ol' ACLU). If I had known about this earlier I might have scheduled my flight for Thursday. Give Nate my regards. Charles K

Anonymous said...

It's been 10 years and even though these and other similar situations have been exposed little has changed. Innocent people are still being convicted by corrupt cops and DA's who only want convictions, regardless of innocent or guilt.

Being from Tyler I know grits is aware of a similar situation that occurred her in the late 70's that was the basis for the book Smith County Justice. Nothing has changed in 30+ years in Smith County. We still have law enforcement that is willing to lie under oath to convict the innocent and a DA's office that ignores evidence of innocence, knowingly allows perjured testimony, withholds evidence and make undisclosed deals with jailhouse snitches.

It makes one wonder if things will ever change.

Anonymous said...

5:38 the majority of voters in Smith County speak when they keep electing some of the same officials to the various public offices, with emphasis on the sheriff of your county.

Unfortunately, majority voters set the folkways and mores of your community, whether they be positive or negative, depending on how you look at it.

That's why I have always advocated term limits.

Anonymous said...

It is sad that an entire county of people and in a larger perspective our state are judged by this incident.

There are many good people in the Tulia area of all races. Unfortunately people are attempting to label Swisher County and Tulia residents as racist because of one dishonorable police officer.

However, although rarely mentioned I happen to know (from inside knowledge) that many (but to be fair not all) of the people arrested in the drug raid actually admitted to selling drugs when questioned by the FBI.

I was also a prison guard at a facility where two of the Tulia defendants served their time. They were extremely violent individuals while incarcerated.

Basically I believe that Coleman was a crook and had no business wearing a badge. However many of the people that were arrested were crooks as well and have since committed serious crimes.

I believe that the whole story needs to be told.