Sunday, March 09, 2008

Sheriff real, unintentional star of 'Tulia' film

The slew of drug arrests in Tulia in 1999 set off a wave of legal wrangling and political action that turned the state's criminal justice establishment on its ear, and ultimately resulted in the pardoning of dozens of wrongfully convicted people and the dismantling of Texas 50+ Byrne-grant funded drug task forces.

Now, nearly a decade later, those ripples from the legal and political world are steadily filtering into the cultural milieu.

Yesterday afternoon I attended the premier of a new documentary - Tulia, Texas - which opened at the SXSW film festival. Tulia activist Freddie Brookins and his wife, parents of one of those wrongfully arrested, along with Nate Blakeslee, author of a book on the case, attended and answered questions afterward. The missus and I joined them and the filmmakers, Cassandra Herman and Kelly Whalen, afterward at Ruby's BBQ for a meal and a chat.

The hour-long film, which was funded through a public television grant and may wind up on PBS within the next year, featured more extensive interviews with undercover agent Tom Coleman and Sheriff Larry Stewart (the real star of the show) than have previously been available - Blakeslee told me he never got that kind of face time with Coleman in all his years covering the story, and I'm not sure anyone has. I've never heard the disgraced peace officer speak at such length except on the stand.

I say Sheriff Stewart was the star of the show, because his comments more than anyone made sense of the situation for outsiders - not because he explained it well, but because he epitomized the deep denial of any wrongdoing or wrong thinking shared by so many in Tulia. His statements seemed so oblivious to facts proven in both the courtroom and the extensive paper trail documentation, you almost felt sorry for the guy, who clearly was in way over his head.


One's sympathy dried up, though, as evidence mounted through the film that Tom Coleman's statements repeatedly didn't match the facts (which resulted, ultimately, in his perjury conviction), and stories emerge of families losing loved ones for several years based on this man's uncorroborated word.

The film is visually gorgeous, and the filmmakers had been tracking the case since 2002, so they had lots of footage from the courtroom drama over the years. I attended several of the events and court hearing featured in the show, and found myself scanning the crowd scenes looking for (and finding) many familiar faces.

Attorney Jeff Blackburn similarly came off in the show as both a legal hero and quite a character, which if you know him is a pretty accurate portrayal. Jeff's a real piece of work, and it shows. Now that he's running the Innocence Project at Texas Tech, I'd guess this video should help significantly with his fundraising; I hope so, anyway.

Most coverage of what happened in Tulia falls along one of two paths - tracking the legal case, as this film and Nate's book do, or tracking the political process, which has dominated much of the MSM news coverage over the years. The piece that you didn't get from the film was that a large-scale, statewide movement developed around the case that passed several corrective laws and ultimately convinced the state to abolish Texas' drug task force system entirely.

It would be possible to view this film and think, "This is just a story about an aberration in a rural backwater, it doesn't happen anywhere else." But drug task forces nationwide operate on an essentially similar model to the one in Tulia. That's a point I wish the film more strongly emphasized, especially at a time when the Byrne grant program and drug task forces nationwide face major budget cuts. President Bush want to de-fund the task forces, which in some states are responsible for up to 85% of all drug arrests.

Indeed, the film only hinted at the odd, left-right coalition that worked together on the political end of the Tulia saga. A questioner after the show expressed surprise that Bill O'Reilly took up the Tulians cause, and the filmmakers were at a loss to explain why. But really, conservatives were as alarmed at this case as liberals. To me, that's one of the most important new developments from the whole episode.

Nationally, the Heritage Foundation and the National Taxpayers Union have been more active opposing drug task force funding than any liberal group. Then-House Criminal Jurisprudence Chairman Terry Keel (R) and Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa (D) spearheaded the relevant legislation that ultimately led to the task forces' demise in Texas and a requirement for corroborating evidence for testimony of undercover drug informants, while Gov. Perry's pardon placed his permanent imprimatur on the case.

Meanwhile, the Tulia episode taught organizations working at the capitol in Austin who'd previously been on opposite sides of the fence to work together for the first time, a development that contributed greatly to coalitions pursuing other criminal justice reforms like strengthening probation or expanding treatment capacity in the justice system.

All that to say, this film captured an important piece, but IMO not the full the legacy of the Tulia case, which in some ways has yet to fully play out. I've wondered if we may look back in a couple of decades and see Tulia as a major turning point for the criminal justice system, an event that permanently changed the terms of debate about America's war on drugs. I hope so.

BLOGVERSATION: See another early review from the Drug Law Blog. See also from Panhandle Truth Squad, a story about Jeff Blackburn demonstrating thta some men are born to greatness, and others have greatness "spilled upon them."


Anonymous said...

Scott: You use the terms "wrongfully convicted" and "wrongfully arrested" describing the Tulia folks. While those terms are correct in a legal sense (and that's the rules of the game), one continuously hears and reads of some, if not a lot of the Tulia defendants, have been re-arrested and convicted of similar offenses. Do you know if there is any documented evidence that this is so (the rearrrests and convictions) or are they old wives tales? Many of those involved in this Tulia matter, on both sides, didn't have clean hands.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

A handful have received new charges, but to my knowledge the number is in the single digits, out of 46 people arrested.

As Jeff Blackburn said in the movie, some of the folks clearly were "in the life." But just as many were without question innocent people who were set up. And in ALL cases the only evidence was Coleman's word.

It would be wrong to claim the defendants were "all innocent," but quite a few of them definitively were, and for the rest there was no conclusive evidence of guilt.

jigmeister said...

The methodology that drug task forces have used for years is basically flawed. Paying undercovers either based on the quantity of dope purchased or number of arrests made, encouraged these people to make bad cases.(some of them made a great deal of money) Task forces also often used undercovers from other task forces.

I can't believe that any DA would file charges on dope dealers without the dope. How would you even distinguish real from turkey dope (not that it is a legal requirement in delivery cases). I do know that many rural counties have direct file systems where there is no DA review.

And how did the background of the undercover in Tulia stay hidden in the face of discovery and Brady?

I have also expressed my view, based on experience, that task forces were an way for police agencies to get rid of their bad apples, without the necessity of firing them.

The history of drug task forces all over the state is bad.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"task forces were an way for police agencies to get rid of their bad apples, without the necessity of firing them"

There's absolutely no question this is true. If you're going to assign someone to work under a different supervisor, will it be your best employee or the one who causes you all the headaches? The task forces in Texas were almost a repository for problem cops.

Anonymous said...

Drug task force members and TABC agents are very similar, IMO.

Don said...

