February 9, 2004 - The Associated Press

Perjury Trial Date Set For Tulia Case Drug Agent

TULIA -- Tom Coleman, the former cop discredited in the fallout from drug arrests he made in Tulia five years, will go on trial for aggravated perjury May 24 in the same courtroom where many in the racially charged busts were prosecuted.

Swisher County officials will send out 350 summonses -- twice the usual number -- to select a jury, said Brenda Hudson, the county clerk. If convicted, Coleman faces two to 10 years in prison.

A call to Coleman's attorney, John H. Read II, was not immediately returned Monday.

At a pretrial hearing in January, Read said Coleman is innocent.

Coleman, 44, was indicted on three counts of aggravated perjury in April by a Swisher County grand jury. The indictment alleges he lied under oath during a March evidentiary hearing held to determine if four black men arrested during Coleman's undercover drug bust received fair trials. The testimony involved his employment as a Cochran County sheriff's deputy.

The hearing was halted April 1 when retired state district Judge Ron Chapman said Coleman was "simply not a credible witness under oath." Chapman also recommended that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals grant new trials to everyone convicted as a result of the busts.

In July 1999, 46 people -- 39 of whom are black -- were arrested in Tulia where Coleman had worked alone in an 18-month undercover operation. Authorities found no drugs or money during the arrests and Coleman had no audio or visual evidence to corroborate the busts.

The arrests put an international spotlight on the farming town of about 5,000 and led civil rights groups to claim it was racially motivated. Coleman is white.

In June, the 13 defendants still imprisoned were released pending a ruling by the appeals court.

In August, Gov. Rick Perry pardoned 35 of the 38 who were prosecuted solely on Coleman's word.

Also in August, two woman whose drug charges were dropped after they proved they were not in Tulia at the time Coleman claimed he bought drugs from them filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Amarillo. In the ongoing lawsuit, Zuri Bossett and Tonya White accuse area law enforcement officials of violating their constitutional rights.

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