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December 29, 2004 - The Amarillo Globe (TX)

2004 A Big Year For Tulia

Drug Bust Controversy Closer To Being Resolved

By Greg Cunningham

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

The long-running controversy about the 1999 Tulia drug bust moved closer to a resolution in 2004.

The undercover agent who conducted the investigation pleaded not guilty to perjury charges, while the defendants jailed on his word divided up a $6 million settlement.

By the end of 2004, the Tulia legacy had largely been laid to rest, except for a couple of loose ends likely to be wrapped up in 2005.

Swisher County Judge Harold Keeter said that while 2004 was tumultuous and difficult for people in Tulia, he is glad to finally step into the light at the end of a long tunnel.

"We're glad to have this behind us, and we're just going on about our lives," Keeter said. "The most aggravating thing is that every time Tulia's name is mentioned, they say that's where the '99 drug bust happened. We hope they (the media) start reporting on us as we really are, instead of how we've been portrayed."

Supporters of the defendants arrested in the bust say the controversy is not over, however, but could be shifting into a new phase that might take some of the sting away from Tulia.

"Right now, we'd like to use Tulia as a metaphor, taking the emphasis off of Tulia being unique, and making it typical, which I think it is," said Alan Bean, who helped found Friends of Justice to oppose the bust. "We want to emphasize what Tulia has in common with the rest of the nation and the way this country conducts its drug war."

As he has been since the beginning, Tom Coleman was the center of attention in Tulia as 2004 dawned. The former undercover agent appeared in a Swisher County courtroom in January to plead not guilty to three counts of aggravated perjury related to his testimony about the drug sting.

Coleman had little to say, but his Dallas attorneys came out firing, saying their client was being scapegoated and pledging to fight the charges with everything they had.

His trial is scheduled to begin in early January.

The biggest news of the year out of Tulia happened in March when the city of Amarillo announced it was settling a federal civil rights suit for $5 million.

The suit was filed on behalf of the defendants against Amarillo and 30 other cities and counties that made up the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Task Force, which supervised Coleman's investigation.

City officials said Amarillo, which was the lead agency in the task force, simply could not expose the itself to the huge financial risk of a possible loss in court.

The other cities and counties settled the rest of the suit for an additional $1 million.

Part of the settlement of the civil suit involved Amarillo dissolving the task force, which led to a spat between local officials and Gov. Rick Perry's office in June.

Officials from the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission applied to the governor's Criminal Justice Division for more than $600,000 for training, equipment and treatment programs to replace federal funds lost when the task force folded.

Perry's office rejected the request, saying the money should come from $1.7 million in leftover funds from the task force.

A compromise was eventually worked out in which the $1.7 million was divided among the cities and counties that had contributed to the task force, and the training, equipment and treatment programs were handled through various other grant programs.

Another controversial figure in the Tulia matter stepped to the forefront in March when State Bar of Texas officials announced they would file suit against District Attorney Terry McEachern, who prosecuted the Tulia cases.

McEachern, who lost a bid for re-election this year, was accused of improperly bolstering Coleman's reputation, despite knowledge of alleged misdeeds in the former agent's past. He denied the charges.

While 2004 was a good year for a lot of defendants, a couple found themselves back in jail.

William Cash Love, who received the longest sentence of any Tulia defendant, was arrested in January and again in July.

Love, who posted bond and was released, was charged with first-degree possession of a controlled substance in connection with the July arrest, meaning he could be sentenced to up to 99 years in prison, if convicted.

Another defendant, Kareem Abdul Jabbar White, was arrested in April for possession of marijuana.

Contact Greg Cunningham at

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