The Tulia, Texas Scandal
From an early age, Coleman had aspirations of working in law enforcement. It was likely that he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, Joe Coleman, who was a highly respected Texas Ranger in
According to a 2001 Amarillo News article by Greg Cunningham, Coleman's first law enforcement job began in the mid-1980s when he was hired as a jailer in
The family moved to
Coleman then moved to
Coleman moved to the
In the meantime, his ex-employer Sheriff Burke wrote a letter to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement stating his views about Coleman's conduct. In the letter, he explained how Coleman abruptly left his job with no notice, leaving behind massive debts. According to Mongold, he also said, "Mr. Coleman should not be in law enforcement if he is going to do people the way he did in this town."
Not long after he was hired, Coleman took on the undercover assignment with the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Task Force, who supplied federal grant money to fund the drug operation. Just five months into the Tulia sting, Coleman learned that his previous employer had an arrest warrant against him for stealing gas and abuse of power for failing to repay his debts. Sheriff Stewart had no choice but to arrest his new narcotics agent.
To avoid disrupting the ongoing drug operation, Stewart decided not to fire Coleman. Instead, he gave him one week off to organize his affairs and pay off what he owed. If he did, all the charges would be dismissed and he would be allowed to continue with the investigation. Coleman followed through and paid up. He then promptly returned to the work at hand, that of infiltrating Tulia's black community and buying drugs from those he allegedly befriended.
During the operation, Coleman used unconventional methods to compile evidence. He didn't wear a wire to tape any of the alleged drug deals, he never took fingerprints and he worked completely alone. The only evidence that the drug deals took place were the bags of drugs he purported to have bought that contained a minute quantity of cocaine, notes he had taken of the transactions, which he wrote on his arm and leg, and his word of honor, as far as that went.
Nevertheless, despite the lack of corroborating evidence, he was able to secure arrest warrants for the "Tulia 46," most of who were set to spend the better part of their lives behind bars. Coleman had no regrets. When interviewed by Kossey, he said "I believe we did everything right in Tulia, everything. I don't think there is anyone in jail that don't deserve to be there." However, there were many who disagreed with Coleman and his methods. More people than he likely ever imagined.