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Tulia, Texas
8.22.03
Politics and Economy:
Truth and Lies
More on This Story:
Tulia Case Timeline

For the past four years, there's been a story unfolding in West Texas that you may not have heard much about. It's a story that involves the war against drug abuse, an abuse of power, and the power of the press and it's taking place in the tiny town of Tulia. Follow the case through the timeline below.

1998 January 21: Thomas Coleman, who had worked most recently as a welder, is hired by Swisher County Sheriff Larry Stewart to work undercover on the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Task Force in Tulia.

March 29: Coleman logs his first drug buy in Tulia.

May 6: Coleman charged with abuse of official capacity and theft in Cochran County where he had worked for Sheriff Ken Burke. In 1996 Sheriff Burke had written a letter of complaint about Coleman to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.

August 17: Charge against Coleman dropped after restitution made.

1999July 20: Grand jury hands down 132 indictments for 46 people, based on the results of Coleman's 18-month undercover investigation.

July 23: The first arrests in the drug sting take place in a predominantly black neighborhood in Tulia. Local press, alerted by the police, broadcast many of the arrested being taken into custody in their nightwear. No drug paraphernalia was found during the raids.

August: Coleman is named 'Outstanding Lawman of the Year' by the Texas Narcotics Control Program.

December 15: First trial concludes with Joe Welton Moore sentenced to 90 years in prison.

2000

January - September: In a series of trials and plea bargains, 38 are convicted on drug charges. For the majority of defendants, Coleman's testimony is the only evidence against them.

September 7: The final trial concludes with Kareem Abdul Jabbar White sentenced to 60 years in prison.

September 28: First civil suit filed in federal court on behalf of Yul Bryant.

October 13: Complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Justice seeking civil rights investigation.

2001February 22: Second civil lawsuit filed on behalf of Billy Wafer, Bryant's lawsuit dropped.

September: The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund begins recruiting lawyers from across the country to aid the Tulia defendants and joins forces with local counsel Jeff Blackburn of the Tulia Legal Defense Project.

2002 April 12: Tonya White is released after it is proven that she was in Oklahoma when Coleman alleged she sold him drugs.

July 23: The Tulia Legal Defense Project begins proceedings in the case of the final defendant, 22-year-old Zuri Bossett.

September: The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issues a series of orders for new hearings in four of the Tulia cases and assigns retired state District Judge Ron Chapman of Dallas to hear new evidence.

October 29: NAACP Legal Defense Fund files motions to force an evidentiary hearing and to disqualify District Attorney Terry McEachern in Tulia case.

2003March 17: Judge Chapman begins his hearings in Swisher County. They are quickly stopped after prosecutors and defense attorneys agree that Coleman is "a racist, a liar and a thief."

April 1: Judge Chapman issues findings that all 38 convictions should be thrown out. His recommendation goes to the Court of Criminal Appeals, which has final jurisdiction on the cases. Prosecutors say that they will not retry the cases should charges be dismissed.

April 24: Coleman is indicted by a Swisher County grand jury on three felony perjury charges of lying about his past during Chapman's hearings.

June 2: Texas Governor Rick Perry signs a bill passed unanimously by the Texas State Legislature which creates a legal mechanism to free most of the remaining defendants on bond while the Court of Criminal Appeals considers dismissing the convictions.

June 16: Judge Ron Chapman grants bail and releases 13 Tulia defendants from prison.

July 30: The 18-member Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles votes to grant pardons to 35 of the 38 defendants in the 1999 Tulia drug sting case.

The House Judiciary Committee calls for an "oversight" review of the Tulia scandal that may lead to hearings in the fall of 2003. The review was requested by Reps. John Conyers, D-MI.; Sheila Jackson Lee, D-TX; and Charles Rangel, D-NY.

August 1: Swisher County officials turn down DA Terry McEachern's request for funds to fight the grievance filed against him for his part in the Tulia case by the Texas State Bar Association.


Sources: Sources: THE NEW YORK TIMES; THE ASSOCIATED PRESS; AUSTIN AMERICAN STATESMAN; THE AMARILLO GLOBE NEWS; THE AUSTIN CHRONICLE; THE NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATION FUND

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