1. Dear Drugs-Forum readers: We are a small non-profit that runs one of the most read drug information & addiction help websites in the world. We serve over 4 million readers per month, and have costs like all popular websites: servers, hosting, licenses and software. To protect our independence we do not run ads. We take no government funds. We run on donations which average $25. If everyone reading this would donate $5 then this fund raiser would be done in an hour. If Drugs-Forum is useful to you, take one minute to keep it online another year by donating whatever you can today. Donations are currently not sufficient to pay our bills and keep the site up. Your help is most welcome. Thank you.

The Throwaways (Confidential Police Informants)

  1. Phungushead
    View attachment 27965 Police enlist young offenders as confidential informants. But the work is high-risk, largely unregulated, and sometimes fatal.

    On the evening of May 7, 2008, a twenty-three-year-old woman named Rachel Hoffman got into her silver Volvo sedan, put on calming jam-band music, and headed north to a public park in Tallahassee, Florida. A recent graduate of Florida State, she was dressed to blend into a crowd—bluejeans, green-and-white patterned T-shirt, black Reef flip-flops. On the passenger seat beside her was a handbag that contained thirteen thousand dollars in marked bills.

    Before she reached the Georgia-peach stands and Tupelo-honey venders on North Meridian Road, she texted her boyfriend. “I just got wired up,” she wrote at 6:34 P.M. “Wish me luck I’m on my way.”

    “Good luck babe!” he replied. “Call me and let me know what’s up.”

    “It’s about to go down,” she texted back.

    Behind the park’s oaks and blooming crape myrtles, the sun was beginning to set. Young mothers were pushing strollers near the baseball diamonds; kids were running amok on the playground. As Hoffman spoke on her iPhone to the man she was on her way to meet, her voice was filtered through a wire that was hidden in her purse. “I’m pulling into the park with the tennis courts now,” she said, sounding casual.

    Perhaps what put her at ease was the knowledge that nineteen law-enforcement agents were tracking her every move, and that a Drug Enforcement Administration surveillance plane was circling overhead. In any case, Rachel Hoffman, a tall, wide-eyed redhead, was by nature laid-back and trusting. She was not a trained narcotics operative. On her Facebook page you could see her dancing at music festivals with a big, goofy smile, and the faux profile she’d made for her cat (“Favorite music: cat stevens, straycat blues, pussycat dolls”).

    A few weeks earlier, police officers had arrived at her apartment after someone complained about the smell of marijuana and voiced suspicion that she was selling drugs. When they asked if she had any illegal substances inside, Hoffman said yes and allowed them in to search. The cops seized slightly more than five ounces of pot and several Ecstasy and Valium pills, tucked beneath the cushions of her couch. Hoffman could face serious prison time for felony charges, including “possession of cannabis with intent to sell” and “maintaining a drug house.” The officer in charge, a sandy-haired vice cop named Ryan Pender, told her that she might be able to help herself if she provided “substantial assistance” to the city’s narcotics team. She believed that any charges against her could be reduced, or even dropped.

    Hoffman’s legal worries were augmented by the fact that this wasn’t her first drug offense. A year earlier, while she was a senior, police pulled her over for speeding and found almost an ounce of marijuana in her car. She was ordered into a substance-abuse program, which required regular drug testing. Later, after failing to report for a test, she spent three days in jail.

    Hoffman chose to coöperate. She had never fired a gun or handled a significant stash of hard drugs. Now she was on her way to conduct a major undercover deal for the Tallahassee Police Department, meeting two convicted felons alone in her car to buy two and a half ounces of cocaine, fifteen hundred Ecstasy pills, and a semi-automatic handgun.

    The operation did not go as intended. By the end of the hour, police lost track of her and her car. Late that night, they arrived at her boyfriend’s town house and asked him if Hoffman was inside. They wanted to know if she might have run off with the money. Her boyfriend didn’t know where she was.

    “She was with us,” he recalled an officer saying. “Until shit got crazy.”

    Two days after Hoffman disappeared, her body was found in Perry, Florida, a small town some fifty miles southeast of Tallahassee, in a ravine overgrown with tangled vines. Draped in an improvised shroud made from her Grateful Dead sweatshirt and an orange-and-purple sleeping bag, Hoffman had been shot five times in the chest and head with the gun that the police had sent her to buy.

    By the evening of her death, Rachel Hoffman had been working for the police department for almost three weeks. In bureaucratic terms, she was Confidential Informant No. 1129, or C.I. Hoffman. In legal parlance, she was a “coöperator,” one of thousands of people who, each year, help the police build cases against others, often in exchange for a promise of leniency in the criminal-justice system.

    Informants are the foot soldiers in the government’s war on drugs. By some estimates, up to eighty per cent of all drug cases in America involve them, often in active roles like Hoffman’s. For police departments facing budget woes, untrained C.I.s provide an inexpensive way to outsource the work of undercover officers. “The system makes it cheap and easy to use informants, as opposed to other, less risky but more cumbersome approaches,” says Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a leading expert on informants. “There are fewer procedures in place and fewer institutional checks on their use.” Often, deploying informants involves no paperwork and no institutional oversight, let alone lawyers, judges, or public scrutiny; their use is necessarily shrouded in secrecy.

    “They can get us into the places we can’t go,” says Brian Sallee, a police officer who is the president of B.B.S. Narcotics Enforcement Training and Consulting, a firm that instructs officers around the country in drug-bust procedures. “Without them, narcotics operations would practically cease to function.”

    Every day, offenders are sent out to perform high-risk police operations with few legal protections. Some are juveniles, occasionally as young as fourteen or fifteen. Some operate through the haze of addiction; others, like Hoffman, are enrolled in state-mandated treatment programs that prohibit their association with illegal drugs of any kind. Many have been given false assurances by the police, used without regard for their safety, and treated as disposable pawns of the criminal-justice system.

    The recruitment of young informants often involves risks that are incommensurate with the charges that they are facing. And the costs of coöperating can be high. A case that has dragged on for years in the courts involved LeBron Gaither, a sixteen-year-old student at a public high school in Lebanon, Kentucky. One afternoon, Gaither, who, according to his family, was generally mild-mannered, had an outburst in which he punched the school’s assistant principal in the jaw. He was taken into custody for juvenile assault. An officer from the Kentucky State Police came to see him, and told him that he could face a prison term or he could agree to become a local drug informant.

    “Our mom had a drug problem,” his older brother Shawn, who subsequently became a corrections officer, recalled. “I think LeBron wanted Mom to be off drugs so bad that when they approached him he saw it as an opportunity to go after the guys who were selling her drugs.” Gaither signed the paperwork, and soon found himself performing undercover drug stings in two counties.

    After one of these stings, Gaither, by then eighteen, was called upon to testify before a grand jury against Jason Noel, a local drug dealer whom he’d set up. The next day, the police sent Gaither out with a wire and cash to buy still more drugs from Noel—a decision that one state attorney later called the most “reckless, stupid, and idiotic idea” he had seen in his nineteen years of legal work. The meeting was to take place in the parking lot of a local grocery store; Gaither was instructed to say, “This looks good,” once he had the drugs in hand. At that point, the police would move in for the arrest. If something went wrong, he was to say, “I wish my brother was here,” and officers would hasten to his aid.

    Shortly after the sting began, however, detectives lost track of Gaither when Noel, who had learned of the teen’s testimony from a grand juror, drove off with him. Gaither was tortured, beaten with a bat, shot with a pistol and a shotgun, run over by a car, and dragged by a chain through the woods.

    When his family learned what had happened, they sued. In 2009, after years of bureaucratic delay, they won a hundred and sixty-eight thousand dollars in a wrongful-death case, but the award was vacated; this past May, the state court of appeals ruled that although Gaither’s use as an informant was “tragically flawed,” the police could not be held accountable, because the “execution of the undercover operation was left to the judgment and discretion of the detectives.” The family hopes to take the case to the state supreme court.

    “I’ve been waiting for someone to call!” the family’s lawyer, Daniel Taylor III, exclaimed when I phoned him to ask about the lawsuit. During his career, Taylor has worked on a hundred and forty-six cases involving homicide, but he describes Gaither’s, which he has worked on pro bono, as “the single most important one.” He added, “I’ve been wondering when the hell the rest of the world was going to wake up to this.”

    I heard some version of Taylor’s statement dozens of times in the course of more than seventy interviews with people whose lives have been shaped by America’s growing reliance on young drug informants—narcotics officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and the friends and families of murdered C.I.s, as well as some former informants. Occasionally, concerns about the practice were prompted by law-enforcement agents who fear that pressures to rack up revenue-generating drug busts pose challenges with which their departments can’t keep pace. (According to Shawn Gaither, the detective responsible for LeBron’s recruitment told the family that it will haunt him for the rest of his life; the detective declined to comment.) More often, questions about why informant use remains so unregulated came from parents who have lost a child to the practice. Within their ranks, the parents of Rachel Hoffman have become folk heroes of sorts. After Rachel’s murder, more than four years ago, Irv Hoffman, a mental-health counsellor, and Margie Weiss, a registered nurse and massage therapist, joined together in order to reform the way young amateurs are used in the war on drugs—first in the state of Florida, and now, if they and parents like them have their way, across the country.

    By the time Rachel was twelve, she had been a ballerina, a Brownie, an equestrian, and a Weeki Wachee Springs Little Mermaid contestant; by eighteen, she had learned to play the flute and the piano, gone skydiving, and hiked the Grand Canyon. By twenty-three, she had completed an undergraduate degree in psychology, interned at a mental-health institute, and travelled internationally. She loved to cook—she’d prepare elaborate multicourse meals for friends and deliver homemade matzo-ball soup to an ailing classmate. She was given to hatching big plans: She had initially dreamed of going into counselling, but decided to apply to culinary school. She would invent a new form of therapy, she told her dad; perhaps troubled kids who hated talking to a therapist from an overstuffed couch would open up as she taught them how to bake cakes and make spaghetti carbonara.