"how did the background of the undercover stay hidden in the face of discovery". First of all, they had totally incompetent court appointed attorneys. Then, when Coleman's Morton background did come up, I think the judge suppressed, or otherwise wouldn't allow the evidence. Coleman was far from the only culprit. The judge, sherrif, DA, all of them should have been thrown under the jail IMO. Remember, Jeff Blackburn didn't get in on it until the idiots originally appointed to represent these people had allowed the travesty to happen. Cochran County dropped the charges on Coleman when he paid $7000 restitution.

Don said...

To Anonymous 11:46 A.M.--Come on. Seems like every time someone brings up Tulia, somebody comes up with this crap that some of them were rearrested. What the hell does that have to do with the fact that they were railroaded in this particular case? This "well, they were guilty of something" attitude is how we are gradually disposing of the Constitution. The notion that some of these people may have committed a crime later somehow vindicates what happened to them in Tulia scares me. What, we have preemptive arrests now? The terms that Scott used are not just "correct in a legal sense". They are factually correct. If it is not a wrongful arrest and conviction when there is virtually no evidence, then what would, in your opinion, constitute a wrongful arrest and conviction?

jigmeister said...

$7,000 and no charges! That really covers the cost of the settlement.

I hope there were a few sustained complaints to the bar about the attorneys that handled those cases, including the DA. Even below average defense attorneys could have weeded this junk out. I suppose with the help of a very blind judge this could happen.

I have actually seen this happen in larger jurisdictions with bad cops, but not undercovers who had to testify, and not to this extent and not with one big sting.

Anonymous said...

People need to seperate out racism and hate and do their lawful thing. Yes, I know, that won't happen. However, it doesn't matter is they were "rearrested for similar events." The seperate issue here is....he lied and continued to lie in this issue. Many officers do that. So, if they were rearrested it doesn't matter because he was their to uphold the law - not turn it over, not lie to get what he wanted and not lie to get those that were "in the life" a conviction.

Grits, do know if those that were arrested are eligible for repayment from the state?

Anonymous said...

To Jigmeister:

I'm writing strictly from memory here, but I think the Texas Bar Assn. investigated the DA, and imposed sanctions on him, but made it a case of a kind of deferred adjudication or probation (not sure of the legal terms for this kind of deal--maybe Scott can help out here). Anyway, he had something of a mar on his record out of this, but no real consequences as far as his continuing practice of law. He was defeated in his bid for reelection in 2004, but IMO that defeat was more a result of his conviction on a DWI charge in NM than for his involvement in the drug sting. He is in private practice in Plainview now. As for the assertion about rearrests, it is true that some, at least four or five of them, were in subsequent difficulties with the law. The last I knew one of them was on the lam. But again, what does that have to do with the absence of due process. I don't know whether all of them were factually innocent, or whether all of them were factually guilty, or what percentage between all and none. That was the problem. Nobody knew. Coleman was such a pitifully mixed up character with delusions of his own greatness, that I doubt if he knew. Some of my friends (who were very cordial to me in private in this whole mess but would scarcely acknowledge my presence in public), said, "Everybody knows that ------ is a drug dealer." Therefore, he must be guilty of this, and if not of this, then of something else. Therefore, the whole thing was okay. But nothing about it was okay. There was a string of CJS incompetence and malfeasance including perjury and obstruction of justice that should have led to revocation of law enforcement licenses and even jail beyond Tom Coleman, who was a pawn and a patsy in the whole deal.

Charles Kiker, Tulia

PS: Incidentally, if Alan and Nancy Bean and I had not moved to Tulia shortly before this unfolded, IMO the whole thing would have flown right under the radar.

jigmeister said...


Do you still live there? It must have really torn up that community.

Frankly, I am happy to see the demise of the task forces, though some of the personnel were very dedicated people and good cops.

I have some experience with the one in Houston. I was the supervising DA over major narcotics in the early 90's for a couple of years, and had recurrent problems despite intensive training efforts; particularly with things like undercover payment records, second sets of offense reports that were never provided to the DA's and obviously never revealed to the defense. Far too frequent police shootings. Cops that made too many cases and cops that did nothing. I don't think (hope) we had much in the way of perjured testimony.

On more than one occasion Johnny Holmes threatened to take our support away from the task force, only to be persuaded that they did some good. But in retrospect the dope problem never went away and frankly won't anymore than prostitution and gambling will.

In some places, drug enforcement was a way to practice racism though I suspect it occurred more in rural areas.

Crack users were generally black, powder users generally white, meth users were rare then, but generally white, etc. So if you went after crack, the people being arrested were black. Midlevel people, Kilo up to say 20 kilos were often hispanic. So obviously profiling was going to occur. The white kids using powder were rarely caught.

The drug abuse problem really can lead to other crime and does decimate some communities, but it's time for us to re-think our approach to the problem, and perhaps the role of the criminal justice system.

Anonymous said...

While those terms are correct in a legal sense (and that's the rules of the game)

God you are a simpleton.

Don said...

To Charles: Hi, I live in Levelland. (One of the original court appointed attorneys, Anna Ricker, now practices here. Thanks.) You echoed my sentiments precisely. DA got a slap on the wrist; the rest of them--nothing. I think the sherrif and judge were even reelected, right? And you are right about the DA's DUI being the main reason he was not reelected. That is the part of the problem that most people don't see. This thing actually probably solidified that town as much as it tore it apart. The denial was, and is, nothing short of amazing. As Scott said about Stewart in the film, the guy doesn't get it. He, as well as many people in Tulia, apparently still think they did nothing wrong! It's scary. Plus, I contend that Tulia was notable only in that they got a little ambitious and tried to railroad 46 of them in one fell swoop, while many jurisdictions did pretty much the same thing two or three at a time. Rural Texas Criminal Justice, especially around here. . .well, you'd just have to be there. What about the juries who convicted the first nine. BBC asked a woman juror why she thought her defendant was guilty. She replied: "Wayall, ahm dist rayal ehntoooahtev". (West Texas for "Well, I'm just real intuitive". Good Grief!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I was interviewed in that BBC piece, Don. I wish that were online somewhere. That was IMO one of the best features done on the story in broadcast media - the only one that really captured both the trial story, the political aspect, and drew a bigger picture perspective on the drug war.

I don't remember the name of the guy who did it, but he was really sharp, one of their most senior political reporters who'd had his US-side beat since covering MLK speaking on the Washington Mall.

Charles, you came off real well in the film, too. You and Gary Gardener made quite a pair! I agree if y'all hadn't jumped in, the case wouldn't have gone anywhere. And Alan Bean nearly singlehandedly badgered Ed Self into baring his ass and having to recuse himself. The whole thing probably ends tragically if that hadn't happened.

BTW, you know who else deserves a lot of credit - what was the name, Charles, of the gal who was working with y'all who first contacted Nate Blakeslee? I really liked her but lost track of what happened to her.

