The City of Amarillo is to be commended for doing the right thing today in settling the Tulia drug “sting” cases and bringing closure to this devastating episode of misconduct by law enforcement officers. The City has agreed to: (1) pay $5 million in damages to the 45 former Tulia defendants; (2) disband the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Task Force that it established to oversee the sting operation; and (3) require early retirement for two Amarillo Police Department officers who were responsible for supervising the sting’s sole undercover agent, Tom Coleman.
“The City stands as an example to others — not only because the settlement compensations to the individual victims of the sting, but also because it accomplishes systemic reform by disbanding the task force that was responsible for overseeing the sting operation,” said LDF Assistant Counsel Vanita Gupta, who was LDF’s primary lawyer on the case. “It’s not that Tom Coleman was simply a rogue officer. The problem is that federally funded narcotics task forces operate nationwide as rogue task forces because they are utterly unaccountable to any oversight mechanism. The federal government needs to step in and impose proper checks and guidelines for the use of its funds in order to ensure that other “Tulias” do not similarly devastate communities of color.”
Representative F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI), Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, agreed in May 2003 to hold hearings about the Tulia “sting” and the federal money that funded it. To date, no hearing has been held.
Tulia graphically illustrates the need to reform the so-called “War on Drugs” in this country, and particularly the federally funded narcotics task forces that drive that war without proper protocol or adequate oversight, to minimize or eliminate the risk of more Tulia-like abuses.