    “Rachel was conceived on a Windjammer,” Margie Weiss told me one night, sifting through photographs of her tropical honeymoon with Irv Hoffman on a sailboat in the Caribbean. In the photographs, the couple look sun-glazed and blissful, Margie’s slender arm draped around her new husband’s broad shoulders. Within a year and a half of Rachel’s birth, they had separated. Margie was a hard worker, but also something of a stargazer, who wore long, flowing skirts and burned sage smudge sticks in the living room. Irv, the child of Hungarian-Czech Holocaust survivors, was more of a straight arrow, who placed a premium on stability and structure.

    Margie worries that growing up between the two households took a toll on Rachel. By the end of high school, she had been voted “Party Animal of the Senior Class,” a title that prompted some parental angst about her impending departure for Florida State. “If you’re ever lonely or bored, or just miss my wonderful self (haha), well the phone is just a few ft. away and so am I,” she wrote in a five-page letter to Irv that she left for him on the kitchen counter before he drove her to college. She assured him that she would be “just fine.”

    Despite Hoffman’s legal problems, in the months before her death she earned admission to a master’s program in mental-health counselling, with an essay about how her grandparents, “who witnessed the murder of their family and who were severely and emotionally scarred,” had taught her “the importance of family, hard work, and economic survival.” She still made a habit of smoking pot, and she sold it in small quantities to friends.

    The police were able to use Hoffman’s stash as leverage. The day after her apartment was raided, she arrived at Police Headquarters to initiate her C.I. contract. Panicked and eager to coöperate, Hoffman first tried to set up a student at Florida State who was a small-time campus dealer. But guilt quickly set in, and soon afterward she contacted the student to confess what she’d done. He not only forgave her but agreed to help her out with the police. Together, they would come up with someone to bust. In return for the favor, Hoffman promised to pay his overdue utility bill.

    According to a confidential deposition from a friend of Hoffman’s, the police made it clear that run-of-the-mill pot busts wouldn’t be sufficient to work off her charges. Instead, the friend said, the cops were looking for large quantities of “heroin, cocaine, crack, Ecstasy, guns.” The Florida State student told her about a young man he’d seen dealing drugs at a car-detailing shop near campus—the man, whom he knew only as Dre, might have access to Ecstasy and cocaine, and possibly more. Hoffman, it turned out, had just had her Volvo worked on by Dre at the same shop, and he had joked about the car’s pungent marijuana smell. Soon, she was wired up and dispatched to the shop, where, using her friend’s connection, she put in a request to Dre’s brother-in-law, Deneilo Bradshaw, to buy a stash of cocaine, fifteen hundred Ecstasy pills, and, as she described it, a “small and pretty” handgun. The order was large, by any standard. She wanted the drugs for friends who would be visiting from Miami, she explained. And the gun? “I’m a little Jewish girl,” she told Bradshaw, as police listened via a surveillance device. “I need to be safe.”

    By early May, the deal had been arranged. She was to show up with thirteen thousand dollars, and they’d make the swap—at Bradshaw’s parents’ house, in a quiet green neighborhood on the outskirts of Tallahassee. Behind the scenes, the police worked up an Operational and Raid Plan, which involved more than a dozen local and federal agents.

    On the afternoon of the drug bust, Hoffman drove to Police Headquarters. Officer Pender placed a surveillance wire and a recording device in her purse, along with stacks of money for the buy. Dre, who was later identified as Andrea Green, a twenty-five-year-old local man, had changed the site to a nearby park called Forestmeadows—one unfamiliar to Hoffman. Hoffman’s boyfriend had sent off a good-luck text message: “I kinda like you so be safe!!” he joked. She took off for the park.

    After some fifteen minutes on the road, Hoffman neared the entrance of Forestmeadows. But she turned too soon, into the wrong park. Over the phone, Pender redirected her to the venue slightly farther north.

    After this, Pender lost track of her. Other officers later reported that they had all thought that he—or, at least, someone—“had eyes” on Hoffman. She began driving toward a plant nursery just a mile and a half north, evidently thinking that the police were still monitoring her. Within minutes, her audio surveillance equipment went dead. (“Uh, I lost her over the wire,” Pender said to colleagues at 6:46 P.M.) She wasn’t answering her cell phone. According to Pender, Hoffman managed to reach him a few minutes later, saying, “I followed them from the nursery. We’re on Gardner. It looks like the deal is going to go here. It’s a dead-end street.” Pender later said that he told her, “Turn around! Turn around! Do not follow them!” Then the phone cut off. “I had no response from her,” Pender told investigators, “which meant, you know, either she hung up on me or we lost the signal.”

    Officers began frantically searching the area, trying to find Gardner Road. The D.E.A. plane circled haplessly overhead, its agents unable to see, owing to the dense tree cover. By the time a police team arrived at the narrow turnoff, Hoffman and her car were no longer there. Instead, they found a spent .25-calibre round, two live ammunition rounds, six cigarette butts, and a single black flip-flop.

    The encounter had never really been a prospective drug deal. Green was apparently planning a con: he was going to hand Hoffman a bag full of aspirin in place of the Ecstasy, a relative of his told me, and take off with the money. When investigators spoke to Green’s wife in the days that followed, she acknowledged that her husband had called on the night of the botched operation. She described what had taken place: “They found a wire in her purse, and shot her.”

    In the mid-nineteen-eighties, Congress enacted federal sentencing guidelines that imposed harsh mandatory minimums for drug offenses, even petty ones. The results of these and similar measures were striking. Over the course of that decade, the U.S. prison population doubled. In Florida, incarceration rates for drug crimes increased nearly twentyfold—with some sentences for marijuana sales surpassing those for murder. The new approach codified a long-standing escape hatch for the accused: to provide “substantial assistance” to authorities in exchange for the possibility of early release or dropped charges. The use of drug informants surged. Soon, legal experts say, the trend swept through state and local law-enforcement agencies across America. Rachel Hoffman was, in this respect, a typical conscript in this country’s numbers-driven war on drugs.

    But Hoffman, with her middle-class background, was in some ways not a typical C.I. Generally, it is young people from lower-income communities—often black and Latino—who are under pressure to be informants. It is in their neighborhoods, too, that a serious backlash against the practice has occurred. For one thing, the snitch-based system has proved notoriously unreliable, fuelling wrongful convictions. In 2000, more than twenty innocent African-American men in Hearne, Texas, were arrested on cocaine charges, based on the false accusations of an informant seeking to escape a burglary charge; the incident, and a number of others like it, prompted calls for national legislation to regulate informant use.

    In many urban neighborhoods with heavy police presence, the anti-C.I. backlash has taken a more virulent turn: “Stop snitchin’ ” and “Snitches get stitches” are popular mottoes. Police departments have responded with counter-propaganda, which is meant to bolster both their own C.I.s and routine criminal witnesses. (In Baltimore, “Keep talkin’ ” is the official slogan of choice.) These campaigns have raised prickly questions. If the high stakes of snitching are so readily apparent, and so hard to mitigate—if, as the rapper Master P has it, “bitches talk shit and snitches get killed”—should the practice be encouraged among vulnerable populations, at least in the absence of clear rules about how informants are to be protected? In particular, should there be any conditions governing the enlistment of the young and inexperienced in high-risk sting operations?

    One day last spring, Irv Hoffman spoke with me about the legal concept of parens patriae, and the broad notion that the state has an obligation, when dealing with those in need of special protections—the young, the mentally ill, and perhaps even the drug-addicted—to act as a parent would. “Have you heard about the girl in Detroit?” Irv Hoffman asked me.

    He was referring to a nineteen-year-old informant who had been killed several months earlier. I had in fact just visited her mother at her squat brick house off Detroit’s Seven Mile Road. Together, we attended the pretrial murder hearing of James A. Matthews, a stocky man with a long blond ponytail. Matthews, clad in an orange jumpsuit, was in court to face felony charges that he “did mutilate, deface, remove, or carry away” the young woman’s body.

    One night in the fall of 2011, Shelly Hilliard, an African-American teen-ager in Detroit—her family called her Treasure—went to her mother’s house for a plate of macaroni-and-cheese. Hilliard, who was transgender (born male, with the legal name Henry Hilliard, Jr.), left the house and didn’t come back that night or the next. Before long, one of her older sisters, Mechelle, noticed a disturbing trend on Facebook. “Everybody started posting, ‘Rest in Peace, Shelly,’ and ‘She’s with God now,’ and this and that,’ ” Mechelle recalled on a recent afternoon, as she sat with her mother, Lyniece Nelson, at a bright-red kitchen counter. “And we were like, ‘Hold on, we didn’t even get a call.’ ”

    Nelson, a devout Christian who sometimes writes Bible verses along her doorframe in blue chalk, sighed. “I guess the streets talk,” she said.

    Shelly was dance-obsessed (“She loved Beyoncé!”), with hazel eyes and long straightened hair that seemed to be a different color every time she came home. She spent much of her time singing, doing friends’ hair and makeup, and, like many teens, documenting her life with cell-phone snapshots.

    On October 23rd, at around 4:30 A.M., a torso, later identified as Shelly’s, was found ablaze beneath an old mattress on an I-94 service road. In March, the rest of the body, except for her hands, was found. By this point, her family had long since begun to surmise what had happened.

