The People

Meet the people featured in TULIA, TEXAS and learn what some of them have been doing since filming ended.

headshot of Jeff Blackburn

Jeff Blackburn
Criminal defense attorney

“The treatment these people received in the court system was so unfair, but I saw that there was still something that could be done for them.”

Jeff Blackburn represented several of the Tulia drug sting defendants and joined other civil rights attorneys to investigate agent Tom Coleman, leading to the eventual prison release and pardons for all the convicted Tulia defendants.

After his work in Tulia, Blackburn founded the West Texas Innocence Project at the Texas Tech University School of Law in Lubbock, where he continues to assist people wrongfully imprisoned in Texas. He also has a private law practice in Amarillo, where he lives.

headshot of Nate Blakeslee

Nate Blakeslee

“The drug task force program was launched in the late eighties…. In very short order it drastically changed the way the drug war was prosecuted.”

Nate Blakeslee was the first to chronicle the 1999 Tulia drug sting and its aftermath for the Texas Observer. He later wrote the book Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town (Public Affairs, 2006).

headshot of Freddie Brookins, Jr.

Freddie Brookins, Jr.
Pardoned defendant

“When I grabbed the indictment I was looking at and I seen ‘delivery of cocaine,’ I looked at him and I was like, ‘No, man, I think you all have the wrong house.’”

One of 46 people arrested in the 1999 Tulia drug sting, Freddie Brookins, Jr. served four years of a 20-year prison sentence before his felony conviction was overturned in 2003.

Brookins grew up in Tulia and returned to live there after he was released from prison. He works as a cook and is raising his daughters with his wife, Terri.

headshot of Freddie Brookins, Sr.

headshot of  Pattie Brookins

Freddie Brookins, Sr. and Pattie Brookins
Tulia residents and parents of defendant Freddie Brookins Jr.

“I wouldn't think that there's a community around anywhere that doesn't have a drug problem. But it wasn't just in the black community.” —Freddie Brookins, Sr.

“There’s still a lot of good people here. Not all, I wouldn’t say all the white people was wrong. But if I had a choice I wouldn’t live here.” —Pattie Brookins

A long-time Tulia resident, Freddie Brookins, Sr. organized with the multiracial coalition Friends of Justice to free his son from prison. He recently retired after working 30 years at a nearby meatpacking plant, where he had moved up the line to a management position.

Pattie Brookins does private home care for the elderly; when she’s not working, she and her husband spend time with their grandchildren, who all live in Tulia.

headshot of Ron Chapman

Ron Chapman
Retired Texas district judge

“[Tom Coleman] very rarely answered a question directly. He’d answer a question with a question. He was very devious in his testimony.”

Retired Texas District Judge Ron Chapman presided over the evidentiary hearing that led to the overturning of the Tulia drug sting cases.

headshot of Thomas Coleman

Thomas Coleman
Undercover narcotics agent

“They sent me to Houston, Texas, to a DEA school, it’s a drug administration training school. Then when I got back, they turned me loose and I started to work the undercover operation in Tulia, Texas… I had two lives.”

As an undercover narcotics agent, Thomas Coleman made cases against 46 Tulia residents for cocaine dealing. Later, inconsistencies in his police reports and court testimony resulted in the overturning of the cases, and he was convicted of perjury.

Since filming ended, Coleman has appealed his felony conviction for perjury twice, and both times he was denied. He will be on probation until 2015 and can never work in law enforcement again. He lives in a suburb outside of Dallas.

headshot of Gary Gardner

Gary Gardner
Retired farmer and Tulia resident

“I was the first white guy that said in public, ‘This is wrong.’”

Gary Gardner was one of the few white townspeople who publicly spoke out against the 1999 drug sting arrest in Tulia and who organized to free those wrongly imprisoned.

headshot of Rod Hobson

Rod Hobson
Special prosecutor

“[Coleman] never should have been a cop to begin with. I wanted the people to know that he had thought nothing about lying and sending numbers of people to prison.”

Lubbock-based attorney Rod Hobson was the special prosecutor for the 2005 perjury trial of Thomas Coleman.

headshot of Bobby Keeter

Bobby Keeter
Tulia resident

“Your smallest town has some places you can go buy drugs. Meth and crack cocaine and marijuana and heroin.”

A Tulia resident and recovering drug addict, Bobby Keeter is the former director of the recovery facility Driscoll House.

headshot of Charles Kiker

Charles Kiker
Retired minister and Tulia resident

“Forty-six people indicted for selling powder cocaine in Tulia, in a town of 5,000. And then we looked at the addresses. And so we knew that there had been a raid on black town.”

A retired minister and native Tulian, Charles Kiker was one of the organizers of the Friends of Justice. He currently serves on the board of the ACLU Texas, as well as the Amarillo “High Plains” chapter of the group.

headshot of Sue Riddick

Sue Riddick
Tulia resident and juror

“The whole drug thing, the drug problem, the arrests, the trials, was all very difficult as a group of people to deal with. I mean it was a town tragedy.”

Sue Riddick is a Tulia resident that served as a juror on one of the trials of the Tulia drug sting defendants.

headshot of Larry Stewart

Larry Stewart
Swisher County sheriff

“We felt like we did what the citizens here wanted us to do.”

As sheriff of Swisher County, Larry Stewart was one of Thomas Coleman’s supervisors on the Tulia drug sting operation.

Stewart lives on his family’s farm outside of Tulia and is a deacon in the Church of Christ. He was reelected in a landslide in the 2004 elections that followed the defendants’ release from prison. After a 17-year career as Tulia’s sheriff, he retired in 2008.

headshot of Michelle White

Michelle White
Pardoned defendant

“Life goes on. We’re still trying to make it and survive, doing what we have been doing.”

Arrested in the 1999 Tulia drug sting, Michelle White took a plea bargain because she feared the maximum prison sentences—20 to 99 years—that other defendants who fought the charges faced. She served two years in prison, and later received a pardon along with the other convicted Tulia drug sting defendants.

headshot of Ricky White

Ricky White
Tulia resident and father of defendants

“They did everything in their power to lock these people up.”

Longtime Tulia resident Ricky White watched as four of his children and his wife were arrested in the 1999 drug sting. His convicted family members were eventually pardoned by the Texas governor.

See what Tulia residents have to say in Tulia Talks Back >>

Learn about other cases like this in the Drug Scandals Map >>

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