Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption

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Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town 1

Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town
Shana Eberlin
Ethics in Criminal Justice
October 26, 2008

Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town 2

Blakeslee, N. (2006). Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town. New York: PublicAffairs.

Abstract:
One morning in 1999, in the little cow town of Tulia in the Texas panhandle, before the sun came up, police burst into homes, where about twenty percent of the adult black population found themselves arrested. They arrested forty seven men and women who had no way of anticipating what had hit them. All of whom were accused of selling cocaine to Tom Coleman, an undercover cop who would prove to be something other than what he seemed.

Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town 3 One morning in 1999, in the little cow town of Tulia in the Texas panhandle, before the sun came up, police burst into homes, where about twenty percent of the adult black population found themselves arrested. They arrested forty seven men and women who had no way of anticipating what had hit them. All of whom were accused of selling cocaine to Tom Coleman, an undercover cop who would prove to be something other than what he seemed. Methods

This nightmare began in the early morning of July 23, 1999. Forty seven men and women were arrested in the biggest drug bust in Swisher County’s history. They were rousted from their beds before dawn and taken to jail. Thirty nine of those arrested were black. The following eight were either Whites or Hispanics who had ties to this black community. From the beginning, the families of those apprehended believed that the drug bust was a racial thing. They just could not prove it, at least not yet.

Tom Coleman was hired in January 1998 by Swisher County Sheriff Larry Stewart to conduct an undercover drug operation. In preparation for the sting, he assumed a new identity and went by the alias T.J. Dawson. He set about going undercover in the town’s poor black community.

While undercover, Coleman claimed that he was able to gain the trust and friendship of many people within Tulia’s black community. Every time Coleman scored a bag of powdered cocaine, he would turn it into his superiors who would then give him more money to buy more drugs. In total, Coleman claimed to have made more than one hundred purchases of drugs from Tulia’s residents. The undercover operation, which led to the biggest drug bust, earned him the

Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town 4 award “Outstanding Lawman of the Year,” Most of the white citizen’s of the town hailed Coleman as a hero.
However, the black community was devastated. Most of the defendant’s received extremely harsh sentences ranging from three to three hundred and sixty one years in prison. Due to these harsh sentences, the NAACP investigated these cases. However, defense attorneys representing those convicted had conducted their own investigations into Coleman’s background and what they learned was surprising.

Through the investigations, details emerged that Coleman’s investigative methods were at least highly dubious. Coleman’s evidence always consisted of his word against that of the suspects, he never had another cop witness his buys, and he never had audio or video of them. Notes that he had taken of the transactions were wrote on his arms and legs. To make matters worse, Coleman’s credibility was questioned. Details emerged that he has a criminal history and a reputation as a liar and a bigot. The more people learned about Tom Coleman and his appalling investigative tactics the more it became clear that Tulia had a scandal on their hands.

From an early age, Coleman had aspirations of working in law enforcement. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father who had been a member of the hardy breed of lauded officers known as the Texas Rangers. He...
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