    At first, because the victim was transgender, local officials believed that the murder was a hate crime. But several weeks later it became clear that Shelly’s death was connected to work she had done as a police informant. Just days before she was killed, cops had spotted Shelly and a friend smoking a blunt on the balcony of a Motel 6 in a Detroit suburb. When they raided the room, they found a sandwich bag with half an ounce of marijuana in the toilet tank. One of the officers threatened Shelly with prison—a particularly terrifying prospect for a transgender woman, who would be sent to a male facility—and then offered her a way out: she could set up her dealer, Qasim Raqib, and walk free that same day. She agreed.

    Raqib was arrested after Shelly arranged the sting. Several hours later, he was released. He then tracked her down and, with the help of James Matthews, strangled, mutilated, burned, and dismembered her. (Both men have since pleaded guilty to murder; in court, one witness testified that the police had revealed Shelly’s identity.)

    “Now I lost my baby for an ounce of weed,” Nelson said at her kitchen counter. “It’s like they just threw her away.”

    When I asked Lieutenant Joseph Quisenberry, the commander of the local sheriff’s Narcotics Enforcement Team, about the case, he said, “I don’t have a written guideline that governs every situation.” He continued, “I have heard that this was someone living in a more dangerous context.” He declined to discuss the specifics of the case.

    “More than anything,” Nelson says of the police treatment of her daughter, “I want to know, Why would you all not protect her?”

    Like Lyniece Nelson, Rachel Hoffman’s parents were concerned that authorities weren’t telling them the full story behind their daughter’s disappearance. At around two-thirty on the morning after the bungled sting, Margie received a call from the police at her home in suburban Safety Harbor. “Your daughter’s missing,” she was told. A few miles away, in Palm Harbor, Irv also received a call, asking if he’d heard from Rachel or knew her whereabouts. The department called again later that morning, urging both parents to come to Tallahassee; Rachel still hadn’t been found, they said, making no mention of the botched drug bust or of Rachel’s recruitment as a C.I. Within the hour, Margie and Irv were driving north on U.S. 19, in separate cars. Their rabbi, Gary Klein, followed close behind.

    When Rachel’s parents arrived at the headquarters of the Tallahassee Police Department, they immediately grew suspicious. “I remember noticing that they weren’t taking us to the missing-persons unit,” Margie recalled. “Instead it was like, ‘Come over here to Narcotics.’ ”

    There Police Chief Dennis Jones, a middle-aged man with a thick mustache, repeated what they already knew: “Rachel’s missing.” (A victims advocate had already alerted them to the possibility that she might not be found alive.) Jones then assured them that an aggressive search was under way, and instructed them to go to their daughter’s apartment and await further updates.

    Margie and Irv opened the front door to Rachel’s place (which she often kept unlocked) and sat down among scented candles and posters of John Lennon and Johnny Depp. Only then, when they turned on the television and scanned the news for updates, did they discover that Rachel had “provided assistance during a police operation” the previous day, and that officials suspected “foul play” in her disappearance. Police were looking for two suspects, Andrea Green and Deneilo Bradshaw, according to a departmental press release.

    The news shows relayed that Rachel’s Volvo had been found in Perry. The car was empty, parked beneath a tree outside a welding shop. Her phone was discovered by a roadside, which gave Irv a “dark, ugly feeling.” “She loved that iPhone,” he told me. “I gave it to her as a gift, and someone would have had to pry it away from her to get it.”

    Just after dawn the next day, Margie and her husband, Mike Weiss (who had arrived to join her), drove down the road to get some coffee and bagels. Margie was standing alone in the parking lot of Publix Food & Pharmacy when she got a call from Irv. “You need to come back to the apartment,” he said. She ran back into the grocery store, searching the aisles for Mike, screaming to the cashier, to random shoppers, “Where’s my husband? My daughter was just murdered!” Back at the apartment, Rabbi Klein confirmed her fears: Rachel’s body had been found. It was lying in a dry creek bed near Cabbage Grove Road, in Perry.

    Later that morning, journalists descended on a forest clearing where Tallahassee Police Department officials were holding a press conference, not far from where Hoffman’s body still lay. (The two suspects had been apprehended, and, at around 6:30 A.M., they had led police to the site.) “We had established protocols in place to insure her safety,” Officer David McCranie told the crowd. “At some point during the investigation, she chose not to follow the instructions. She met Green and Bradshaw on her own. That meeting ultimately resulted in her murder.”

    Rachel’s parents watched the coverage on the television in her apartment. It marked, for Irv Hoffman, the beginning of what he sometimes refers to as “the smearing”—the period following Rachel’s murder during which their daughter was portrayed in police statements and front-page news stories as, in his words, “this horrible drug-dealing monster.”

    Rachel’s friends started coming by her apartment, and they, too, were almost as shocked by the initial coverage of the murder as by the death itself. “That was devastating for so many of us,” one of Hoffman’s childhood friends recalled. “The first stories tried to paint Rachel as a low-life druggie drug dealer.” Two months later, in a TV segment on Hoffman’s death, the ABC News correspondent Brian Ross interviewed Police Chief Jones. “I’m calling her a criminal,” Jones told him. “That’s my job as a police chief—to find these criminals in our community and take them off the street, to make the proper arrests.” Ross asked about the department’s accountability. “Do we feel responsible?” Jones said. “We’re responsible for the safety of this community.”

    On the advice of a mutual friend, Irv Hoffman arranged a meeting with Michael Schiavo, a neighbor who had a great deal of experience with hostile media attention. He was the husband of the late Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman who spent fifteen years in a vegetative state, and whose parents instigated a lengthy and highly public court battle with Michael when he wished to discontinue Terri’s life support. Michael became the target of a steady stream of media attacks, and even death threats.

    At the meeting, which took place in their friend’s living room, Hoffman asked Schiavo what lessons he’d learned from his experience with the press. “You need to understand that if you speak out you’re opening Pandora’s box,” Hoffman recalled being told. “You’re going to be out of your comfort zone real quick, and some people are going to support you and other people are going to come out against you. And you just need to decide: ‘Am I ready to step through that door?’ ” Hoffman knew that he was. So he and his ex-wife hired a lawyer and wrote up a plan.

    Across the country in Vancouver, Washington, another set of parents, Shelly and Mitchell McLean, have tried to take on the C.I. system. Shelly works as a manager at a Fred Meyer grocery store just across the Oregon border; Mitchell works in construction. On the morning that we met, at a restaurant in Longview, Shelly wore a thick gray sweater, pink lipstick, and gold eyeshadow. Mitchell, a rugged, genial man, arrived soon afterward from his construction job “out in the boonies,” wearing a mud-flecked leather jacket.

    The couple hauled in wicker baskets and bright-colored plastic containers from their car and carried them to the table. They had brought along all these relics—photo albums, golf trophies, wrinkled report cards, Hot Wheels cars, baby teeth, baseballs, and short stories written in cursive with titles like “The Adventures of the Wild West”—in order to offer a glimpse of their son, Jeremy. Waggish and affable, he was the kind of guy who, if you dared him, wouldn’t hesitate to eat more than twenty Big Macs in a sitting. But he also loved going antiquing with his mom, who called him Bubbers as a kid. Growing up, Jeremy and his younger sister Jenny attended a local Christian school, and Mitchell insists that they never rode the bus. “That’s how protective we were,” he said. “I was the bus,” Shelly added.

    Jeremy was an avid weight lifter and wrestler in high school, and, after he graduated, his father got him a construction job. He liked the heavy lifting, but eventually he hurt his back and started taking pain pills. “That’s what did it,” Mitchell recalled; Jeremy began using painkillers for which he had no prescription. In his mid-twenties, he was struggling to figure out what he should do with his life—perhaps go into law enforcement, or the military—when, one day in 2006, he agreed to sell eight methadone pills to a friend.

    The friend, it turned out, was wearing a wire; he had drug charges of his own that he was trying to work off as a C.I. Jeremy faced a possible prison sentence—and feared that he would bring shame to his family, since nothing stayed quiet in their small community. According to Mitchell McLean, an agent from a federally funded narcotics task force laid out Jeremy’s options, saying, “You can sit down with us and make a deal. Or you can go upstairs, get a lawyer, and get ready to be ass-rammed in prison.” Jeremy signed a contract to “make purchases of controlled substances from four individuals,” in return for which his charges would be reduced, “with a recommendation of no jail time.”

    Before long, using a camera hidden in his baseball cap, Jeremy had set up at least five local drug suspects. But, according to his parents, he was told that he would need to keep going, because the cases had led to plea bargains rather than to convictions. (No such stipulation appeared in his contract.)

    Seeing no other choice, Jeremy proceeded to conduct, in all, more than a dozen operations for the regional task force, which placed him in increasingly dangerous situations. “In their mind, the police just had an open-ended contract,” said Mitchell, who at the time knew nothing of the arrangement.

    Jeremy’s fourteenth undercover sting led to the arrest of a heroin trafficker, William Vance Reagan, Jr. After a day in jail, though, Reagan was out on bail.

    A week later, Reagan, a burly, balding fifty-one-year-old with a dense gray beard flecked with red, phoned Shelly McLean. “Tell your son I’m out of jail and that he better watch his back,” she recalls him saying. Jeremy immediately told his police handler, but the officer, according to Mitchell, seemed unconcerned, saying, “Don’t worry about it—the guy’s harmless.” (The handler declined to discuss these events, citing a pending lawsuit.)

