Undercover agent defends Tulia busts in interview

Saturday, September 27, 2003

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

The epithet is "common slang" and "a greeting," Tom Coleman tells CBS' "60 Minutes" journalist Ed Bradley in Sunday's telecast.

But he tells Bradley, who is black, that he wouldn't use the racial slur with him. "Oh, no sir, not you," Coleman says, according to a news release from the show.

Thirty-eight people, almost all of them black, were convicted on Coleman's testimony after the 1999 drug busts in Tulia, a Texas Panhandle town of about 5,100 residents 70 miles north of Lubbock. Authorities found no drugs or money during the 46 arrests there.

Last month, Gov. Rick Perry granted pardons to 35 of those convicted. Civil rights groups claimed the busts were racially motivated. Coleman is white.

The interview, conducted at Coleman's home this summer, has drawn the interest of the special prosecutor in his perjury case. Rod Hobson said Friday he plans to seek a subpoena for the entire interview -- not just what is aired -- as possible evidence at Coleman's trial.

Coleman, 44 and no longer in law enforcement, was indicted in April following testimony he gave at post-trial hearings this spring. He has been interviewed at least twice before, with an Amarillo television station and the BBC, but none since being charged.

"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," Hobson said.

Coleman's attorney, John H. Read II, said his client did nothing wrong. "He did nothing inappropriate and we'll prove that," Read said.

In the interview, Coleman said he stands behind his work.

"I didn't intentionally target anyone in Tulia," Coleman said. "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 tells Bradley the ordeal has been hard on him.

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

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