Sep 28, 2003 - Dallas Morning News

Tulia Figure Calls Slur 'Greeting'

Despite Using It 'A Lot,' Discredited Agent Tells Ed Bradley He's No Racist

Tom Coleman, a former undercover agent who faces perjury charges related to his part in the racially charged Tulia, Texas, drug busts, says that he's proud of what he did in the Panhandle town and that he's no racist, despite using a racial epithet "a lot."

The epithet - a derogatory term for blacks - is "common slang" and "a greeting," Mr. Coleman tells CBS' 60 Minutes journalist Ed Bradley in Sunday's telecast.

But he tells Mr. Bradley, who is black, that he wouldn't use the slur with him. "Oh, no sir, not you," Mr. Coleman says on the show.

He goes on to say that it's OK to use the word around others, according to 60 Minutes producers.

The interview, conducted at Mr. Coleman's home in Waxahachie this summer, has drawn the interest of the special prosecutor in a perjury case against Mr. Coleman. Rod Hobson said Friday that he would file a motion this week seeking a subpoena for the entire interview - not just what is aired - as possible evidence at Mr. Coleman's trial.

Mr. Coleman has done at least two other interviews, with an Amarillo television station and the BBC, but none since being charged.

Mr. Coleman, 44, who is no longer in law enforcement, was indicted in April based on testimony he gave at post-trial hearings this spring. He worked alone and had no corroboration in his work as an undercover drug agent.

"I have no idea what's in the interview, but obviously if he's talking about the allegations against him, that's evidence in a criminal case," Mr. Hobson said.

Mr. Coleman's attorney, John H. Read II of Dallas, said he wouldn't have taken Mr. Coleman's case if he didn't believe he was innocent.

"He didn't do anything wrong," Mr. Read said. "He did nothing inappropriate, and we'll prove that."

No date has been set for Mr. Coleman's trial.

No Evidence Found

In July 1999, 46 people - 39 of whom are black - were arrested. Authorities found no drugs or money during the arrests but relied solely on the word of the investigator in the cases, Mr. Coleman.

The arrests shined an international spotlight on the town of about 5,000 and led civil rights groups to contend that the arrests were racially motivated. Mr. Coleman is white.

Last month, Gov. Rick Perry pardoned 35 of the 38 who were prosecuted solely on Mr. Coleman's word. Mr. Coleman tells Mr. Bradley that corroborating evidence such as surveillance video or photographs "would have helped, but that's not how the operation went."

Mr. Coleman stands behind his work, despite a judge in court documents calling him "the most devious, nonresponsive law enforcement witness this court has witnessed in 25 years."

"A lot of juries during the trial, they spoke their verdict, and that was a lot of juries," Mr. Coleman says on the show. "I didn't intentionally target anyone in Tulia. It turned out that way. It's just where the road led me."

"The defendants know when it boils down to it ... they handed me the dope, and I handed them the money."

He also discounts an alibi for one defendant whose case was dismissed. Charges against Tonya White were dropped in April 2002 after she presented evidence that she couldn't have been in Tulia on Oct. 9, 1998, when Mr. Coleman says he bought drugs from her.

"It's not good enough [evidence] for me," Mr. Coleman tells Mr. Bradley. "All I know is that she was in Tulia selling me dope that day."

Bank Slip Cited

Ms. White counters Mr. Coleman's contention.

"That's not possible because I was at the bank in Oklahoma City at 9:45 withdrawing $8, and they got my signature on my withdrawal slip," she says on the show.

Mr. Coleman tells Mr. Bradley the ordeal has been hard on him.

"Well, it's took my career away from me, but I'm surviving," Mr. Coleman says. "It's been hard ... but I'm proud of what I did in Tulia.

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