    Friends began to call with warnings. “Vance is hunting for you,” they’d say. “He’s offering good money to lure you to the woods to polish you off.” One friend saw Reagan holding a pistol, saying, “I’m going to use this gun on Jeremy.” According to Jeremy’s parents, he reported all this to his handler, and the handler responded, “It’s just hearsay.”

    By then, Jeremy had told his parents about his undercover activities and was trying to lie low at his mother’s house. He hung a towel over the half-moon window above the door, and made sure that no one could see inside the house from other vantage points. He spent several months this way, under virtual house arrest. “We’d make dinner together at night, stir-fry,” his mother recalled. “We’d watch movies. He loved ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.’ ” She added, “But when you have to hang things over your window?”—that, she explained, is when you know you’re in trouble.

    After several months, Mitchell went to the police station to issue an ultimatum: “If anything happens to my son, it will be on your hands.” He said that he was told not to worry; the guys Jeremy had busted were “small fries,” not the murdering type, just low-life drug runners. “But any bonehead can get a gun and shoot someone!” Mitchell recalled telling them. “It doesn’t take Pablo Escobar—it can be a guy who’s got the I.Q. of a head of lettuce.”

    On December 29, 2008, Jeremy left the house after a snowstorm to buy some milk. He didn’t return. Reagan had paid an accomplice to bait or kidnap Jeremy and bring him to a nearby motor home, where he was waiting with a .22-calibre pistol. He shot Jeremy three times in the back of the head, then once, at close range, in the face.

    At the trial, Reagan boasted to the judge that he had done the world a favor, by eliminating a snitch. According to a news account, he told the court, “Anybody that Jeremy knew or came into contact with would have been suffering for it,” and declared, “The good of the many outweighs the good of the few.” He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

    Mitchell McLean has come to see his son’s death as the result of an equally cynical and utilitarian calculation. “The cops, they get federal funding by the number of arrests they make—to get the money, you need the numbers,” he explained, alluding to, among other things, asset-forfeiture laws that allow police departments to keep a hefty portion of cash and other resources seized during drug busts. “It’s a commercial enterprise,” he went on, citing a view shared by many legal scholars and policy critics. “That’s how they pay for their vans, for their prosecutors—they get money from the war on drugs. They put zero dent in the supply. They just focus on small-town, small-time arrests.” He continued, “I understand using C.I.s to get information on who is a mid-level dealer, or to go after the big guys. That’s the information that I, as a taxpayer, would love to see them do—cases that have some significance. I still remember the big busts from the eighties and nineties, where they’d nail a heroin kingpin.”

    Now, he said, the threshold for putting an informant’s life at risk is dramatically lower, and small cases to rack up arrest rates are the order of the day. It’s little fish chasing other little fish, like Jeremy and his eight methadone pills. This argument is at the heart of a lawsuit that Jeremy’s parents decided to file last December. They allege that the regional drug task force and the agents handling their son’s case showed “deliberate indifference” to an “obvious danger.” They also charged the cities of Longview and Kelso, whose police departments were involved, with failure to create “appropriate procedures and regulations concerning the recruitment, training, retention and protection of confidential informants.” The opposing lawyers deny most of the McLeans’ account and assert that Jeremy failed “to exercise reasonable care for his own safety.” The suit is ongoing.

    At around 2 A.M. one morning a few weeks after Rachel Hoffman’s death, her father, Irv, began jotting notes. Almost daily since his daughter’s murder, he had woken up in the early hours, turning over the details of the botched drug bust in his mind. He began typing out a list: Why was Rachel used in such a high-risk police sting when she had no training, when she couldn’t even find her own socks in the morning? Why was she sent to buy a semi-automatic pistol when she had never even fired a weapon? Why was she pressured into taking part in the operation before she consulted a lawyer?

    Hoffman set about turning his questions into a wish list of policy reforms. “I’d write something, throw it away, write something more, throw it away,” he told me. Margie Weiss had also been thinking about policy reforms. They began working on what they called Rachel’s Law. Weiss proposed that the two of them appeal to the father of one of Rachel’s friends, a Florida attorney named Lance Block, to guide them through the process.

    Block, a trim, tanned man with thick brown hair, was intimately familiar with the state’s legislative process. A former president of the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers, he had helped advise Al Gore’s legal team during the 2000 Presidential recount, and seemed to be on first-name terms with half of Tallahassee, from smoothie-store clerks to state-capital legislators. He agreed to lead the push for Rachel’s Law pro bono, and to represent the family in a civil suit against the city.

    Block immersed himself in a study of the informant system, both in Florida and around the country, searching for model legislation, some sort of template that he could use to give shape to Weiss and Hoffman’s late-night brainstorms. “I began talking to legal experts, but almost all of them had focussed exclusively on how to impeach C.I.s, not protect them,” he recalled, referring to efforts by civil-liberties groups to combat jailhouse informants’ false accusations. California, he later learned, was one of the few states that had rules governing the use of teen-age informants, and prohibiting recruits younger than thirteen. Those rules had been devised after a seventeen-year-old named Chad MacDonald was brutally murdered and his fifteen-year-old girlfriend raped and shot in retaliation for Chad’s work as a low-level drug C.I., in 1998. Yet when it came to putting together a comprehensive, realistic version of Rachel’s Law, he said, “we were in totally uncharted territory.”

    Block, Hoffman, and Weiss would be starting from scratch, but they swiftly worked out the particulars. First, all C.I.s should be given the right to counsel; Miranda and Sixth Amendment rights often don’t apply to informants, since they may never be formally arrested or charged with a crime. Second, there should be a provision banning the use of juveniles altogether. Third, there should be “offense parity”—nonviolent, low-level drug offenders should not be used in apprehending traffickers with histories of violence. Fourth, people who are in drug-treatment programs, as Rachel Hoffman was, shouldn’t be used at all. A range of other provisions were also suggested.

    In August, soon after they’d begun putting the bill together, they got a dramatic boost. A grand jury charged with reviewing the facts of the Hoffman case not only indicted the two murder suspects, Green and Bradshaw, but also took the highly unusual step of issuing a scathing condemnation of the police department’s conduct. (Green and Bradshaw are now serving life sentences for the Hoffman murder; Bradshaw recently appealed.) “Letting a young, immature woman get into a car by herself with $13,000.00, to go off and meet two convicted felons that they knew were bringing at least one firearm with them, was an unconscionable decision that cost Ms. Hoffman her life,” the grand jury declared. “Less than fifteen minutes after she drove away from the offices of [the Tallahassee Police Department], she drove out of the sight of the officers who assured her they would be right on top of her watching and listening the whole time. She cried out for help as she was shot and killed and nobody was there to hear her.”

    After this, the police department began to acknowledge that it had made mistakes. An internal-affairs investigation revealed that police officers had committed at least twenty-one violations of nine separate policies in Hoffman’s case. “I didn’t think it would be so many policies not being followed,” Chief Dennis Jones told the Tallahassee Democrat, which covered the case extensively. He admitted that it had been wrong to blame the victim, and expressed regret.

    This was an ideal moment for Hoffman’s parents to make a bold proposal. Two Republican politicians, State Senator Mike Fasano and Representative Peter Nehr, agreed to sponsor Rachel’s Law, and committee meetings were held. Yet the reforms proved to have formidable opponents. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Florida Sheriffs Association, and other groups lobbied against the law, and more than a hundred law-enforcement agents packed the meetings.

    Many vice cops, in particular, argued that forbidding the use of juveniles as C.I.s would force them to turn a blind eye to young people committing adult crimes. More record keeping would only increase the risk of C.I.s’ identities being disclosed. The right-to-an-attorney clause, they contended, would make it far too cumbersome to catch and “flip” a drug suspect on the spot, effectively nullifying a valuable, real-time tactic for fighting crime. Sheriff Larry Campbell, of Leon County, declared that the bill, if passed in its original form, would be “the end of law enforcement.”

    Behind many of these arguments was the belief that C.I. use shouldn’t be subject to uniform regulation, since the practice is inherently unsystematic and improvisatory. “There’s no such thing as training an informant,” Brian Sallee, of B.B.S. Narcotics Enforcement Training and Consulting, told me. “You direct them what to do, and if they follow those directions that will make it safer for them. There’s always going to be a risk, but when things go bad it’s usually because they didn’t do as they were told to. They get themselves hurt, not the officers. The informants cause their own dilemma.”

    Eventually, a compromise bill was put forward, stripped of several of the earlier provisions, including the informant’s unequivocal right to legal counsel and the measure to exclude juveniles. But even the revised version promised groundbreaking rights and regulations for informants; officers were now required to undergo special training, and to take into account a new recruit’s age and emotional state and the level of risk involved in a given operation. And, in all operations involving C.I.s, safety had to be the first priority.

    The revised bill passed both chambers of the Florida legislature unanimously. On May 7, 2009, the anniversary of Hoffman’s murder, Governor Charlie Crist signed Rachel’s Law. It became the first comprehensive legislation of its kind in the nation. Even so, Hoffman’s parents have vowed to continue working to strengthen it. This summer, they spoke out about the case of a twenty-seven-year-old mother of two who was murdered after working as an informant in Citrus County.

    Earlier this year, Weiss and Hoffman won another major victory: a $2.6-million settlement from the City of Tallahassee in a wrongful-death lawsuit—along with a formal apology. Now they hope to take their campaign beyond Florida and broaden their push for regulations of the kind that might have saved their daughter. In the meantime, their public example and the media coverage surrounding it—including accounts by Jennifer Portman in the Tallahassee Democrat, segments on ABC News, and a substantive report by Vince Beiser for the Huffington Post—have inspired other family members of victimized C.I.s across the country to seek redress.