Anonymous said...

Lili Ibara was working with Texas Rural Legal Aid when we met up at on Martin Luther King Day in 2000. She contacted Molly Ivans with the info compiled by Charles Kiker and Alan Bean. Molly was no longer the editor of Texas Observer so the info fell into the lap of a young Nate Blakeslee. Nancy Bean

Anonymous said...

Someone asked if I'm still in Tulia. Yes, I probably will be until I'm laid to rest at Wayside Cemetery NE of Tulia. Things are somewhat better vis a vis the drug sting. I can attend church without feeling daggers pointed at me. Law enforcement still fears and distrusts me. There was an incident relatively recently in which a 17 year old African-American girl was tased (unnecessarily, IMO)while the cops were trying to break up a fight. I asked for a meeting with the Police Chief, accompanied by Freddie Brookins, Sr. and Thelma Johnson. We ultimately got the meeting, but not without the presence of the city and county attorneys. They were very defensive and kept bringing up the drug sting.

Scott is absolutely correct about the sheriff and the town being in denial. Just after the Coleman perjury trial I was at the auction of 4H and FFA kids livestock from the stock show. I was there to make sure there would be a bid on my grandson's goat. Mine was the only bid. During the sale, the auctioneer/County Agent asked for a standing ovation for the sheriff. I think everyone in the room stood except me. This was just after the sheriff was in the Lubbock and Amarillo papers and on the TV news when he avoided perjury charges by being given the opportunity to rehabilitate his testimony at the Coleman trial. The sheriff is retiring this year, to be replaced by Deputy Emmett Benavidez, who ran unopposed in the Dem. primary and has no GOP opposition. Stewart became sheriff in the late eighties or early nineties when he was appointed after the resignation of Scarborough. He never had any opposition until Gary Gardner ran a token race against him as an independent in 2004. Stewart won, as expected, hands down. After all, Gardner was a part of the KGB (Kiker-Gardner-Bean). No shit, that's how we were known by the good people of Tulia. McEachern was appointed DA about the same time Stewart became sheriff, and was reelected without opposition until 2004, when the DUI caught up with him.

In early 2000, I wrote a piece entitled "Ethnic Cleansing in Swisher County." We got that piece in the hands of Liliana Ibarra, who got it in the hands of Nate Blakeslee. Nate interviewed me in my family room for several hours one May morning in 2000, snooped around Tulia for a couple of days, got it wrong about Tulia not having a Dairy Queen, wrote his article for the Texas Observer which Will Harrell read. Will called me and talked about the deal for awhile. Then he said, "We've got to get that motherfucker [Coleman]. Excuse my french, Rev." Thus began the unfolding of the Tulia Drug Sting. Others did not come into the story until much later. Some of them refused to be involved until they saw the story had legs.

(Rev.) Charles Kiker, Tulia

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Good account, Rev. Do you know what happened to Lili? As I recall she left the state to go to law school, and I haven't heard tell of her in a while.

Anonymous said...

Scott, I think Liliana finished law school. She got married and moved to Chicago. Nancy and Alan still have some contact with her, I think. She has to be considered one of the major players in the story. She's a great woman. Japanese/Irish and Buddhist/Catholic.


Gritsforbreakfast said...

"one of the major players in the story"

Yup, I think so too. Nearly the definition of an "unsung hero"

Don said...

God, I love this blog. Tulia is one of the most fascinating stories I have ever followed. You guys: Charles, the Beans, Nate Blakslee, Scott,, are heroes in my book. And I was going to ask Charles, how can you still live there? But then it hit me. Character, integrity; that's how. Why would you run away from the intimidation, prejudice, denial, and injustice that you are trying to help heal? It is frustrating to try to discuss Tulia with most of my acquaintances, because I guess most people didn't really objectively assess it. I hate it that the movie got put on the back burner. I want it to be made and I wish everybody in the country could see it if and when it is. To have stumbled onto this thread with you people who have such first hand information, and to know that we understand this in much the same way, this is a blessing. As a substance abuse counselor working pretty much in the CJ system for 20 years, as I said before, I have seen such injustices on a smaller scale in every rural West Texas county I've worked in. Even had a conversation or two with Coleman when he was at Morton. The man is truly pathetic. Thanks again, guys.

Anonymous said...

I won't comment in detail on the pardon these folks got. I say pardon because they were guilty. And I won't comment in detail on the fact that some Whites were also convicted, though rarely mentioned, as that would take the ethnic cleansing/racial slant, and throw it out the window. Nor will I comment in detail on how here in Canyon TX just a little N. of Tulia, all who used knew Tulia to be the place to go for drugs. Better even than Amarillo.

What I did want to point out, is the bust of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin proudly displayed behind the smirking ACLU lawyer Jeff Blackburn. Seems the ideals and dreams of Roger Nash Baldwin.

Deciding if Baldwin was an anarchist, socialist, communist, or a confused mix of all three is difficult. But Blackburn clearly shows his own aspirations for this nation.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Celtic, you're something. 39 of the 46 were black, and the whites arrested where mostly dating or living with black folks (some of them got the harshest sentences - one of them 300 years!). That was about 15% of the entire town's black population. It's mathematically impossible THAT many people could be selling drugs for a living in tiny Tulia, especially given that most people buy drugs from others of the same race.

While we're on the subject, are you owning up to your own history of drug use, Celtic, since "all who used" knew of Tulia's status?

As for Blackburn and the Lenin bust, get a life. That doesn't change the quality of the lawyering he did one bit. God knows what kind of goose stepping memorabilia you've got around your place, given some of your views!

Also, Blackburn doesn't and has never worked for the ACLU - he worked that case pro bono and spent tens of thousands out of his own pocket with no assurance he'd get it back. Your slurs and analogies to Baldwin (spurious even if Blackburn had worked for ACLU) say a lot more about you than they do about Jeff Blackburn.

Anonymous said...

While we're on the subject, are you owning up to your own history of drug use, Celtic, since "all who used" knew of Tulia's status?

Drugs, especially meth but also cocaine, are a devastating problem in this area. Especially among the young.

Yeah, I have experience. But with relatives and some who were once friends, one friend who died. You can pencil whip whatever mathematical equation you want. It doesn't change the fact that Tulia was a major player in drug trafficking. Amazing how after a 1.5 year investigation they only got the innocent ones.

As far as Baldwin, any citations as to the WIKI article being slurs and/or analogies?

Also, Blackburn doesn't and has never worked for the ACLU


and the whites arrested where mostly

Mostly? Mostly not mentioned you mean. I wonder why that is?

As for Blackburn and the Lenin bust, get a life. That doesn't change the quality of the lawyering

This case wasn't about lawyering, it was about politics. And don't tell me Blackburn didn't see a dime in costs, or get a cut of the 5 mil settlement from the civil suit or from the ACLU (national legal team if you prefer) or the NAACP legal defense fund.

