Four years after dozens of African American residents from the small town of Tulia, Texas were arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated on the testimony of a single undercover agent, the agent has been deemed unreliable and a judge is recommending that a higher court set aside all of the convictions. According to today's Associated Press, prosecutors said the defendants won't be retried.
"This is an incredible victory for the people who were arrested and their families, and for the national movement to end the war on drugs," said Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
Defense lawyers and civil rights groups said that the 1999 arrests in the predominantly white town of 5,000 people were racially motivated. Almost 15% of the town's small black population was arrested in the bust. Other law-enforcement officials testified that Coleman had previously faced theft charges and used a racial epithet.
"It is stipulated by all parties and approved by the court that Tom Coleman is simply not a credible witness under oath," said Dallas Judge Ron Chapman in recommending that the appeals court set aside all convictions and sentences based on Coleman's testimony.
In Tulia and around the country, many individual activists, family members, lawyers and advocacy organizations have worked tirelessly for the freedom of the wrongly accused. The William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union, in particular, were pivotal in leading the legal effort and expanding public pressure. Complaints by civil rights groups, including Drug Policy Alliance, helped to focus international attention on the Panhandle town.
"What happened in Tulia is particularly shocking in its starkness, scale and notoriety," said Nadelmann. "Unfortunately, though, it is just one of the countless injustices in a war on drugs that disproportionately targets people of color while wasting millions of taxpayer dollars."
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ATTENTION JOURNALISTS: For in-depth information and updates about the Tulia cases, please see: www.drugpolicy.org/law/police/tulia/index.cfm. To view the Kunstler Fund video, "Tulia, Texas: Scenes from the Drug War" visit: www.soros.org:8080/ramgen/tlc/tulia.rm.