    “Why is it that we only seem to regulate in the wake of tragedies?” Lance Block asked recently from the porch of the Black Dog Cafe, a coffee shop near Tallahassee Police Headquarters. “We took on all of the major forces in Florida, and we won. But it’s going to take a lot more than the three of us to carry this issue beyond state boundaries—to say, ‘Untrained civilians should not be performing the duties of law enforcement.’ ” He added, “They should not be treated as throwaway people.”

    Margie Weiss did not expect the settlement or the resolution of the murder trials, or even the passage of Rachel’s Law, to bring her peace. Nothing has. “Some days, I can’t shampoo my hair, I can’t drive my car,” she says. “I’m proud if I can just get up and do what I have to do. I mopped the floor today. That was good.” On other days, though, she stays up late making plans for the Rachel Morningstar Foundation, an organization she is launching to advocate for C.I. reform. (Irv, for his part, has started a scholarship in Rachel’s name.) On those days, she says, between contacting politicians and corresponding with parents across the country who have lost their children to untrained-informant work, “I feel confident that we are going to go on a crusade to take the law national, that we’re going to save other kids.”

    Margie has built a small memorial garden outside her office window. There she has planted flowers of persecution—crown of thorns, bleeding heart—alongside what she considers to be foliage of resilience: purple passionflowers, an angel-trumpet shrub that bloomed, she says, on the afternoon that the legislature passed Rachel’s Law. She counts the monarch butterflies around the milkweed. Their color reminds her of Rachel’s hair.

    Irv Hoffman, too, has his rituals. Every morning, he drives to Rachel’s grave, carrying his supplies in the trunk: a bottle of water for Rachel’s flowers, a pair of scissors to freshen their stems, a beach chair to sit in and read beside his daughter’s memorial bench. At home, some nights he revisits an injury, replaying the ABC News interview with Police Chief Dennis Jones on YouTube, watching as Jones says, “Yes, I’m calling her a criminal.” At other times, he reads from the letter that Rachel wrote him on the evening before she left for college. On a recent afternoon, he showed me the letter, which he had laminated and placed on his coffee table. He picked it up and began to read: “ ‘To my hero, Dad, where do I even begin?’ ”

    Irv paused to collect himself. The house was quiet, except for the sound of Rachel’s tabby cat, Bentley, snoring on a nearby chair. It’s this letter, more than almost anything else, that makes Irv feel the weight of the years ahead, when he expected to be an active father and grandfather but instead finds himself endlessly turning over the details of a botched C.I. operation. “ ‘Dad, please don’t worry about me,’ ” he continued to read aloud. “ ‘I’m a very smart, independent girl and I do have morals and ethics you’ve taught me, which will not be left at home. Have Faith, Old Man, I’ll be just fine.’ ”

    September 3, 2012

    Sarah Stillman


  1. hookedonhelping
    I feel like I just read a small book! Wow!

    There is no question that there have been many other scenarios like the ones described in the stories above that the public will never know of. Officers of the law, whether they are DEA or local narcotics agents, using people to further their personal agenda. Rarely will these agents give a damn about the safety of their snitches, but instead are looking to get promotions and be recognized in the field they chose to work in. They want to feed their families Filet Mignon every night, and to me, they are no different than the drug dealers themselves in this regard. In their eyes they justify this lack of empathy toward fellow humans by not viewing people caught up in the world of drugs as diseased, but rather scum and expendable.

    It's sickening to read about and they way they take advantage of people who know nothing about the legal system. I truly wonder if any of them every feel remorse for the lives they destroy and the far reaching impact it has on a great many who have love for those causalities lost in their pursuit of recognition.

    This system is so broken I fear it's beyond fixing :(

    Great post PH.. took up a good hour of time but worth the read! I think I will re-post this elsewhere as it's a post that needs to be shared and read by many who are in the dark about the ugliest part of the drug war.
  2. makin
    I am going to get killed for saying this but here goes.

    If you get caught it's your fault don't put your penalty off on another. You can do the time just as easy as the guy you are going to set up. They have families also and they will suffer because of you.

    I feel bad for these people that get hurt, and killed. The cops are responsible and should have to pay, especially were juveniles are concerned. That said

    Don't set up people to save yourself, do your time and all will be well with the world. Help the cops and your part of the problem not the solution.

    This kind of policy functions on the dog eat dog mentality that runs rampant in society.

    I have had the opportunity to turn on my friends to benefit myself, and the cops that were fucking me over.

    I decided to just lawyer up and fight, I lost of course but nobody else got hurt, at least not because of me.
  3. cra$h
    ^^ I have to second that. If you do something, you deserve the consequence, for better or for worse. And all the bullshit cops say they can do for you, they won't. Simple as that. Maybe a charge dropped and less jail time, but thats about it. Not really worth that reputation and destroying 2 families, or however many people you decide to fuck over. We live in a society that points fingers and doesn't accept responsibility, always playing the blame game. Well, I know morally I'm not going to contribute. It's not a crusade or meant to be an example (although that would be great too) but just out of personal preference.
  4. nitehowler
    80percent of bust come from spineless informants.

    How could you live life watching your back and wondering when your number and your families is going to be up.
    If you turn informant you are lower than the police scum that persuaded you to turn on your associates and friends and eventually you will have to show your head in public.
    Expect to be found out and expect no reduction in sentence ...don't believe in police lies and promises
    cause they will lie and will promise you the world.
    If the end result of informing is death ..good thats what you deserve for ruining peoples lives and dobbing on your friends.

    You can give me negative feadback if you dislike my opinion on this subject but i believe in the death penalty for informants.
    The above story is like music to my ears.

    Every dog has its use by date ..BANG BANG ..
  5. hookedonhelping
    I completely agree with you makin. If everyone stopped snitchin the WOD would essentially come to a crawl. But the reality is that will never happen. You have people like this girl in the story who got killed who have no idea what they are getting themselves involved in. They get caught with a little bit of grass and a few pills of E and the next thing she knows she is being intimidated by a room full of men with guns at their holsters being lied to about all the time she is guaranteed to do. In no way am I saying it's ok for what she signed up to do, but the officers pressuring her (and the others in the above story) are just as big pieces of shit, if not more, for taking advantage of someone vulnerable and ignorant to the law. She didn't even know to demand an attorney! Stupid college girl with her life ahead of her now dead.

    If this story read differently and the C.I was a 30yr old junkie I wouldn't have an ounce of sympathy for her, but the reality of the situation is that these young kids being turned into snitches haven't even got their feet wet in the game and are rarely familiar with potential risk of violating the 1st commandment. That doesn't make it ok, but my anger in these cases is more with the tactics employed by L.E, than the ignorant kids they employ.

    Just another reason to never do business with someone new to the game.
  6. usually0
    i wonder if this happens in canada. Ive never heard of an informant before being used to book people here. i suppose its a possibility but i dont think that kind of thing would happen here, people are too nice. besides that kind of thing would be shunned, that sounds dangerous and would definitly be under mass scrunity if the media got wind of it
  7. talltom
    Interview on Confidential Informants' Author

    National Public Radio (NPR) interviewed Sarah Stillman, the author of the New Yorker article on confidential informants ("The Throwaways"). Here is the transcript.


    This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. In May 2008, Rachel Hoffman put on a wire and went alone to buy two and a half ounces of cocaine, 1,500 ecstasy pills, and a semiautomatic handgun. Police lost track of her. Two days later her body was found, shot five times with the gun she was sent to buy.

    Rachel Hoffman was not an undercover cop. The recent Florida State grad agreed to work as a confidential informant for the Tallahassee Police after her second marijuana bust. She had no training, never handled significant quantities of drugs, never fired a handgun.

    In a piece in the New Yorker, Sarah Stillman tells Rachel Hoffman's story and those of several other young offenders who died in the largely unregulated world of confidential police informants.

    Sarah Stillman joins us from our bureau in New York. She's a contributor to The New Yorker and a visiting scholar at New York University. Good to have you with us today.

    SARAH STILLMAN: Thanks for having me, Neal.

    CONAN: And if we had some idea, some image of what a confidential drug enforcement - drug informant is supposed to look like from TV or the movies, Rachel Hoffman does not fit the stereotype.

    STILLMAN: Absolutely. I mean I looked at a wide range of cases, and part of what was stunning was to find, you know, young people who are involved in the informant system from so many different walks of life. But Rachel Hoffman was a 23-year-old Florida State graduate, not necessarily very demographically representative of many of the people who are most impacted by these policies.

    But certainly, you know, she lost her life nonetheless.

    CONAN: And it turned out it was not going to be a drug purchase, it was not going to be a deal, it was going to be a robbery.

    STILLMAN: Exactly, yeah. So I spoke to, you know, the family of one of the convicted murderers, who told me that essentially they'd never been planning a drug deal in the first place. What they were actually planning was to take the massive - I believe it was $13,000 that Rachel was bringing to the bust, because, you know, it was quite huge.

    It was, you know, 1,500 ecstasy pills and cocaine and a handgun that she was sent to purchase.

    CONAN: And they found the wire on her?

    STILLMAN: Exactly. They opened up her purse, because the wire had actually been placed in her purse, which was against, you know, standard procedures there, but it had all been done in a bit of haste, and she'd been sent off with the wires in her purse. And, you know, it's a bit unclear exactly what occurred because, you know, no one was there to witness it, but the understanding was that they took her purse and found the wire, and she was shot.

    CONAN: And the police, how did they lose track of her? There was aircraft involved.

    STILLMAN: Exactly. Well, it was a series of really - you know, a series of both poor planning and coincidence. You know, one big issue was that it was in a very wooded area. The location was changed a number of times, and the DEA had offered a surveillance plane. But it turned out the drug deal went down in a location that was covered in this tree canopy.