Don said...

I knew if this thread went on long enough, some idiot would come out with the challenges to the painfully obvious. Celtic, you are truly pathetic. This crap you are spouting doesn't deserve a response. Tulia Texas is the go to place for powder cocaine? Especially where these folks were? Here in the Lubbock/Levelland area, dealing with dozens of drug addicts every week, I never heard that. Go figure. Actually, there wasn't enough money in that entire side of town to buy a gram powder. Also, it doesn't matter if these people were targeted because of their color or their socio-economic status. It's wrong both ways. If you will read what Scott said before making goofy comments, he said Blackburn worked the cases pro bono not knowing whether he would get anything back. He didn't say he didn't eventually get partially compensated for his work and risk. The Lenin analogy is just stupid, and doesn't deserve a response. Go back to your hole.

Anonymous said...

Did you ever ask Don? I'll admit Coleman from all I've heard was the idiot someone said he was. Thing is, in a small town like Tulia, there are no secrets. Coleman might have been and idiot but knowing who was dealing drugs was a no brainier also. Why do the folks in that town hate all involved with getting these people out of jail and back on their streets?

Bad indigent lawyers? Well guess what unless you make a mint every year most all get crappy lawyers.

The legal system sucks I'll not argue that. It sucks for reasons to numerous to count.

I'll even say that a few might have been innocent. But most were in fact guilty. They were released on technicalities of law.

It's old history now, but guess what? Msteriously, after the bust, Tulia no longer is the go to place. It's back to the more dangerous streets of North Amarillo now, probably Lubbock also. What coincidence.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"Why do the folks in that town hate all involved with getting these people out of jail and back on their streets?"

Mainly, Celtic, because the process showed a great deal of bile, racism and disrespect for the law among many white Tulians, and they were embarrassed when it was nationally exposed. They chose to stand by their elected officials and the jurors who issued the sentences, but they're angry because it was the wrong thing to do. Nobody is angrier than someone who knows they did wrong when they're called on it. It's childish reaction, but a common one.

And if all those folks were guilty and now are back on the streets, why wouldn't Tulia be the go to place again? And you say some of the MIGHT have been innocent? Some were demonstrably innocent. NONE were demonstrably guilty when they were tried beyond Tom Coleman's word.

Finally, I'm still interested, Celtic, that you claim to have expert street knowledge of where to buy drugs that a licensed chemical dependency counselor in the area has never heard about. Hmmmmmm ... I wonder who to believe?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Oh, Celtic, on Blackburn. That press release notwithstanding, he didn't work the case as an ACLU lawyer. Will Harrell solicited Blackburn to help which is why ACLU issued the press release, but Blackburn wasn't comfortable doing it that way and chose to do it on his own. He later brought in the NAACP Legal Defense Fund instead.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.

Anonymous said...

And if all those folks were guilty and now are back on the streets, why wouldn't Tulia be the go to place again?.

Maybe because they have split 5 mill, and no longer need to sell, although use has continued as some have been re-arrested. I working on getting the exact figure now. It's no suprise that those numbers seem to be well buried.

Finally, I'm still interested, Celtic, that you claim to have expert street knowledge of where to buy drugs that a licensed chemical dependency counselor in the area has never heard about. Hmmmmmm ... I wonder who to believe?

Think about it? Are drugies going to confess this info to someone who would be veiwed as a potential informant himself? You might answer this better than me. Does law requiree cousellors to divulge info on know dealers? I asked basically the same of Don. I've not seen a response yet.

My kids, know from school. So do others I know. I should be using past tense, but at the time it was well known. Cops here told me my kids told me my relatives told me, certain friends told me. And these things are important to me. I don't just throw this out for no reason. When my house was being built I could look for the rotten teeth and pretend/ask where to get coke or meth. Then I go to the police and they knew. What is being done I would ask, All I get is shrugs. And crap about how difficult gathering evidence is. Believe what you want but prior to this bust Tulia always came up. Just know that I care about my kids aand all the kids in this area, black or white. I care about my grandkids. I want drugs gone.

Excuse the spelling this key board at work is sticky.

Don said...

Celtic, I don't get it. Sometimes you seem almost intelligent, then you just kinda take off into the wild blue yonder. First of all, let's drop the argument about the availability of drugs in Tulia. It is a non-issue. At the crux of what made Tulia totally unbelievable was not that there was drug trade, but that degree of POWDER COCAINE trade. Actually, one or more of the Tulia defendants said, paraphrasing, hey, if the dude had said he bought crack or pot, I might believe it myself. Not powder. It's a whole 'nuther culture. Can't you see that's why Coleman was so readily identifiable as an idiot, as well as crooked? Nobody, but nobody, has portrayed these folks as innocent of all wrongdoing, up to and including the possible selling/buying/using of drugs. It's the specific allegation of that much selling of powder cocaine that is in no way plausible. I don't see where you specifically asked me the question about whether counselors are required to snitch, or I would have answered it. But, you know, I think you could probably surmise the answer to that if you would put a little thought into it. How much credibility would I have if that were the case? Confidentiality is the cornerstone of any counselors relationship with clients. We are required to report if we believe that the client is an imminent danger to himself or somebody else. (Ongoing child abuse, homicide/suicide threat) Clients tell me things they wouldn't tell anyone else. We work hard to overcome the perception that we are a cop, and good counselors succeed at that. I got a lot of probation officers mad at me because of that. Good. If you give a lot of credence to every rumor your kids hear at school, good luck. However, it's actually becoming more and more apparent that you just flat miss the point, or you wouldn't be "working on getting the information about how many were rearrested". Listen very carefully. IT DOES NOT MAKE A SHIT! I don't care if they were all arrested the day they got out. It has NOTHING to do with this particular wholesale railroad job. Please, please, tell us what is that you don't understand about that.

Anonymous said...

White kids use powder for the most part and pot. Tulia was not the go to place for meth although it was there also.

I asked you if you ever ask names and palces of where your clients get their drugs. Yyou have made the point that it's not required for you to tell if you know. But the question remains. Ddo you assk and do they tell you?

Here is where you think I don't understand what you think you ddo understand. I want drugs off the street. I want my kids and all kids to be free of this devasting curse in this nation.

I don't caree if the the police fail to properly dot their eyes or if some lawyer or judge faails to get his cut. I just want it gone. Someone who is guilty should not be walking the streets because of technicallities of law that have grown so complex that few understand them in totality. And when I see Leninist lawyers and organizations involved, I see agendas that do not include the safety of my family or the health and safety of our kids.

I just want our kids safe. Is that hard to understand?

