The victims of the notorious Tulia, Texas, drug busts of 2001, where 46 people, nearly all black, were arrested and imprisoned on drug charges fabricated by a discredited police officer, got a triple-shot of good news this week. Not only has the man who prosecuted them been driven from office, but the Tulia victims also won a settlement to their civil suit against the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Trafficking Task Force, to which the discredited officer belonged, and now there are two competing screen versions of the whole sordid tale set to air in the near future.
On Wednesday, attorneys in the case announced that the city of Amarillo, which had primary responsibility for the drug task force, had agreed to pay $5 million, permanently disband the task force, and send two task force supervisors into early retirement. "This is undoubtedly the last major chapter in the Tulia story, and this will conclude the efforts of people in Tulia to get some compensation and justice," Amarillo attorney Jeff Blackburn, who represented the people arrested five years ago, told the New York Times. "With the abolition of the task force, it completely closes the circle on what was done."
The next target is similar task forces statewide, said Blackburn. "I am really hopeful that this will send a shock wave to Austin and that it will result in a complete systematic overhaul of narcotics enforcement in Texas."
The $5 million will be divided among the 45 remaining victims (one has since died) according to whether and for how long they served time in prison. At least 13 of the Tulia victims had to wait for a pardon from Gov. Rick Perry last year to be freed.
That good news made Tuesday's primary election results in Swisher County, where Tulia is located, even sweeter. District Attorney Terry McEachern, who sent dozens of innocent people to prison on the basis of fabricated testimony by his sole witness, police officer Tom Coleman, and who never conceded that he had been wrong, was defeated in the Republican primary for district attorney for Swisher and Hale counties. McEachern came in a weak third, with 25% of the vote.
And two days before that, the World Entertainment News Network reported that actresses Halle Berry and Alfre Woodard are starring in competing movie versions of the Tulia tale. Berry will play a real-life Tulia attorney in a movie set to be shot in 2006, while Woodard will play Tulia matriarch Mattie White, whose four children were among those arrested, in a CBS TV movie set to air before that.
Justice (and Hollywood) come at last to Tulia.