    I mean, I saw it. It was thick and dripping with Spanish moss and not the kind of place that a plane had any hope of seeing the transaction.

    CONAN: Your piece in The New Yorker is titled "The Throwaways," and it's your contention that in fact in their eagerness to get drug busts, the police do not pay anywhere near enough attention to the safety of their informants, and to some degree, in some cases, their attitudes may be pretty cavalier.

    STILLMAN: Right. I mean I think it's the nature of the work to be incredibly dangerous, and I think most police are probably quite transparent about that. But, you know, what was surprising to me was to find in some cases, you know, young people who were actually getting death threats as a result of their cooperation with the police, you know, informed their police handlers, and nevertheless were continued to be used in drug transactions.

    CONAN: Continued to be - despite drug - death threats, rather.

    STILLMAN: Exactly, and in one case I actually found, you know, there was a 16-year-old young man, LeBron Gather in Kentucky, who agreed to participate as an informant after he'd punched his teacher in the jaw and had wound up facing a juvenile assault charge.

    So he signed on, he became an informant. He started doing drug cases. And after setting up a local dealer, he actually testified in a rather public manner and then the very next day was sent out to buy more drugs from this person he'd just testified against, who had, you know, not shockingly, gotten wind of LeBron's work as an informant and killed him.

    CONAN: We want to hear from confidential informants today. We want to hear from those on the law enforcement side too, police officers. And we'll start with Joel, and Joel's on the line with us from Charlotte.

    JOEL: Hey, Neal, how are you doing?

    CONAN: I'm well, thanks.

    JOEL: Hey yeah, I had an experience as a CI similar to hers, not quite obviously as tragic as I'm able to call you now. But I was just out of college. I'd found a way to order pharmaceuticals from Canada, which by the way you can still do quite easily. I was caught. They offered to give me seven months in prison unless I helped them. And I wasn't able to really offer them much assistance. So they offered to help me and put me in a spot where I was able to help them on a case they were already working.

    And when all was said and done, and I had completed my work, nothing happened, and I was sentenced to prison for seven months. I don't know if it was the lack of accountability or poor representation, but you know, with nobody to police the police, so to speak, I did what they wanted me to do, and then that was it. And so my experience was bad.

    CONAN: I can hear that. You participated in essentially a drug sting operation. Did you wear a wire?

    JOEL: Exactly, yes, sir, I did.

    CONAN: And were people arrested and later convicted on the basis of the evidence you gathered?

    JOEL: They sure were.

    CONAN: And there was nothing - there was no promise in writing or anything that...

    JOEL: Nothing promised in writing, many promises in front of my attorney from, you know, the local authorities, but in the long run there was nothing I could do or say or prove, like hey, I helped these people out. I even tried to bring it up as they were sentencing me, and I was told I wasn't allowed to talk about it. So yeah, it was not a good experience for me. I was 22 at the time.

    CONAN: Well, we're glad - you did serve all seven months, or did you get out a little early?

    JOEL: It was a nonviolent offense. I served 99 days, and I've paid my debt to society. And it took about 10 years off of my fiscal career, but I'm back on track now, and I have a great professional job, and other than the fact that it's part of my past, I tend not to think about it. But anytime I hear that CI system brought up, it just kind of makes me chuckle because they're either going to, you know, use you and abuse or, you know, just kind of toss you to the curb, and that just doesn't seem right.

    CONAN: Joel, thanks very much, we're glad you got out and glad you're getting on with your life.

    JOEL: Thank you, Neal.

    CONAN: Appreciate it. And Sarah Stillman, in your experience, he got absolutely nothing out of participating. Is that common?

    STILLMAN: You know, I think what's hard is that often these deals are spelled out in back alleys and on the spot, and people don't always have an opportunity to consult with a lawyer. So I found often, you know, things aren't in writing, things aren't clearly spelled out. And I think, you know, CIs can be really valuable in working up the ranks, you know, trying to get at people who are really immersed in worlds like insider trading or whatnot, where, you know, they have good connections that they can give police.

    But in this man's case who just called in, you know, we see someone who was a nonviolent offender who didn't necessarily have great ties to working up the ladder. And, you know, that was - many of the cases I looked at were small fish going after other small fish.

    CONAN: Joining us now is Brian Sallee, who spent the past 20 years in law enforcement working on drug investigations. He's a police officer, president of BBS Narcotics Enforcement Training and Consulting, and joins us by phone from St. Louis, where he's actually teaching a class to police officers about informants. And thanks very much for taking time out from your teaching.

    BRIAN SALLEE: You're welcome, nice to be here.

    CONAN: And you're interviewed in Sarah Stillman's piece in The New Yorker, and you say there's no such thing as training an informant. So clearly you're working with officers. Don't those officers have an obligation to help train the informants that they're working with?

    SALLEE: We don't call it training. We train police officers. What we do with the informants is give them directions on what they need to do. It's incumbent on the police officers to have that training. It's very important that they do receive training in what to do and then use that and direct the informants and tell them this is what you need to do, without doing a training.

    So they'll tell them exactly what needs to be done in the investigation, what actions are expected of them.

    CONAN: But obviously police officers have a lot of training. Couldn't this work be done by undercover officers?

    SALLEE: In some it could, but in a lot of places that I'm teaching, with small departments, they don't have the resources, or the officers are all known in a small community. So they are dependent on informants, versus the department I worked, was a large city, so it was easier. But with small departments, oftentimes they can't work undercovers.

    CONAN: So confidential informants are a force multiplier in a way?

    SALLEE: Yes, they are, and they are a great asset in the investigation of narcotics work.

    CONAN: And I'm sure you've read Sarah Stillman's piece since it came out in The New Yorker. These cases - and you're not involved in them, let me put it that way - but these cases are tragic. Should there be guidelines? Should there be regulations? Should there be situations, stipulations, you don't use minors, for example, people need to have a lawyer?

    SALLEE: There should be guidelines by the police, and each department in each state needs to have their guidelines, not a one-shoe-fits-all federal type regulation. There are places where they might need to use a juvenile if they have drugs being sold in a school where no law enforcement could work into, and they're selling to other kids and kids are dying. You might need to actually work a juvenile. So there might be exceptions.

    But it's very important that departments have the policies and that the officers are trained in those policies.

    CONAN: Sarah Stillman, is it your experience that there are established guidelines in various police departments as you looked into this, or are police making this up on the fly?

    STILLMAN: Well, you know, part of why I chose to look at Rachel Hoffman's case is that her parents really fought to pursue more clear guidelines in the state of Florida that have potentially become a model for elsewhere in the country, where regulation is relatively sparse in terms of some of the issues Brian just brought up. I mean the use of juveniles is one good example.

    Another example is, you know, what about people who are in drug treatment programs? Should they be able to be taken out of those and used as informants? And you know, also one of the things I found was surprising to me is that there aren't always clear guidelines about the cases in which CIs are used and whether or not those cases are commensurate with the crimes they've allegedly committed.

    So for instance, you're caught with a handful of ecstasy and Valium pills, and you're sent off to buy, you know, 1,500 ecstasy pills.

    CONAN: Brian Sallee, I wonder, what questions do your trainees have for you?

    SALLEE: They like to know what they can do to protect their informants, to keep them confidential. So a lot of our work is, and the training is, how to set up policies, how to set up investigations to do things in the safest manner and also to do an investigation in such a way that we can keep our informants confidential, because we prefer that they always stay confidential.

    CONAN: We're talking about confidential police informants. In a few minutes - Sarah Stillman mentioned regulations, indeed a law in Florida - we'll talk with one of the people who pushed for that regulation. If you've been part of this world as an informant or on the law enforcement side, how did the process work out? .

    CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. In The New Yorker, Sarah Stillman wrote: Informants are the foot soldiers in the government's war on drugs. By some estimates, up to 80 percent of all drug cases in America involve them, often in active roles.

    For police departments facing budget woes, untrained CIs provide an inexpensive way to outsource the work of undercover officers. The system makes it cheap and easy to use informants as opposed to other less risky but more cumbersome approaches, says Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a leading expert on informants.

    There are fewer procedures in place and fewer institutional checks on their use. Often deploying informants involves no paperwork and no institutional oversight, let alone lawyers, judges or public scrutiny, and their use is necessarily shrouded in secrecy.

    We want to hear from those of you who've been in the system as CIs or on the law enforcement side, Our guest: Sarah Stillman, who wrote that piece I just referenced, "The Throwaways," for the September 3 edition of the New Yorker. There's a link to that piece on our website. Go to npr.org.

    And Brian Sallee, a police officer and president of BBS Narcotics Enforcement Training and Consulting. He stepped out of a training class he's teaching to talk with us. And let's see if we can go next to - this is Chad(ph), and Chad's on the line with us from Nashville.

    CHAD: Hi.

    CONAN: Go ahead, please.

    CHAD: Well, I'm a public defender, and I just - I've been listening to the comments, and I can say from, you know, from my own personal experience that seeing it on my end, after my clients have been charged, and I get, you know, I get told, you know, past clients, you know, have told me, you know, I've done this work, I've helped out the police, I didn't think I was going to be charged, or they told me they would protect me, et cetera; once I talk to the police officers that are allegedly involved in this, and like you said, there's no paperwork, there's no anything, oftentimes what I find is basically minimizing of what they actually did for the police. All of a sudden they weren't that big of a help. We had all - you know, we had a lot of other stuff, they didn't really help us that much. We never told them anything.

