Thursday, May 26, 2005

Bill named after Tulia to be filed today

Reverend Alan Bean and his wife Nancy were instrumental in getting justice for the Tulia defendants and their families.  I remember meeting him the first time when I went on the Journey for Justice in October, 1999 in Austin at the rally there. 

 
On 5/25/05, Alan and Nancy Bean  wrote:

Friends:

 

I protested the Tulia drug sting long before I knew Tom Coleman had a checkered past.  I didn't know much about the war on drugs at the time, but I didn't like the idea of convicting a defendant on the uncorroborated word of anyone—let alone a guy like Coleman.  It was immediately obvious that well-connected white defendants would never be convicted by a cop merely pointing the finger.  In fact, it is hard to conceive of a Texas DA even taking that kind of case to trial against a "real" person.  But the Tulia defendants fit the drug dealer profile (poor and black) so real evidence was optional.

 

Five years later Rep. Jackson Lee's bill was announced today at a press conference in Washington D.C.  My hope is that the hearings promised three years ago (at the height of the Bob Herbert-generated furor) will finally be held. 

 

Alan Bean

Friends of Justice

Tulia, Texas

http://www.amarillo.com/stories/052505/new_2001169.shtml

 

Bill named after Tulia to be filed today


By GREG CUNNINGHAM
greg.cunningham@amarillo.com

Amarillo Globe-News

 

When Tom Coleman came to Tulia in 1998, nothing about the tiny Texas town could have indicated the prominence to which the city would one day climb.

 

Now, seven years later, the name Tulia is synonymous in drug-reform circles with all that is wrong with the War on Drugs, and the since-discredited operation Coleman conducted has the potential to change the way law enforcement agencies across the country fight narcotics.

 

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, is scheduled to hold a news conference today to announce a new bill, named after Tulia, which aims to make sure that federal funds are never again used to conduct an operation like the one that happened in Tulia.

 

The bill, titled No More Tulias: Drug Law Enforcement Evidentiary Standards Improvement Act of 2005, aims to cut off federal funds to any multi-jurisdictional drug task force that operates in a state without evidentiary standards that could have prevented the Tulia fiasco.

Lee's office provided no comment on the bill Tuesday, but Bill Piper, who worked with Lee on the bill, had plenty to say.

 

Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance in New York said the bill is aimed squarely at the type of operations conducted in Tulia, where the defendants were convicted based solely on the word of an undercover agent tying them to a bag of drugs.

 

"What happened in Tulia made national news and cast the national spotlight on the criminal justice system," Piper said. "It's now become a symbol of what could go wrong in the War on Drugs."

 

Coleman, who is on probation after being convicted of lying on the stand during evidentiary hearings related to the bust, conducted the 18-month undercover investigation with no audio or video surveillance to back up his word. After allegations of theft and other improprieties surfaced in his background, nearly all the 46 defendants - most of them black - convicted on Coleman's word were pardoned and split up a $6 million settlement.

 

Lee's bill, which is co-sponsored by several other Democrats, would require states to have laws in place requiring more than just an agent's word for a conviction if they are to use federal law enforcement funds known as Byrne Grants to fund task forces. The bill names video or audio surveillance, fingerprints or marked money as possible corroborative evidence.

 

The states would also have to put procedures in place to conduct thorough background checks on undercover agents to use Byrne Grants for task forces.

"I'd say it's a long shot, but getting (the bill) introduced is a good start."

The Rev. Charles Kiker, outspoken opponent of the bust

 

The bill points to Tulia as a driving force, but also cites 17 other scandals in Texas, as well as controversies in other states.

 

"In recent years it has become clear that programs funded by the (Byrne Grants) have perpetuated racial disparities, corruption in law enforcement and the commission of civil rights abuses across the country," the bill reads. "This is especially the case when it comes to the program's funding of hundreds of regional anti-drug task forces."

 

Piper said prospects for the bill are fairly good, considering that the Byrne Grants have been under fire from both sides of the aisle in Congress. President George Bush has even moved to eliminate funding for the grants altogether. Piper said Lee is looking for more sponsors, including Republicans, and they are hopeful the bill can make it into law in the next year or two.

 

If the bill passes, it will come as a relief to many of those who fought against the Tulia bust from the beginning.

 

The Rev. Charles Kiker, a member of Friends of Justice and outspoken opponent of the bust, said it would be gratifying to see national change come out of the Tulia controversy.

 

"I think it would be a great thing if it could happen," he said. "I'd say it's a long shot, but getting (the bill) introduced is a good start."

 


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