I'm back on the sticky keyboard excuse the spelling.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"I don't caree if the the police fail to properly dot their eyes or if some lawyer or judge faails to get his cut. I just want it gone."

Celtic, this is where we'll never agree. You think the end justifies the means and respect for the law by proesecutors, judges, police and other authorities is optional, not their sworn obligation. To me, someone who's sworn to uphold the law shouldn't mind "dotting the i's," which in this case means actually bothering to accuse the right people.

I get that you don't care if innocent people are locked up or if the system fails to respect the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. You've made that clear many times. But try not to get so self righteous when those who do respect the rule of law and the Founding Fathers' vision of justice try to re-assert those principles in the face of your bluster.

You're the one whose views are an outlier if you really think police misconduct is justified to make low-level drug possession cases. I think you'll discover, if you ask around, that that's a decidedly minority view, which was one of the main lessons from the public reaction to the Tulia cases.

Anonymous said...

Celtic, this is where we'll never agree. You think the end justifies the means and respect for the law by proesecutors, judges, police and other authorities is optional, not their sworn obligation. To me, someone who's sworn to uphold the law shouldn't mind "dotting the i's," which in this case means actually bothering to accuse the right people.

No I suspect we never will agree. I do have respect for the law, and the constitution.

Trouble is law has become overly complex. The law has become a self serving organism. It's not hard to point a camera take a picture of drugs being handed over then convict. But it just doesn't work that way anymore.

You have a good site here. I rarely comment but read often. I agree with much. I enjoyed last night reading a post you did on the DEA chatroom but can't seem to find it now. It was very good, and I wanted to see your response to a question I asked. I'll find it later.

But you do seem to run aan odd mix here. Very pro lawyer, very pro criminal.

I really think you should at times think about the vast majority of law abiding people that are caught in the worst spot of all. The middle.

Don said...

Celtic, I was irritated with you, now I'm just starting to feel sorry for you. Why in the hell do you think I would ask names and addresses for drug dealers? Because of the trust relationship, clients sometimes mention things in passing about where they would go etc. Why does this matter to you? It is completely extraneous to the discussion. And we all get your point that you want "drugs gone". None of us are happy with the drug situation. That's why I've devoted half my life to trying to do something that actually helps, instead of the idiotic preoccupation with interdiction and enforcement that has been such an abject failure. Tulia didn't do anything to help the drug problem. None of the activities of the so-called drug war have. If disposing of half the Constitution of the United States of America was helping, maybe I could see your point. I still wouldn't agree with it, but I could see it. As it stands, it is a total mystery to me how you can keep this up. To condone what happened in Tulia because you want drugs gone makes not one iota of sense. We have been doing this sort of thing for 25 years and are approaching the half-trillion dollar mark in spending on this kind of thing. Are drugs gone? A far greater number have lost their lives, their freedeom, their limbs, their innocence, their childhoods, because of the "war on drugs" than ever have because of the drugs themselves. We may hate drugs, but we love America and Tulia was just not it.

Don said...

Just saw your last post. Try pro-democracy, pro-Constitution, pro truth, justice, and the American way. Then you'll have Scott's number.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Celtic, what you call "an odd mix here. Very pro lawyer, very pro criminal," I would say is simply advocating on behalf of the Bill of Rights and less intrusive government, and I see little inconsistency in the view. It's all in the eye of the beholder, I guess. To allow the erosion of constitutional rights of others opens the door for my own rights, and yours, to come under attack down the line.

You seem to be saying you don't care if the Tulians weren't demonstrably guilty (just a few undotted i's,), you assume they all were, mostly based on uncorroborated hearsay. That sentiment to me seems profoundly un-American, an outright rejection of the values expressed in the Bill of Rights. I know you're not alone in those views - they're surprisingly common. I'm just amazed you can hold them while simultaneously saying you have "respect for the law, and the constitution."

Curious Texan said...

Oh, Celtic, on Blackburn. That press release notwithstanding, he didn't work the case as an ACLU lawyer.

Perhaps that's technically true, but he was identified as an ACLU local board member (fifth paragraph from the bottom) and volunteer attorney (second paragraph from the bottom) by Socialist Action and the ACLU, respectively. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck and swims like a duck ...

Unlike celtictexan, I believe that Coleman, McEachern and Stewart got what was coming to them. But to claim that Jeff Blackburn isn't at least very closely tied to the ACLU is a little disingenuous, IMHO.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Curious Texan, let me be clear: Tulia was not an ACLU case, press release or no. Blackburn has never represented anyone as an ACLU attorney since I've known him. And even if he had, what does it matter? The Roger Baldwin stuff is redbaiting crap, not a serious argument. So what's the point?

don said...

Curious Texan:

Blackburn was recruited by Will Harrell of ACLUTX, but chose to act on his own. Read the blog. Grits was responding to the comment by Celtic that insinuated Blackburn was a full time ACLU lawyer. "Smirking ACLU lawyer" to be exact. There was nothing "disingenuous" about it. How do you guys have so much time to write, but none to read?

Curious Texan said...

I'm curious (hence the name):

What's the difference between an "ACLU attorney" and an "ACLU volunteer attorney," aside from the fact that one gets paid and the other works pro bono?

Looks like a difference without a distinction to me.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Curious -

An ACLU staff attorney represents clients and tries cases. "Volunteer attorneys" for ACLU are part of a regional network that vets legal intake (i.e., requests for assistance, of which there are thousands each years statewide) and forwards cases that are good possibilities for litigation to the state office for a final decision. They typically meet once a month face to face and examine that region's most recent requests for legal assistance, but for the most part aren't trying cases and make no final litigation decisions.

By contrast, e.g., Lisa Graybill is a staff attorney at ACLUTX, and goes into court identified as an ACLU lawyer. Since I've known him, including in the Tulia case, Blackburn has never done that.

don said...

Curious: Just to be clear about "what was coming to them" McEachern and Stewart didn't get anything. What do you mean "got what was coming them"?

don said...

Also Curious, why would Grits try to hide anything about the ACLU? He used to work for them. Are you suggesting that's something to be ashamed of? Because it sure as hell sounds like it. Incidentally, Coleman also didn't "get anything" from all the crap he did vis-a-vis the phony drug busts. What he got was for lying at a hearing about when he knew of the charges against him in Cochran County. He wouldn't have gotten that except that they had a real judge come in from Dallas when it became clear that Self couldn't be trusted. Are you familiar with this case, or just looking to be contentious?

Anonymous said...

You seem to be saying you don't care if the Tulians weren't demonstrably guilty

See this is well said, and at the center of what I try to say. I'm not so eloquent in my writing.

Demonstratively guilty. This in itself could be a long debate. It really is a matter of degree.