    I mean, it's just - I find a lot of them going into this with no protection up front. They don't contact lawyers up front. And like I tell my clients, and what I try to always tell them, you know, future and prospective or past clients, that they just aren't your friend. They aren't going to help you. There aren't going to - you know, they'll tell you everything in the world, they'll promise you everything, and in the end they're just going to - they're going to screw you over.

    I mean that's - in the end, that's what I see. I mean I'm sure it works every now and again, but by and large, I just see it causing more problems and hurting them more in the end than it's ever going to help.

    CONAN: Brian Sallee, is there a system by which officers can keep the promises they make to their CIs?

    SALLEE: Yes, that's one thing that I stress in our training, is that you need to keep either written or verbal promises. Your integrity and your reputation becomes known within the drug trade. So if you're promising something: one, you need to have the ability to carry through with the promise; and two, if the person does what you agreed on, then hold true to the promise.

    CONAN: Sarah Stillman, in your experience looking into cases, are promises kept?

    STILLMAN: You know, one of the cases I wrote about was a young woman in Detroit, Shelly Hilliard(ph). She was a teenager. She was found with 28 grams or something like that of pot, less than an ounce, and she was, you know, promised that if she partook in a drug bust that she would essentially be protected and that, you know, she wouldn't have to go to prison.

    And her confidentiality was ultimately compromised by the police, as it came out in testimony in court. That was an allegation of a woman who'd been present who said the police had actually revealed Shelly's identity. So I think Brian's point is really crucial that, you know, one of the key promises that is made is in the very title, confidential informant, the idea that it will be kept confidential.

    CONAN: Chad, thanks very much for the call.

    CHAD: Thank you, bye.

    CONAN: And let's see if we can go next to - this is Fred, Fred with us from Ypsilanti.

    FRED: Yes, I'd like to play devil's advocate just for a minute. I know something about the crack world because I had a woman I loved who was dragged into it, and trying to get her out of them, I met a - an Ypsilanti undercover officer, although he was just in plain clothes, he wasn't trying to infiltrate or anything. And we had many discussions in the VFW.

    Anyway, my experience, and he agreed, was that a lot of CIs manipulate the police as much as the police manipulate them. They are over and over again, they're just - they pretend they don't know them. They go back in the industry. They stay in that terrible world that's sexual slavery. They stay very big-time dealers, and they throw the police either smalltime people that they are irritated with or competition.

    CONAN: Brian Sallee, is that your experience, that sometimes it can go the other way?

    SALLEE: With inexperienced officers it can. And so it's important that the police have the training and understand what they can and can't do and how to do and handle and manage an informant. We were just talking this morning that no matter what, as a police officer, we're usually behind the knowledge curve of the informant.

    I've been in narcotics for 23 years, but I didn't get into that trade until I was an adult and started working narcotics investigations. Some of these people have been involved in that trade since a young age and are very, very knowledgeable and know how to manipulate. So it's important that the officers understand that and make sure they're following proper procedures.

    CONAN: And Fred, in your experience, these manipulators, what do they get out of it? I mean, presumably they're still facing - go ahead.

    FRED: No, they get - nothing. They get to stay in the industry. They get to be there and in fact be involved in arrests, and the police let them go. They're not charged, even though they are actively involved. They're still making money at it and stuff. They get to not face the penalties of their crime and get to stay - as I say, actually get rid of some competition by tossing those names to the police or just get rid of people who are like at the - you know, the bottom, while they're hiding, you know, behind other trees.

    CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. And Sarah Stillman, I guess you're almost hearing Whitey Bolger there. I mean, this is a case where clearly an FBI informant went way off the rails, and so did the FBI.

    STILLMAN: Absolutely. I mean, I think the caller makes a really important point because I think the use of CIs can also really incentivize false testimony, testimony that results in wrongful convictions. You're clearly giving people a real incentive to come forward with information, and in some cases that leads to big problems in the other direction.

    CONAN: It's also led to social problems. You say this is very much the basis of the stop snitching campaign.

    STILLMAN: Right, so in some communities where the use of the tactic is so common, there's been a really violent reaction in the opposite direction, and you see this as a theme in everywhere from music to sort of graffiti of saying, you know, people, if you snitch, we will retaliate.

    CONAN: Earlier we told some of the story of Rachel Hoffman, a confidential informer in Tallahassee, in Florida, who was murdered as the result of a bungled operation. Lance Block represented Rachel Hoffman's family in a civil suit against the Tallahassee Police Department. He then lobbied for legislation known now as Rachel's Law. He joins us from member station WFSU in Tallahassee. Good to have you with us today.

    LANCE BLOCK: Nice to be here.

    CONAN: And I gather when you started to prepare for this case, you started to look for other legislation that you might model yours on and didn't find a lot.

    BLOCK: That's correct. When Rachel's parents first hired me, the main purpose was to initiate a civil suit against the Tallahassee Police Department. But they also saw a need to reform the laws because there was no protection whatsoever in Florida for confidential informants.

    And so what I did is surveyed other states, and the only state in the nation that has anything remotely akin to Rachel's law is California. And they have a provision that prohibits the use of minors under the age of 12, and then there are regulations that take place for children from 13 to 18.

    CONAN: And you - is that adequate? Is that the basis of Rachel's Law? Or did you go past that?

    BLOCK: Oh, we went way beyond that. As a matter of fact, law enforcement fought Rachel's law adamantly. In fact, there was one sheriff's association president who said that if Rachel's law was adopted, it would be the end of law enforcement. That hasn't happened, at least over the last three years.

    But what I found is that the lack of legislation has led to policies and procedures in some law enforcement agencies. Many, there are no policies and procedures. And the Florida legislature studied this issue very carefully and determined that there could be another Rachel Hoffman out there potentially, and we didn't want to have that happen again.

    And so there were several members of the legislature who worked closely with Rachel's parents and with all of the law enforcement associations. And we were able to come up with a very watered-down version of Rachel's law.

    CONAN: Watered down? What was taken out?

    BLOCK: Well, the three major provisions that were taken out were - you know, we discussed the minor issue, and that was taken out. We had an absolute exclusion for children under the age of 18. We heard some terrible stories about children being subjected to dangerous situations and just very seedy situations.

    For example there was a 17-year-old boy in Fort Lauderdale who was found with a marijuana cigarette. He was threatened to be taken to jail unless he would go into an adult strip club and buy cocaine from a man who he didn't know. They showed him a picture, and of course he did it and was not able to find the man in the strip club, came out, told law enforcement he couldn't find the man. They put him in the back of the car and took him to jail.

    The second provision that was taken out was, as Sarah mentioned, the drug treatment provision. Rachel Hoffman was in a drug court - supervised drug treatment program, and the court should have been notified about her violation of it when she was found with five ounces of marijuana. Instead, the Tallahassee Police Department had no policy and chose to ignore the court, circumvent the court order, not notify the state attorney. And within three weeks, she was murdered.

    But we feel strongly - and Rachel's father, who's a mental health counselor, feels very strongly - that someone who's in a drug treatment program, the last thing they need to be doing is going out in the community, back on the streets, buying drugs or selling drugs. The whole purpose of drug treatment is to remove us, or remove people from that type of environment. And...

    CONAN: And the third provision?

    BLOCK: Yeah. The third provision was that anyone who was apprehended and offered a CI role would have a right to - automatically have a right to talk to a lawyer and be advised as such. And that was taken out. And...

    CONAN: Let me just put that to Brian Sallee. You've mentioned earlier about minors, that sometimes you need to use minors in situations in school. They're the only people who could possibly get access to that. What about those other two provisions about using - prohibition against using people who are in a drug program, and a prohibition that - and a provision that they have to have a lawyer?

    SALLEE: I agree that people in drug treatment aren't the best people. We prefer that they also get clean. And if they're under a court-ordered treatment, then they do need permission from the court. As far as a lawyer, they're advised they have a right to a lawyer. And, you know, I've never seen any of our officers, the people I've worked with - and I teach not to try to force somebody. It - let them make a rational decision.

    CONAN: Sarah Stillman, in your story, you quote other officers who say, we need to do these things quickly. Sometimes the opportunity is fleeting. If we have to get a lawyer for somebody, it goes away.

    STILLMAN: Right. I mean, that was certainly the argument in the case of Shelley McLane - Shelley Hilliard that I mentioned earlier in Detroit. So the question is, in those kinds of cases, are the stakes always worth it? I mean, in her case, the stakes were life or death, and it was for such a small amount of pot. So I think the question is really, you know, do those policies make sense in circumstances that have to be, you know, so rushed? Are the risks really worth it?

    CONAN: We're talking about confidential informants. You just heard Sarah Stillman, a contributor to The New Yorker magazine who wrote a piece called "The Throwaways" for the September 3rd issue. Also with us is Brian Sallee, a police officer and president of BBS Narcotics Enforcement Training and Consulting. He's in St. Louis, teaching police officers about the use of confidential informants. And also with us, Lance Block, a trial lawyer and past president of the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

    And let's get Steve on the line, Steve with us from - this is Denver.

    STEVE: Hello?

    CONAN: You're on the air, Steve.

    STEVE: Yeah. I just wanted to call and kind of speak on the side of the police officers. I got in trouble. It was significant trouble. They made me a deal. They said if I would cooperate, they would let me go. And it was the hardest decision to do that, because I knew that the amount of trouble I was in wouldn't go very far. I wouldn't have very many penalty - penalties for it.

    But when I did make the decision to help them and I did what they asked me to do, when it was all said and done, they let me go. And there's been no repercussions ever since, and I've never looked back. I would never get myself involved in that again. But it was - they gave me the choice because I wasn't prior convicted of anything else. I was clean. I just got involved in something, and they - I think they realized that, so they let me go.

