The murder of a 23-year-old Florida woman in a botched drug buy-bust operation this May could lead to changes in how confidential informants are recruited and used by the state's law enforcement.
An official investigation found the Tallahassee Police Department had violated its own rules by recruiting Rachel Hoffman, a Florida State University graduate who was facing a drug charge and likely jail time after arrests for marijuana possession, and sending her alone into a dangerous undercover sting without training.
Florida state legislators are putting the finishing touches on a bill they are calling "Rachel's Law," which would tighten up rules on how the state's police recruit and use confidential informants. The law, which was first proposed by Rachel's father, Irv Hoffman, would require police in Florida to be more judicious in their selection of confidential informants and ensure the potential recruit has access to a lawyer.
Its likely sponsors, State Sen. Mike Fasano and State Rep. Peter Nehr, expect the bill to be considered when the legislature begins its regular session next spring. Both are Republican.
Tallahassee Police Chief Dennis Jones has signed on as a supporter of the effort. "We need to do a better job with this," Jones said in September.
Jones' support was perhaps surprising. In the days after Hoffman's murder, Jones made public statements that Hoffman was a criminal who bore a large part of the blame for the botched sting and, by extension, her own death.
"I'm calling her a criminal," Jones told ABC News' Brian Ross in July. Jones said then that he did not accept that his department was in any way responsible for Hoffman's death. "Do we feel responsible? We're responsible for the safety of this community," he said.
Jones, who was reprimanded as a result of the investigation into Hoffman's murder, later apologized for those comments. "We were placing most of the blame on Rachel Hoffman. I regret that now," Jones said. "It made us look like we weren't taking responsibility for what happened."
The two men Hoffman met as part of the May sting are in jail awaiting trial for her murder. One defendant, Andrea Green, has pled not guilty. The other, Deneilo Bradshaw, has not yet entered a plea, according to the court cleark's office.
Hoffman's parents are poised to sue the city of Tallahassee at the end of the month, according to their lawyer, Lance Block. The city has requested the family delay filing suit in order to negotiate a possible settlement out of court. Block said they are not inclined to hold up the suit.
Meanwhile, the only Tallahassee policeman fired over Hoffman's death wants to know why he was fired when higher-ups received only verbal reprimands – even if, like Deputy Police Chief John Proctor – they had approved his plan for the ill-fated operation.
Ryan Pender, who recruited Hoffman and planned the sting operation that went awry, is pushing to get his old job back, insisting that "the operational plan he put together was by the book, by the way he was trained. . . the way he and others in vice had done it for years," his lawyer, Paul Villaneuve, told ABCNews.com.
Tallahassee Police Department spokesman David McCranie said that Chief Jones "looked at the overall picture of everything that occurred and assigned responsibility based on the level of participation by each member of the department."
A spokesman for the police department declined comment on the matter, saying it was a question for the chief of police, who was "not in the building."
By JUSTIN ROOD
Dec. 26, 2008