My real point is under current law to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the guilt of almost anyone for anything charged and tried under a felony has become almost impossible.

That is not in the interest of the common good and it's not of original intent. A year and a half was spent on this case. And they all walked and were well paid for the inconvenience. And they walked not because they were innocent but because of technicalities of law to complicated for even lawyers to agree upon. And of course the old race card gets played which really means it becomes the proverbial political hot potato.

I'll admit that in fact all I know before and after is heresay. All I know is what people who should know, told me. I would love to be in a bar half drunk with the main actors on the lower rungs of the legal side, them drunker than me, and hear what they have to say.

I suspect it would be much like your post on the DEA blog. They do their best with what they have, then get shot down from some higher level.

Nor have I read the Court Transcripts. I really don't want to, as I know from personal experience how many things are ordered inadmissible by the Judge that should be allowed. In one case I wasn't alowed to use newspaper or magazine adds to show a general price for German Shepherd puppies. I guess I was suppose to pay some, "expert" to testify. In court it's all about the money.

Now you tell me. In all that 1.5 year investigation, are you saying that not one picture, not one recording, not one defendant turned states evidence, not one single iota of evidence was gathered outside of the spoken word of Coleman?

And let me ask one more question. You will probably duct it as that has been my experience in the past. But do you really want drugs to be legalized as so many here seem to want. Do you want these poisons available to all at some cheap price in the local Toot and Tote?

Are you by chance a Libertarian at heart?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"In all that 1.5 year investigation, are you saying that not one picture, not one recording, not one defendant turned states evidence, not one single iota of evidence was gathered outside of the spoken word of Coleman?"

That's exactly, PRECISELY correct. Get the picture now?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Oh, I forgot to answer your question, "do you want these drugs legalized?" I've actually stated my position on that question fairly recently here.

Anonymous said...

"under current law to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the guilt of almost anyone for anything charged and tried under a felony has become almost impossible."

So true. That's why the prisons are nearly empty and every judge's docket is so light these days. All these technicalities make it impossible to convict anybody of anything, letting the crooks just run rampant. So of course you just have to assume everyone is guilty whether or not it's ever proven. After all, somebody accused them. They must be bad people. Who cares if you can't prove they're guilty? If a cop said so, it must be true.

This mentality IMO is about one or two goose steps away from full-on fascism.

Anonymous said...

Don-Why in the hell do you think I would ask names and addresses for drug dealers?

Because you said this.

Here in the Lubbock/Levelland area, dealing with dozens of drug addicts every week, I never heard that.

It had occurred to me that if you never heard it, that perhaps you had never asked. I was assuming that as a counselor where and who it came from would not be your priority. Is that so hard to figure? Also I should think you would know, drugs generally travel south to north, which would perhaps make Tulia a non player in your area.

A far greater number have lost their lives, their freedeom, their limbs, their innocence, their childhoods, because of the "war on drugs" than ever have because of the drugs themselves

I won't go off the deep end here and start hurling insults as you do, but seriously do you really believe this? Cause I'd really love to have you explain it to me.

Truth is and this is not an insult I try hard not to get into those kinds of worthless arguments, but counselors rarely help anyone long term. Truth is I think your profession part of the problem not a solution. Drug counselors are just another one of the very many who profit from the availability of drugs.

Your right the drug war as currently conducted is a waste. But only because so many want it to continue. Read Scots post about the DEA chatroom.

How do you guys have so much time to write, but none to read?

And I've probably read more on this than you. I don't think, you think I haven't. What your really trying to say is how can I read it and not believe it. I could turn it around and ask how you can read, and just blindly accept it.

We disagree, none of us are ignorant,idiots, deserving of pity and what ever else you have called me. We just disagree.

And for all, as far as the ACLU issue goes just drop it, as it really doesn't matter if he is a card carrier or imitator.

I saw the bust, thought of Baldwin, googled "jeff blackburn"+aclu, got 330 hits and read many of them and posted one. Excuse me if I-cough, cough-took it the wrong way.

Anonymous said...

That's exactly, PRECISELY correct. Get the picture now?

Maybe. Is that court records that may have had things barred or raw info?

And if just raw then what the hell was all the rest of this drug task force doing?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"Is that court records that may have had things barred or raw info?"

Not a damn thing but his word. He claimed at one point in his rambling, contradictory testimony that rather than have recordings he'd write notes on his leg in ball point pen then wash it off after the police report was written. In one of those reports, e.g., he got a suspect's height wrong by 6 inches, misidentified a rail thin woman as six months pregnant, and claimed a man who'd been bald for years had a "bushy hair type."

As for what the rest of the DTF was doing - cashing the checks, of course. Some of them did show up when John Cornyn named Coleman Statewide Law Enforcement Officer of the Year (great picture in the documentary of then AG Cornyn giving Coleman the award).

I know you don't believe drug enforcers can do any wrong, Celtic, but that's how most of these guys operated, like rogues with virtually no oversight. That's why the Tulia operation was criticized, and ultimately why all the task forces lost their funding and were shut down by Gov. Perry. He's the guy that pulled the trigger, not me. Perhaps he's a closet Libertarian? Or probably not.

Anonymous said...

So true. That's why the prisons are nearly empty and every judge's docket is so light these days.

The jails are packed, the cases on docket can take years to run, and I suppose your area is totally crime free?

Your post only makes my case. Drugs murder robbery rape vandalism is rapant.

Texas alone has close to one million in prison. Kinda says alot as far as how worried criminals are of going to jail and how many there are still on the streets.

Just lazy stupid cops I guess. The courts though, are doing their best.

Anonymous said...

I know you don't believe drug enforcers can do any wrong, Celtic, but that's how most of these guys operated

I've never said or believed they can do no wrong. I've experianced wrong myself. It's just hard to believe they could be that bad. I mean what was the point? What is there to gain by being that sloppy? It's bound to come out and heresay or not dealing was there and it should not have been complicated to prove.

Anyway if the police were that bad then I apologize and will politely bow out.

I will never believe they were innocent, but if the police work was that bad then I would have to agree with you and all. No one should go to jail on the word of just one person.

It is just hard to believe more resources were not being used.

don said...

