In Memoriam: Charles Workman

Slain Hearne civil rights leader Charles Workman

By Alan Bean

News reports describing the tragic murder of Charles Workman invariably point out that he was a former city councilman, an active member of the Democratic party, a leading member of the Hearne NAACP and president of the Columbus Village Residents’ Council.  But Workman was also a key figure in the fight to reverse a bogus drug sting in the central Texas community of Hearne that became the inspiration for the film American Violet.  

Those who were intimately involved in the fight for justice in Tulia, Texas (the event that sparked the creation of Friends of Justice) will know that the Tulia and Hearne stories were linked as twin examples of drug war injustice.  Mark Osler, now a Friends of Justice board member, worked closely with defense counsel representing key Hearne defendant Regina Kelly.

The picture above was taken in January of 2005 when I met Charles in a Hearne diner.  Friends of Justice made five separate trips to Hearne between 2000 and 2005, most recently in support of the ACLU’s successful civil suit filed on behalf of the Hearne defendants and their families.

The poor African American community in Hearne had been victimized by seasonal drug busts that usually targeted public housing developments.  Charles Workman’s son was one of the people swept up in the 2000 version of this dismal process.  Each of twenty odd defendants had been arrested on the uncorroborated word of Derrick Megress, a self-confessed crack addict who agreed to cooperate with the local Sheriff and DA in return for a sweetheart deal.  Megress eventually admitted that he had faked all of the drug buys he had allegedly made over a period of weeks.

John Paschall, the Robertson County District Attorney, threatened Megress with an arranged prison rape if he failed to cooperate.  When Megress confessed, Paschall was initially unwilling to drop charges on defendants who had already taken plea deals.  Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast was working for the ACLU during the Hearne-Tulia fight.  Scott doubts that John Paschall can be trusted to investigate the murder of a man associated with a case that subjected the DA to national ridicule.

Persons of interest have emerged in connection with this case, but no clear motive has surfaced.  A young man allegedly burned Workman’s 2000 Jaguar after a failed attempt to sell the vehicle, but the strength of the evidence is uncertain at this point.

I distinctly remember going door-to-door with Mr. Workman in Hearne’s housing projects trying to whip up support for a church meeting planned for later that evening.  Everyone said they’d be there, but almost no one from the affected community showed up.  How tragic it would be if the assailant turns out to be one of the beneficiaries of Charles Workman’s advocacy.  We will keep you posted as this story develops.