The Informant, The Lies, The Injustice-and A Life Lost

By Motorhead · Mar 29, 2006 · ·
  1. Motorhead
    US PA: Column: The Informant, The Lies, The Injustice -and A Life Lost
    by Elmer Smith, (24 Mar 2006) Philadelphia Daily News Pennsylvania
    CHARLES PLINTON was still struggling with the reality of his son's suicide when he found the box of cartridges. Three were missing.

    "There were people who wondered if someone else had shot Chuck," Plinton told me. "But I never really thought that. He had bought the gun the same day."

    That day was Dec. 12, 2005. Charles A. "Chuck" Plinton Jr. called his mother, Frances Parker Robinson, from his car on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. He told her he was going to kill himself and that there was nothing she could do to stop him.

    She begged him to pray about it. He said he had. She asked him to call his father. He refused.

    "Please let me look at you one more time," she reportedly told him.

    She called her former husband to tell him about their son's distress call. Then they waited.

    "She called me back later that night," Plinton recalled. "She said, 'He did it. He did it.' "

    There are no easy answers when a man in his mid-20s, with a college degree and a promising future, decides to take his own life.

    "He couldn't keep up," his dad said. "He could not pay the rent, his car payment. He had legal bills.

    "It was just too much for him. Everything went downhill for him after what happened to him at the University of Akron. He never got over it."

    What happened to Chuck Plinton was a massive injustice that the University of Akron is just now trying to resolve, six months after his death.

    Luis M. Prozenza, president of the university, in a statement issued yesterday said he is "calling for a thorough assessment of university regulations governing the student disciplinary process."

    A year earlier, a "thorough assessment" may have saved Chuck Plinton's life.

    Instead, the university took the word of a paid informant in one of the shakiest minor drug cases that ever came before a jury. They suspended him, took away the tuition waiver and stipend he was living on and he was banned from the dorms for life.

    Plinton, who lived alternately with his mother in South Jersey and his father in Norristown, was accepted into Akron's Masters in Public Administration program after graduating from Lincoln University in Chester County. His father and uncle were also Lincoln alums.

    He was in his second semester at Akron when he was arrested and charged with selling marijuana to a paid informant who had been planted in his dormitory.

    The informant, Richard Dale Harris, 35, was a career criminal and a paid operative of the Summit County Police Department. Among the long list of people he had fingered was his own sister. He claims he ratted on her to save her children from her.

    He was paid $50 for every drug buy he made on campus. The buys he claimed to have made on March 3 and March ll, 2003, from Plinton, totaled less than $100.

    But work sheets showed that Plinton was signed in at his job across campus at the time of the alleged March 3 drug buy, according to the court record.

    Even the identification of Plinton based on the alleged March 11 buy was so shaky that the informant tried to confirm it with tapes from a dormitory surveillance camera. But that showed Plinton dressed differently from the man police said sold the drugs.

    The case was falling apart until the detective who arrested Plinton suddenly recalled, three months after the arrest, that Plinton had confessed to him.

    The detective couldn't explain why he didn't put the confession in writing or why he had failed to include it in his original police report.

    A jury in Summit County took all of 40 minutes to acquit.

    "There wasn't much debate," juror Jeannie Woodall told the Akron Beacon Journal."

    An elated Plinton went before the university's disciplinary board, thinking his reinstatement was a formality. Instead, by a 3-2 vote, they decided that they believed the informant - and not the jury.

    "He was devastated," his father told me. "He couldn't afford more lawyers to fight the school."

    So he came home and spent a year trying to rebuild his life. Until last Dec. 12, when it all became too much for him.

    His family has not decided what, if anything, to do from here.

    "We've been told that we have no legal standing to sue," Charles Plinton said.

    Meanwhile, the university has been rocked by student protests and forced to answer tough questions, particularly from elements of Akron's black community.

    "We hold ourselves to the highest standards of fairness," Prozenza said in his statement yesterday.

    Too bad Chuck Plinton didn't live to see that.

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  1. old hippie 56
    It is sad that the powers to be rather believe liars than hard evidence. This kind of crap is going on all over this country. Remember Tulia, Tx.?
  2. Sitbcknchill
    I take it your talking about this? There is way more on this but as a general outline here is some the rest...

    The nightmare began in the early morning hours of July 23, 1999. Before dawn, Tulia, Texas, police arrested 46 men and women in the biggest drug bust in Swisher County's history. The "Tulia 46," as they became known, were rousted from their beds in the before dawn and taken to jail while still in their pajamas.

    Thirty-nine of those arrested were black, approximately 10 percent of Tulia's small, black population. The remaining seven were whites and Hispanics who had ties to the black community. From the beginning the families of the defendants believed that the drug bust was racially motivated. They just couldn't prove it, at least not yet.

    However, Tom Coleman, the agent who single-handedly carried out the 18-month sting, vehemently denied race had anything to do with the takedown. According to Leeann Kossey's I-Team Interview, Coleman, 42, said that he wasn't prejudiced against black people, "or any other origin of person." He claimed he was just doing his job, that of weeding out the town's criminal element.

    Swisher County Sheriff Larry Stewart and Lt. Mike Amos of the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Task Force hired Coleman in January 1998 to conduct an undercover drug operation. In preparation for the sting, he assumed a new identity by growing his hair long, changing his style of dress from clean-cut cowboy to biker and using the alias T.J. Dawson. He then set about going undercover in the town's poor black community.

    While incognito, Coleman claimed that he was able to gain the trust and friendship of many within Tulia's black population. According to Tom Mongold's article "The Rogue Cop of Tulia, Texas," Coleman suggested that some actually felt comfortable enough with him that they sold him drugs, such as cocaine and crack, when he said he wanted to get high. Mongold said that he used the clever excuse of being on probation and subject to urine tests to avoid taking drugs in front of people.

    Every time Coleman scored a bag of powdered cocaine or other drug, he would turn it into his superiors who then gave him money to make more drug buys. In total, Coleman claimed to have made more than 100 purchases from Tulia residents. The sting eventually earned Coleman an award for "Outstanding Lawman of the Year" and most of the town's white citizens hailed him as a hero.

    However, the town's black community was devastated by the arrests. Most of "Tulia's 46" received extremely harsh sentences ranging from three to 434 years in prison. According to Nate Blakeslee's article "Color of Justice," "the disproportionate number of African-Americans targeted by the operation" led to an NAACP investigation of the cases. Moreover, defense attorneys representing those convicted, conducted their own investigation into Coleman's background. What they learned was surprising.

    Details emerged that Coleman's investigative methods were at least highly dubious. Moreover, his credibility was also thrown into question when it was learned that he had a criminal history and a reputation as a liar and bigot. Civil rights activists believed that the sting operation led by Coleman was in fact a scheme to rid the community of the black population. The more informed people became about Coleman, the sting and the trials of those arrested, the more it became increasingly clear that Tulia had a huge scandal on their hands.
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