A Donald Smith, Tulia High’s Athlete of the Year, 1989 awaiting trial. In recent months, defense attorneys have begun to raise questions about Coleman’s background relating to his employment history and the mysterious circumstances surrounding an indictment of his own, which came to light during the undercover operation. As cracks in Coleman’s credibility have begun to appear, District Attorney Terry McEachern’s confidence in the cases apparently has begun to wane. Plea bargain offers have gotten progressively lower, and now a sort of stalemate seems to have set in with respect to the remaining cases. Meanwhile, the skepticism that was initially confined to the black community in this racially divided town has spread to the white community, where a few of Tulia’s prominent white residents are beginning to ask questions about exactly what has been done in the name of justice in Swisher County. JUNE 23, 2000 A DEALER’S LIFE Donnie Smith’s creased face and wire-rim eyeglasses make him appear ten years older than his age. A short, slightly-built man, he speaks in a rural Panhandle accent, occasionally breaking up his sleepy cadence with bursts of street jargon. Although everyone in Tulia’s tiny black community lost a friend or relative to the bust, Smith’s family was hit hardest. “My little brother’s in county jail and he hadn’t went to court yet. My little sister got twenty-five years. My cousin got six years on a plea bargain. And my uncle got eighteen years. And all the people that got busted are friends of mine. Friends and relatives,” Smith said earlier this month in an interview at Abilene’s Middleton Transfer Facility prison unit. Donnie’s mother, Mattie White, a correctional officer at a state prison near Tulia, claims that after the bust, the sheriff told her he had given the undercover agent a list of names to check out. Sheriff Stewart now denies that he pointed the agent in the direction of Tulia’s black community. Stewart says he hired Coleman because of complaints about dealing to high school students, and that the operation happened to be steered toward the black community when Agent Coleman befriended an older black man, who served as Coleman’s introduction to the drug community in Tulia. Donnie Smith was Tulia High’s Athlete of the Year when he graduated in 1989. It turned out to be the high point of his life. He married his high-school girlfriend and had two children. But the marriage ended badly, as did a brief stint at West Texas A&M Uni versity in Canyon. Smith also got into trou ble with the law a couple of fights led to misdemeanor charges. He found part-time work at the sale barn, a last resort for unemployed men in Tulia. He and his fellow laborers were not cowboys. They worked “in the shit,” cracking open bales of hay for the cows to eat or running the livestock gate in the stifling, dusty barn on Mondays, when buyers from across the Midwest came to bid on animals all day long. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was steady work, and in Tulia there wasn’t much else for someone like Smith to choose from. But the most important thing about the job from Smith’s perspective especially after he became addicted to cocaine was that he could come in on a Saturday, work three days, and get paid in cash when the sale ended on Monday. It was the “sale barn” that provided Donnie Smith the money to buy crack cocaine. And it was a fellow employee, Eliga Kelly, who introduced Agent Tom Coleman to Donnie Smith. Known to everyone in Tulia’s tight-knit black community as THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9
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