Celtic, it's more than just most of us disagreeing with you. I hate to hurl insults as you put it, but it's just that you keep dropping these little clues that you really don't know what the hell you are talking about, opinions aside. Getting the facts wrong. Some of the people on this thread had a ringside seat, namely Scott Henson. He's not just parroting something he read or heard. The smartest thing anybody, including me, has said on this thread is when Scott told you that we are entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts. It is your "opinion" that drug counselors do more harm than good, and we are part of the problem and not the solution. So that's not an "insult", since it is your opinion? This is sincere, and coming from the heart and not intended as an insult. You seem misinformed, emotionally guided in your thinking, and genuinely conflicted. This is just an example of what I'm talking about and I'm not putting a fine point on it. There is nowhere near a million people in prison in Texas. (148,000) There are almost a million in the system, which is probably what you read and got wrong. That's jail, parole, probation, state jail, and prison. You were so adamant to the point of being indignant during this discussion, then suddenly, when you were met at every turn with indisputable logic that you couldn't counter, you just said to hell with it, maybe they're right and I'm wrong. The difference between me and you is that I have the courage of my convictions. I'm not going to make a bunch of wild assertions then suddenly abandon them. If the truth is insulting to you, then why shouldn't I feel pity for you? To disgusted: yeah. Me, too. Nice knowing you, Celtic.

Anonymous said...

it's just that you keep dropping these little clues that you really don't know what the hell you are talking about

I know what I'm talking about when I said there was drug dealing going on in Tulia. I would not personally have been able to go and point some one out. Aand it wasn't thousands of ibs but low level But the people of that town could. And many of the users around here could. That is fact.

If police work was as bad as has been pointed out then I have apologised. I paid litllte attention to the actual police work you are correct. I have pride in the work I do. I build aircraft aand I never want to be responsible for the death of anyone. I assume perhaaps wrongly that the vast majority of POlice would feel much the same way.

I am not conflicted in that I want drugs to become ancient history. I'm not conflicted in that the current system, aand you are part of the system is not working. Things are only growing worse.

I don't like the way things are. It's all I'm concerned about.

I'm back on the sticky board sorry.

Don said...

Celtic, you are indeed a piece of work. I'm outa here.

Curious Texan said...


I'm sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you. For some reason, all but one the comments on this thread got directed to my "Bulk" email box, and I only read them this morning.

Regarding what was meant by "what was coming to them," I was referring primarily to the court of public opinion. Stewart, McEachern and Coleman all came out looking like the bufoons that they were (and presumably still are). Beyond that, it was my understanding that the civil rights suit settled out of court. I can only assume that some money changed hands as a result (from Coleman et al. to the defendants in the criminal case), which would also constitute "what was coming to them."

Regarding my familiarity with the case, I have to admit that it's only passing at best. Since I've never posted any comments here before, I can understand how you might perceive me as a bomb thrower. If I came across that way, I apologize; that really wasn't my intention.

It looks like Grits didn't share that perception of me; he answered my question about the difference between an ACLU lawyer and an ACLU "volunteer lawyer" in the same spirit in which the question was originally intended, as an effort to better understand the whole concept. Grits, your answer was informative without being condescending, and I appreciate that. You added to my knowledge in an area with which I'm not very familiar.

Anonymous said...

Charles Kiker from Tulia here:

Celtictexan continues to insist that he knows for a fact that some of those convicted were factually guilty, but will not say how he knows. This is the line of some of the Tulia people. I know that so and so (I'll refrain from using names here) is a drug dealer. Well, how do they know? Did they purchase from him? As a matter of fact, even if they had purchased from him it would not have demonstrated that he was guilty as charged, of selling such and such an amount of powder cocaine to Tom Coleman on such and such day. And the only proof, yes, the only proof, was the uncorroborated word of Tom Coleman, whose word was demonstrably unreliable. Wrongfully convicted? You better believe it! And all this stuff about the whites involved. There was one white juvenile involved. His name was not made public. Cash Love was involved. He had been living with an African-American woman and fathered a child with her, and there was a great deal said about him. There was a white woman living with an African-American man who got off pretty lightly initially, took a plea and got probation. Those are the only whites I can think of. There were three or four Hispanics involved which makes up the difference between the 39 and the 46. But would the celtic one argue, on the basis of the fact that all 46 were not African American, that the sting was not racist? I do not know the sheriff's heart, so I cannot say the sting was racist in its motivation, but it was demonstrably racist in its effect. Sixteen percent (I did the math, Scott, on the basis of the 1990 census) of the African-American population was indicted. I have not done the math on this, but it would have involved approximately 50% of the adult male population. Alan Bean did an analysis and found that 63% of African-American males who had graduated from THS since 1960, I think was his date, and had stayed in Tulia were caught up in this sting. So, was the characterization of the sting as ethnic cleansing some kind of way out, off the wall thinking of some liberal commie nut? I think not.

And, by the way, I do not hide my identity on this blog.

don said...

Charles: Great post, but you are wasting your time with Celtic.

don said...

To Curious: Fair enough if you're not too familiar with the case. But the reason I was probably less than cordial to you was not that about them "getting what was coming to them" but your apparent attempt to jump in and challenge Scott on whether or not Jeff Blackburn was an ACLU lawyer. And you still didn't answer. Even though he wasn't, your post sounded like it would be a disgrace or something to work for ACLU. "Looks like a duck, walks like a duck" etc. But I assume now that you didn't mean it like that. The counties which made up the interlocal task force paid $5 million and Swisher paid another million. Nothing came out of Coleman, Stewart, or McEachern's pocket, that I know of. Stewart is retiring finally, but he suffered no repercusions at all, and neither did Judge Self, who IMO was as culpable as anybody in all this. I'm not even sure about the court of public opinion. I think all but McEachern won reelection. McEachern was investigated for about a year or something by the Texas Bar, and they concluded that, for all intents and purposes, he is indeed a dirtball, and violated most of the tenets of ethics and principles and good lawyering that had ever been thought of and was probably guilty of some that hadn't been thought of yet(my tongue in cheek words, of course). Then they told him to keep his nose clean for, oh I don't know, five years or so and he would be off the hook. Probation of sorts. And this thread was originally about the denial. Charles Kiker was one of the folks who spearheaded the whole expose. They don't like him more than they don't like Stewart, et. al. That's why I questioned exactly what it was that was coming to them that you thought they got. Off scot-free, is what they got. As I said, Coleman was convicted of perjury, but not about the trials or the frame-ups. It was for lying at an evidentiary hearing about when he knew of charges against him in Cochran County, where he had worked before. Stole gas from the county and ran out on a bunch of debts. Stewart arrested him in the middle of his investigation. Self suppressed that evidence at the behest of McEachern. He got 10 years probation. Can't work in law enforcement anymore. So, that's why I don't think they "got what was coming to them". Sorry I was whatever I was to you. Ol' Celtic just about wore me down.

Don said...

