“Man” Kelly, Eliga Kelly is an alcoholic who often worked weekends and Mondays at the auction to support his habit. Sometime in the summer of 1998, Kelly introduced Smith to a white stranger who called himself T.J. Dawson. Dawson, actually Agent Coleman, said he was working construction in the town of Happy, about fifteen miles away. Kelly told Smith he had known the man for years, though Coleman had only recently shown up in Tulia. Based on this assurance, Smith scored crack for Coleman on three or four occasions over the course of the summer. Although Smith was a regular crack smoker, he was not what most people would call a dealer. He took Coleman’s money to his own supplier and used it to buy rocks for him as well as for himself. According to Smith, the two smoked crack together in Coleman’s truck on more than one occasion. Then, fed up with the drug life and wanting to become a better parent to his kids, who lived in Tulia with his ex-wife, Smith checked himself into rehab in Lubbock that winter and lost track of Coleman. When Smith finished the ninety-day program, he returned to Tulia, where he began working for a local farmer. He had been clean for six months when the police arrested him, along with dozens of others netted by Coleman, last July. With no prior felony convictions, Smith was prepared to plea bargain. The small amounts he had delivered, combined with his status as a first-time felony offender, he fig ured, gave him a good shot at probation. Then he read the indictments. He was accused of delivering cocaine to Coleman on seven separate occasions. But only one delivery was alleged to be crack cocaine. The other deliveries were said to be powder, in amounts between one and four grams making them second-degree felonies. The D.A. offered Smith forty-five years. Smith knew something strange was going on. “I don’t mess with powder, man. I don’t shoot it and I don’t smell it,” he said. Unable to raise bail, Smith sat in jail in neighboring Hale County \(the Swisher County lockup was filled by the sweep; some defendants had to be housed as far February, when he went to trial on the first count, a relatively minor charge of delivery of less than a gram of crack cocaine. On the stand he surprised everyone, including his own attorney, by admitting that he got crack for Coleman several times \(although he denied making the specific delivery for which he stood acAlthough Coleman asked for powder, Smith said, he didn’t know where to get it because nobody he knew used powder. It simply never came up in his circle of friends. The jury convicted Smith and gave him the maximum sentence of two years. In light of the severe sentences already handed down in earlier felony trials, Smith’s court-appointed attorney urged him to plead guilty to the powder charges even if he believed he had been falsely accused by Coleman. In a plea bargain with McEachern, Smith accepted an offer of twelve years. Smith was not the only defendant in Tulia to have powder co 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MEXICAN JUDO By all accounts, there was cocaine in Tulia. But much more cocaine passed through the town, by virtue of its location on Interstate 27, than ever landed there. Crack cocaine began to appear in the late 1980s, particularly in the black community. According to defendants interviewed for this story, there were no volume dealers in Tulia. The local drug scene was fueled by small amounts of drugs usually a few hundred dollars’ worth at a time picked up in nearby Plainview or Amarillo. In a small town, word got around fast about who was holding what, and users looking to score would quickly arrive at the house with the drugs. “A good hour’s run, and it’s gone,” one defendant said. Yet by most indicators, Tulia never had a serious drug problem. In 1996, District Attorney McEachern told the Tulia Sentinel that he had prosecuted only about ten cases that year involving delivery or possession of illegal drugs in Swisher County. The county attorney reported handling about eighteen misdemeanor drug cases that same year, mostly for marijuana possession. And only eight of sixty-one referrals to juvenile probation that year were for drug abuse. Anec dotal evidence suggests that property crime usually closely associated with a large addict population was not a major problem in Tulia, where many residents still leave their doors unlocked. Polls of junior high and high school students in Tulia suggested some of the lowest rates of drug use in the region, much lower than statewide or national rates. Yet some in the community saw a problem. A Tulia police officer told the Tulia Sentinel in 1996 that the department had compiled a list of “sixty known drug dealers” in town. In January of 1997, the Tulia school board adopted by a six-to-one margin a mandatory random drug testing program for all students involved in extracurricular activities. The one dissenting vote was Gary Gardner. One of Swisher County’s most respected citizens, Gardner is an enigma in overalls. He lives in a rural village east of Tulia called Vigo Park, and he is the descendant of one of Tulia’s oldest farming clans. He is a self-described redneck who likes to tell friends it took him twenty years to find a wife smart enough to marry. His vocabulary on race and ethnic issues has not changed since the 1950s. Yet he has emerged as one of the staunchest de JUNE 23, 2000 caine introduced as evidence against him. In fact, virtually everyone caught in the bust was charged with selling powder cocaine, in some instances up to a half-dozen counts. Tulia doesn’t even have a fast food restaurant, much less a bar or nightclub. The per capita income is $11,000. Yet suddenly powdered cocaine, a drug normally associated with affluent users, seemed to be everywhere at least everywhere in Tulia’s hardscrabble black community. And while powder was everywhere, it only seemed to appear in small quantities just enough to constitute a second-degree felony. Could there really be forty coke dealers in a rural Panhandle community? “Where the drug addicts at? Where the big houses? Where all the gold teeth?” Smith asked. Of forty-one suspected drugdealers apprehended, thirty-five came from Tulia’s tiny black community. Ten percent of the town’s black population was taken down by one undercover agent.
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