Charges Dropped Against Woman in Tulia Case

7/19/2002, Amarillo Globe-News

A major chapter in the Tulia drug controversy came to an end Thursday when a plan to drop charges against the final defendant from the 1999 undercover arrests was announced.

Standing in front of the Hale County courthouse, seven months pregnant and wearing a shy smile, 23-year-old Zuri Bossett quietly spoke about what it was like to end her three years on the run from narcotics charges brought against her by undercover agent Tom Coleman.

"It's just such a relief," said Bossett, whose first name has been misspelled as "Zury" on the indictment. "I can go on with my life now and not be scared every day that I'm going to get arrested and taken away from my children."

District Attorney Terry McEachern announced Thursday that the charges against Bossett would be formally dropped Tuesday - the date her trial was set to begin - provided that Bossett remains out of trouble until then.

McEachern said he was unable to comment further on the case because of state bar association limitations.

One of Bossett's attorneys, Jeff Blackburn of Amarillo, filled in the reasoning behind the move to drop the charges against Bossett, who had never been arrested before the drug accusations were raised against her.

"We both agreed that Zuri Bossett had led a pretty exemplary life before she was accused by Tom Coleman, and we both agreed that Zuri Bossett had led an exemplary life since she was charged," Blackburn said. "She was just raising her kids and working and leading a quiet life. We both agreed that she just didn't strike us as a bad person who deserved to go to jail."

Blackburn also was complimentary toward McEachern.

"I think he did the right thing here," Blackburn said. "He didn't have to drop these charges. He saved this poor girl a lot of grief."

The dropping of charges against Bossett will put an end to the first phase of the Tulia controversy, which started in 1999 when 46 people, 39 of whom are black, were arrested after an 18-month undercover narcotics investigation by Coleman.

The racial makeup of the defendants led to charges of racism, which spurred a national controversy and led to civil suits and a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into possible civil rights abuses.

As the controversy was brewing, numerous accusations of wrongdoing in Coleman's past surfaced, leading opponents to question his integrity.
With Bossett going free, the last of the cases has been decided, but the fight is only beginning, supporters of the defendants said.

Of the original 46 people arrested, 14 are still in jail; one died of natural causes before he could go to trial; four have been cleared; and the rest have either served their jail time or are on probation, Blackburn said.

"This is a victory in one battle of this war, but it is still a war," Blackburn said. "We will continue to fight this war until we have cleared every single one of those defendants."
The next phase for the remaining defendants will come in court as those who were convicted or pleaded guilty will fight the decisions with writs of habeas corpus. Many large national law firms have lined up to file writs on behalf of the defendants in an effort to clear them of all charges.

Blackburn said the defense effort also may include more civil lawsuits, and he once again called for state agencies to get involved.

The fight also will continue out of the courtroom, with opponents pressing their case to clear the defendants in the court of public opinion, said Randy Credico, who represents the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice.

"Nobody is giving up on this fight, even though this was a great victory," Credico said. "We have a lot of things planned and we will keep up the pressure."