- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2005

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — A pool of 101 prospective jurors began answering a judge’s questions yesterday in the perjury trial of a former police officer whose discredited Tulia drug arrests put dozens of people in prison.

Tom Coleman faces up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine on each of three felony charges of aggravated perjury. The trial centers on whether he lied about his arrest record during evidentiary hearings for some of the defendants in 2003.

John H. Read II, one of Mr. Coleman’s attorneys, said retired State District Judge Ron Chapman wrongly stopped Mr. Coleman’s testimony during the hearings after the judge, defense attorneys and prosecutors concluded that Mr. Coleman was not a credible witness.

“He wasn’t able to explain what he said at the hearing because it wasn’t handled properly,” Mr. Read said. “They never let him come back and clear up the misconceptions.”

Mr. Coleman used no audio or video surveillance to substantiate the drug buys he said he made while working in Tulia as an undercover agent for the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Trafficking Task Force.

No drugs or money were found during the arrests. He worked alone and kept no written records of his drug buys, except for incident reports, some which were determined to be false.

After the 18 months in the late 1990s in which Mr. Coleman built cases and made arrests, 38 persons — most of them black — were convicted of selling small amounts of cocaine and received sentences of up to 90 years apiece. Mr. Coleman is white.

The cases received international attention after civil rights groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, questioned whether the arrests were racially motivated.

Joe Welton Moore, who spent four years in prison as one of Mr. Coleman’s drug arrests, said he planned to watch the trial. He was sentenced to 90 years and was among dozens of people in the case who were pardoned on a judge’s recommendation after a 2003 hearing to determine whether some of the 46 persons arrested in the small farming community had received fair trials.

Mr. Moore was accused of being the drug kingpin of Tulia, even though he lived in a run-down house with hog pens on the property. After a one-day trial, Mr. Moore, who had a narcotics felony on his record, was sentenced.

Despite losing his farm and spending four years in prison, Mr. Moore said he doesn’t want Mr. Coleman to go to prison.

“Prison ain’t no good place to be,” Mr. Moore said.

In August 2003, Gov. Rick Perry pardoned 35 of the 38 defendants who went to trial or accepted plea agreements. Last year, 45 of those arrested split a $6 million settlement of a civil rights lawsuit against Mr. Coleman and the 26 counties and three cities that were involved with the task force.

Prosecutor Rod Hobson declined to comment. However, Mr. Perry and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, who was state attorney general at the time of the drug arrests, are among the 61 witnesses Mr. Hobson’s office has subpoenaed to testify.

The trial is expected to last about a week.

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