HoustonChronicle.com - Agent in Tulia case admits errors in four other busts: Tom Coleman, the lone undercover agent in the controversial 1999 drug sting operation in Tulia, stood by his actions Thursday in an evidentiary hearing ordered by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. "My cases are not questionable," he said. "I stand by what I did." A short time later, though, Coleman testified that there were discrepancies in other cases in which he made drug buys, including one that was tossed out after a woman proved she was in Oklahoma at the time Coleman said he bought drugs from her. "There are some mess-ups in four cases," Coleman testified. Coleman had a one-word "Yes" for defense attorney Mitchell Zamoff when Zamoff said, "Really, but for your word, there's no evidence in any of these cases that these buys took place." [.....] In cross examination, John Nation, the state's prosecutor, asked [Swisher County Sheriff Larry Stewart], had he known that Coleman was "a liar and a criminal," if he would have been willing to throw out the nearly 120 cases that sprang from the bust.
"Yes, sir," Stewart said.
Stewart's comment surprised Zamoff.
"Quite an admission by an elected official," he said while court was in recess.
You know, it's really going to be fascinating to see what grounds the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ultimately uses to allow these cases to stand.
(And then the federal court of appeals will probably toss them out, or reverse and remand, with an absolutely scathing opinion. That seems to happen to the TCCA every so often.)
The Houston Chronicle also happens to have a rather savagely pointed editorial by Thom Mitchell on the state of the Tulia investigation, as well as an ongoing scandal in the Houston Police Department crime lab (which should, but probably will not, result in the invalidation of a certain number of death sentences in the county in the US most prone to execute). Apparently, the US Department of Justice is contributing to the entire disaster, in its own inimitable way.
Crime lab needs grand jury probe (Houston Chronicle, March 20, 2003) ...... I called the AG's office recently to ask about the status of the investigation into the Tulia drug sting situation. You may recall that is a major scandal regarding numerous arrests and convictions based on the word of a lone itinerant undercover officer working for a narcotics task force. When John Cornyn was AG, he stayed clear of the Tulia mess until it looked like it might become an issue in his campaign for U.S. Senate. Then he announced he was starting an investigation. That was many months ago, but when I called to see whether the new AG about had the Tulia investigation all wrapped up, his PR woman took several hours to get back with a statement that the AG's office would not comment about the Tulia mess because of upcoming hearings in the appeals process of some of the cases. (Those hearings were under way this week in Tulia.) That PR woman would not even confirm that the AG's office still was investigating the Tulia sting scandal.
Our Mayor Brown, who must bear some responsibility for the HPD lab mess, has invited the U.S. Justice Department to come investigate it.
But let's look again at the Tulia scandal. The Justice Department started investigating Tulia long before the Texas AG's office, and nothing has come of it. Several months ago, one Justice Department official said the investigation had been dropped, but then another one said no it hadn't.
Given Justice's current focus under Ashcroft, it's not remotely surprising that there is a certain amount of confusion about what's happening. A wrongful drug bust wouldn't even appear on Justice's radar these days unless there was a terrorist somehow involved. (And Ashcroft probably approves of this sort of approach to justice anyway. Put 'em all in jail, sort it all out later.)Posted by iain at March 21, 2003 02:10 AM