Tulia bust racially motivated

"Do justice, love mercy, walk humble" -Friends of Justice travel to Austin

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on September 29th, 2000 against law enforcement officials in the West Texas town of Tulia for their alleged role in a highly criticized undercover drug bust that resulted in the arrest of one in 10 of the town's entire black population. The lawsuit, which targeted the sheriff of Swisher County, a deputy and the district attorney, illustrates how the nation's war on drugs really is a war on blacks.


The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Amarillo, was prompted by a 1998 undercover drug operation that resulted in the arrest of 43 people for allegedly selling cocaine in Tulia, a town of about 5,000 people south of Amarillo. Thirty-nine of those arrested were African Americans. Only 350 of the town's residents are African Americans. The ACLU believes they were targeted because they are black Americans.



The ACLU of Texas announced its intentions to file a law suit against Tulia Sheriff Larry Stewart, undercover agent Thomas Coleman and District Attorney Terry McEachern for a conspiracy to violate the civil rights of the African American population of Tulia, Texas. The details of this law suit was revealed September 29, 2000 on the South steps of the Capitol by ACLU of Texas Executive Director Will Harrell. Also present were the families and orphans of the wrongly imprisoned Tulians. The civil law suit alleges the following claims:

  • Defendants' under color of law and in violation of 42 U.S.C. S 1983, have subjected Plaintiffs to the deprivation of their rights, privileges and immunities secured by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Defendants deliberately and selectively targeted and prosecuted Plaintiffs using the unjustifiable and arbitrary standard of race. This was done with a discriminatory purpose and had a discriminatory and devastating effect. Defendants' purposeful discrimination was intended to accomplish the forbidden aim of cleansing Tulia of its black population. Similarly situated non-blacks were not targeted nor prosecuted. Defendants' discriminatory actions have directly and proximately caused harm to Plaintiffs.
  • In violation of 42 U.S.C Section 1985(2), Defendants conspired together for the purpose of impeding, hindering, obstructing, or defeating, the due course of justice in Texas with the intent to deny Plaintiffs the equal protection of the laws. Defendants' actions have directly and proximately caused damage to the Plaintiffs.
  • In violation of 42 U.S.C. Section 1983(3), Defendants conspired together to go in disguise on the Plaintiffs' premises to deprive Plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws or of equal privileges and immunities under the laws. Defendants' actions have directly and proximately caused harm to plaintiffs.
  • Defendants knowingly procured arrest warrants based on mistaken identity and baseless allegations to deprive Plaintiffs of their liberty. Defendants' conduct amounts to a raw, wanton and arbitrary abuse of police power. No reasonable police officer could have believed that plaintiffs had violated the law. Said conduct amounts to an intentional invasion of guaranteed privacy interests resulting in the search and seizure of Plaintiffs without probable cause. Defendants' actions directly and proximately caused damage to Plaintiffs.
  • Defendants intentionally or with conscious indifference deprived Plaintiffs of their liberty without due process of law. Their actions of selectively targeting the African American community in Tulia and their wanton departure from established practice worked a deprivation of Plaintiffs liberty interests in a manner unrelated to any legitimate object of arrest that shocks the conscience. Defendants had the primary duty not to convict, but to see that justice was done and not to suppress facts or secrete witnesses capable of establishing the innocence of the accused. Further, they had the duty to insure a fair trial for both the state and the defendant and to not impair the presumption of innocence. Defendants intentionally or with conscious indifference breached these duties, violating Plaintiffs right to due process and directly and proximately causing them harm.
  • Defendants have established and caused the commencement of a criminal prosecution against the plaintiff that was terminated in the Plaintiff's favor. The Plaintiff was innocent. There was no probable cause for the proceedings. The charge was filed with malice resulting in damage to the plaintiff.
  • Defendant have made an illegal, improper, or perverted use of the arrest warrant for purposes other than those approved by law and with no probable cause thereby causing damage to Plaintiffs.
  • Defendants willfully directed, requested, or participated in Plaintiff's detention without plaintiff's consent and without authority of law thereby causing damage to Plaintiff.
  • Defendants intentionally or knowingly caused physical contact with Plaintiff when they knew or should have reasonably believed that Plaintiff regarded the contact as offensive or provocative. Defendants actions directly and proximately caused damage to Plaintiff.
  • Defendants as officers or employees of the state or of a political subdivision of the state acting or purporting to act in an official capacity have, because of a Plaintiff's race, imposed an unreasonable burden on the Plaintiff.

The ACLU of Texas, through cooperating attorneys Jeff Blackburn, Van Williamson, and Jeff Frazier, are also handling some appeals of individuals wrongly convicted on the basis of evidence provided by Coleman. We are also forwarding all relevant documentation to the United States attorney and urging that office to bring criminal prosecutions against Mr. Coleman and Mr. McEachern for perjury and suborning perjury respectively.

"This is a gross miscarriage of justice with clear racial motivations. The ACLU is seeking justice and retribution by using the civil rights statutes. These are the so-called anti-Klan laws which ironically were created to remedy the perpetual racism of the post-Civil War south." announced Will Harrell, Executive Director of the Texas ACLU.

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