To Charles Kiker: You know, I've wondered about the racial angle. Like you, I'm not sure that it was racial in that "we hate blacks", but you are correct in that it was certainly effectively racial. What my thoughts were, that if it was not "hate blacks" kind of deal, they were motivated by the way the task forces received money. They were effectively paid on commission. More busts, more money. So, these folks were an easy target. You can exploit the racism that exists in Tulia itself, obvious from the beginning juries. These folks are not gonna have money for high-powered lawyers. They were all indigent. They were made to order marks for this kind of thing. Stewart knew that, and I really believe all Coleman wanted was some feathers in his cap. Gung ho shoot 'em up lawman. Delusions of grandeur. Sick SOB. Anyway, the ethnic cleansing tag works because this is certainly what drives some of the denial of the citizenry. They wanted "that side of town" cleaned up. Well, thanks again for you work.

Anonymous said...

Don said-Actually, one or more of the Tulia defendants said, paraphrasing, hey, if the dude had said he bought crack or pot, I might believe it myself. Not powder. It's a whole 'nuther culture.

Despite the race or side of town, why would the citizens not want the town cleaned up? I want this town cleaned up. I could give a damn less about race. If you deal you should be in prison forever or beter yet dead.

And Charles if you read back, you'll see i said several times how I know, and as reposted, Don himself said how he knows.

Anonymous said...

Tulia still stands by their man. The retiring Sheriff Stewart got "Man of the Year Award" at the Chamber of Commerce banquet last week.

Celtic, as far how you know, I have seen nothing in your posts that indicates your knowledge goes beyond hearsay, "People say if you want drugs go to Tulia." I've seen nothing about anybody including yourself buying from a specific person. And hearsay evidence is simply not evidence. As far as I'm concerned, you don't know. And as far as I'm concerned, I don't know. I just know that the evidence on which they were convicted was finally deemed inadmissible. In the words of Judge Chapman who presided over the evidentiary hearings (I was there, and heard them, so this is a near verbatim rendering). This came after a couple of days of testimony from Tom Coleman, and a couple of days of obfuscating beating around the bush testimony by Sheriff Stewart. "All parties involved [this included the prosecutorial team and their attorneys] have concluded that the sworn testimony of Tom Coleman is simply incredible"--(then came the big therefore)--"therefore, it is the recommendation of this court of inquiry that all convictions based on his testimony, including those where there was a guilty plea, be overturned." This was on April 1, 2003. April Fool's Day. I wondered, "Is the judge playing a big April Fools' joke. He wasn't. He was for real. Let it be remembered that the recommendation of the court was not binding. This hearing was conducted by order of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, a body which takes a long time to do their work. So people were still in prison based on wrongul convictions, and I use the term intentionally and without aplogy. Tom Coleman walked free that day; people convicted on his incredible testimony went back to prison. With the help of some stalwarts in the Texas Legislature who want the Criminal Justice system to work fairly, Whitmire and Ellis I think (Scott probably knows) spearheaded the bill, the Lege. passed a bill allowing them to be out on bond while the CCA dealt with the case. I was there, and testified before committe for that bill. Before the CCA got its work done, the governor issued his pardons and took the CCA off the hook. Later that year I was in Austin on a Sunday, attended church with my niece, stayed for a church meal and some kind of program afterward, and had the serendipity to meet one of the members of the Court of Criminal Appeals. I told her who I was, and of my part in the Tulia controversy. She thanked me for what I had done. I asked what the CCA would finally have done. She said we would have overturned the convictions, but it would have taken a long time. I can't remember her name, don't know whether she is still on the CCA or not, but at that time I thought, "The Court of Criminal Appeals has it least one genuinely caring Christian gentlewoman member." So I could no longer call it the Criminal Court of Appeals.
A little incident is telling as to the attitude of Law Enforcement in Tulia at the time. This is hearsay, Celtic, it would not and should not stand in court as evidence. But word from a usually reliable source has it (it would stand as evidence in court if he said it there) that after all the hullaballoo, the sheriff wanted to rearrest and charge one of the defendants on the grounds that he had toke, I think they call it, in his billfold at the time of his original arrest. Therefore the sheriff wanted to charge him with attempting to smuggle a contraband substance into the county jail! I believe this is true, because of the source, but hope it's not!

The Reverend Charles in Tulia
a convinced Christian and also an active ACLU member

Anonymous said...

Reverend, by what means did you become a Reverend and through what denomination?

TheEvilOne said...

I first encountered the Tulia cocaine travesty when the BBC Panorama documentary "Texas Undercover" was broadcast on ABC television in Australia on 14/04/2003. Since then I have followed it via web searches which lead to Nate Blakeslee's articles in The Texas Observer and finally I bought his book "Tulia: Race, Cocaine and Corruption in a small Texas Town". The Tulia instance illuminated by books and documentaries serves as a case study of what is seriously wrong with justice in the US and with the war on drugs.

It is important after viewing these documentaries to ask the right questions and to avoid drawing the wrong conclusions. For example some might be tempted to say that the system worked in this case, the people were not wrongfully imprisoned for very many years and not to notice how unlikely that outcome was.

The thing is it was only the colossal incompetence of Coleman in carrying out the frame up together with his equally enormous ambition and over reach that resulted in the Tulia cases unraveling. Coleman targeted about 40 people for framing but 5 of his cases fell apart when it became obvious that the intended victims had unbreakable alibis or had physical appearances grossly different from Coleman's descriptions of them. Five out of 40 is an error rate of 12.5% which was enough to cast doubt on the other cases. Had Coleman been less incompetent in constructing a frame by making sure that he knew what his victims looked like and that they did not have alibis at the times he said he bought drugs from them, there would have been no failed prosecutions to cast doubt on the other cases. Likewise had he been less ambitious, and tried to frame only 8 instead of 40 with the same error rate there would have been only one failed prosecution which would not throw doubt on the other 8 cases to the same extent that 5 does on 40.

How many other Tulia's are out there, where the wrongly convicted are wasting their lives in prison because they plead not guilty just because they were factually innocent instead of accepting a plea. Only a rare confluence of factors, the incompetence of Coleman, the large number of victims, the presence of competent lawyers willing to donate large amounts of expensive time, the luck that the biased judge did something so obvious in indicating his prejudice that he had to recuse himself, the luck that the judge who replaced him was honest and competent resulted in the overturn of the Tulia convictions.

The vaunted innocent until proven guilty presumption only works if juries give effect to it, and it is obvious that a poor black defendant accused of drug related wickedness coming before a white jury has snowflake in Hell's chance of acquittal. Taking a plea is the only reasonable option despite factual innocence.

There are other questions needing to be asked. Did Tom Coleman think he was doing anything wrong? Did Coleman think Sheriff Stewart had told him to railroad the blacks in Tulia into prison as efficiently as possible? Is that in fact what Stewart told Coleman to do?

The legal system is very efficient means of discriminating against members of disliked minorities. You may not be able to make laws saying that it is illegal to be black, but one can skew the enforcement of laws against normal human behavior like using and trading mind altering substances so that toll on members of minorities is colossal while doing little damage to members of respectable society.