The Tulia, Texas Scandal
The Tulia Sting
The nightmare began in the early morning hours of July 23, 1999. Before dawn,
Thirty-nine of those arrested were black, approximately 10 percent of Tulia's small, black population. The remaining seven were whites and Hispanics who had ties to the black community. From the beginning the families of the defendants believed that the drug bust was racially motivated. They just couldn't prove it, at least not yet.
While incognito, Coleman claimed that he was able to gain the trust and friendship of many within Tulia's black population. According to Tom Mongold's article "The Rogue Cop of Tulia,
Every time Coleman scored a bag of powdered cocaine or other drug, he would turn it into his superiors who then gave him money to make more drug buys. In total, Coleman claimed to have made more than 100 purchases from Tulia residents. The sting eventually earned Coleman an award for "Outstanding Lawman of the Year" and most of the town's white citizens hailed him as a hero.
However, the town's black community was devastated by the arrests. Most of "Tulia's 46" received extremely harsh sentences ranging from three to 434 years in prison. According to Nate Blakeslee's article "Color of Justice," "the disproportionate number of African-Americans targeted by the operation" led to an NAACP investigation of the cases. Moreover, defense attorneys representing those convicted, conducted their own investigation into Coleman's background. What they learned was surprising.
Details emerged that Coleman's investigative methods were at least highly dubious. Moreover, his credibility was also thrown into question when it was learned that he had a criminal history and a reputation as a liar and bigot. Civil rights activists believed that the sting operation led by Coleman was in fact a scheme to rid the community of the black population. The more informed people became about Coleman, the sting and the trials of those arrested, the more it became increasingly clear that Tulia had a huge scandal on their hands.