    CONAN: So you had a good experience.

    STEVE: I had a great experience. And I would tell anybody out there, I really would tell them that if somebody presents you with that opportunity, I would take it. And it's easier to - I don't know. It's easier to trust in the police than it is other criminals, you know? You'll hear people tell you that you should never do that, but I recommend it. They give you the opportunity, I would take it.

    CONAN: Thanks - were you put into a dangerous situation?

    STEVE: They were scary. I don't know that they were necessarily dangerous. They were scary.

    CONAN: All right. Well, glad you had a good experience and glad it worked out. Glad you were scared straight.

    STEVE: Thank you. Bye.

    CONAN: Let me turn back to you, Lance Block. You've mentioned this watered-down version of the law has taken effect. As far as you know, are other states beginning to look to Florida as a model?

    BLOCK: Not that I know of. It's - you know, there's a lot of chatter amongst scholars in the legal community, but there really hasn't been any interest, as far as I know, in other states, trying to adopt something along the lines of Rachel's Law.

    CONAN: And is there any effort in Florida to get some of those provisions that were taken out, get them back in?

    BLOCK: As a matter of fact, there is. The same bill sponsors who promoted Rachel's Law to begin with back in 2009 are coming back with several of the provisions that were taken out, and I think we have a good chance of passing them.

    CONAN: And I wanted to ask you, Sarah Stillman, as you look ahead to this landscape of largely unregulated use of confidential informants, what kind of reaction has there been to your piece?

    STILLMAN: Well, you know, I've certainly been in touch with all of the families, and they're glad for their stories to be brought to light. It certainly made me wonder how many more stories are there out there like this, because part of what's interesting is that you find out about cases often because there are legal complaints.

    So in many of the cases I looked at, families - you know, a family in Washington state, the family in Detroit, the family in Kentucky, the family in Florida, all of them were really pushing for, you know, justice through the legal system. And certainly, there are many, many more cases that we never find out about that go down on the books as sort of drug-related incidents, drug-related deaths that presumably have some ties to people's work as informants. So part of what's been interesting to me is to hear some of those stories.

    CONAN: And, Brian Sallee, as you teach police officers - and I'm afraid we just have to ask you to be brief - you have to teach them of the value of these people's lives, some of whom obviously aren't saints.

    SALLEE: Yes, and that's true. And while their deaths are tragic, and nobody would want those, they're - for every tragic incident, there are probably hundreds to thousands of cases that went very good in which these informants helped take major criminals off the street and make our streets much, much safer. And so it is important that we work the informants in a safe way to avoid tragic incidents like this. But they are a great and valuable tool to help us make and get criminals off the road.

    CONAN: Brian Sallee, again, thanks very much for taking time out of your training class to speak with us.

    Brian Sallee is the president of BBS Narcotics Enforcement Training and Consulting, and a police officer. Our thanks also to Lance Block, a trial lawyer in Florida who joined us from member station WFSU in Tallahassee. Appreciate your time. And Sarah Stillman, thank you for your time. You're a contributor to The New Yorker Magazine.

    STILLMAN: Thanks

    National Public Radio
    Talk of the Nation
    September 5, 2012

  8. enquirewithin
    This is abuse of minors. Of course, people should not cooperate with these programs but if people die it is surely the responsibility of the people who set them up? I am sure the pressure and lies to which they are subjected is hard to withstand. I am amazed by this but I should not be.
  9. somnitek
    Not to get off topic, but has anyone considered that what makes the varying sorts of people vulnerable to beIng plucked out, and run as CIs, also hypothetically makes them vulnerable to being doubled back as informants positioned and capable of gathering hints, and or suggestive tidbits, about law enforcement activities?

    It seems infinitely more productive than just disposing of them.
  10. Phungushead
    Cops Are Recruiting Young Informants in the Drug War -- and Risking Their Lives

    [IMGL="white"]http://www.drugs-forum.com/forum/attachment.php?attachmentid=31506&stc=1&d=1361634124[/IMGL] When low-level drug offenders become informants in exchange for leniency, lack of protections can make for fatal results.

    NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to a remarkable investigation into law enforcement’s unregulated use of young confidential informants in drug cases. On Monday, New Yorker staff writer Sarah Stillman won a George Polk Award for her eight-month investigation on the topic. Her article is called "The Throwaways," and it’s spurred calls for reform in several states, including, most recently, Washington state, where new legislation regulating the use of drug informants in underway.

    In her article, Stillman describes how police broker deals with young, untrained informants to perform high-risk operations with few legal protections in exchange for leniency. The results can be fatal. One such informant, Detroit teenager Shelley Hilliard, was murdered after being caught by police with less than an ounce of marijuana and agreeing to set up her drug dealer in order to avoid prosecution. This is Shelley’s mother, Lyniece Nelson.

    LYNIECE NELSON: It’s like they just threw her away. They didn’t even care, because—it’s just the way she said it to me, the way her tone. She was like, "Mama, I’m scared. What do I do?" I said, "You’ve got to protect yourself," because I knew they didn’t care about her. They wouldn’t—she could have went to jail for that ounce, but she said, "They made me sign my name. They made me be an informant." I was like, "So where’s the police now?" She said, "They’re gone." They made her do that, and they left her in the room.

    AMY GOODMAN: That was Lyniece Nelson, the mother of a teenage informant who was murdered when trying to set up her drug dealer in order to avoid prosecution for less than an ounce of marijuana possession. By some estimates, up to 80 percent of all drug cases in America involve such informants.

    NERMEEN SHAIKH: Journalist Sarah Stillman writes about another confidential informant, Rachel Hoffman, a 23-year-old Florida State student who had just earned admissions to a master’s program in mental health counseling when cops found drugs in her apartment. To get off the hook, she agreed to assist the cops in a major undercover deal involving meeting two convicted felons alone in her car to buy two-and-a-half ounces of cocaine, 15,000 ecstasy pills and a semi-automatic handgun. Within days, Rachel Hoffman’s body was found shot five times in the chest and head with the gun that the police had sent her to buy.

    AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by Rachel’s mother, joining us from the Tampa studios, PBS studios of WEDU.

    If you could tell us, Margie Weiss, what happened to your daughter. Go back to 2007.

    MARGIE WEISS: 2008 is when she was murdered. And in 2007, she—just before she graduated FSU, and she also had a major in criminal justice as well as psychology—they stopped her because she had been driving eight miles over the speed limit. She went to FSU, Florida State University. And they arrested her because they found 25 grams of pot, which is less than an ounce. And the law is if you have over 20 grams, I believe, it’s a felony. And she went into drug court. And she was to graduate in April, and—of 2008. But when she graduated and was ready to come home in August, her lawyer told her—told us—he called us two days before she was supposed to move home—that she had to stay in Tallahassee to get her—to be able to get her record expunged, which is what we wanted, because she was going to go on for her master’s degree in counseling and be a—and work towards becoming a psychologist and work with kids.

    And that never got to happen, because they raided her apartment, and apparently she was getting pot for her and her friends. And they found five ounces, which is less than what this cup would hold. And we, her father and I, were unaware of any of this going on. And when they raided her apartment, the officer said, "We can make all this go away if you work for us." And she said, "OK," because she did not want to shame her family.

    The problem with—I want to digress and give you my opinion about it. But after that, they used—she called me, and I had just come back from Passover. She was supposed to come with me, but she was in a home at a funeral, and she missed a urine test. And they threw her in jail that weekend, which was the month before they raided her apartment. And I think it was like to scare her, so that later down the road, before her probation was complete, they could do something like this. I don’t know. It’s just—I became suspicious after she was murdered. And—

    AMY GOODMAN: So tell us what happened when—

    MARGIE WEISS: —she called me after that, and she said, "Mom, I want you to surround me with your love and light, because I’m thinking of doing something dangerous." And I paused, and I said, "Rachel, did you just hear what you said? You know, what are you talking about? Don’t do it. But what is it that you’re talking about? If you know ahead of time that you’re going to do something dangerous, that’s enough evidence to tell you not to do it." And she goes, "Well, you know how I’m a criminal justice major? I thought it would be really cool to like write a book about, you know, working undercover and exposing what it’s all about." And I said, "That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard you tell me." I said, "Don’t do it." And she said, "Mom, don’t worry. I’ll be fine." And I said, "Don’t do it." And all I knew was the word "undercover" at that time; I didn’t know "informant." I didn’t know the word "snitch" for like at least two years after that. And she said, "Well, I’ll call you on Monday. We’re going to do it on Monday, and I’ll talk—you know, I’ll tell you what’s going on the whole way through." And apparently that was the first time and the only time that they used her before she was murdered. And when she called me, the policeman was there in the car. His name was Pooh Bear. And she was talking to him and giggling and acting like it was just an adventure, and that he had her back and he would keep her safe, and then it was all over. And I was certain that since she told me about it, and he knew that I knew, that it really was all over.

    So when they called me a month later at 3:00 in the morning and said my daughter was missing, I thought, well, maybe she’s at a festival, or maybe she’s with a friend, because I had been called by her father at Thanksgiving time, and she was at a festival, and I found her through her friends. So I started calling her friends. And I said, "Do I need to come up to Tallahassee?" And they said, "No, not at this time." Now, she had been murdered at 7:00 on Wednesday, and they were calling me at 3:00 in the morning on Thursday. And I just went into shock, and I was like in shock for probably the next two years. But at about 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning, Officer, I believe his name was Odom, called me and said, "You can come up now." And I didn’t get out of the house 'til 11:00. And, you know, what was weird was, a half year before my father died, and they called me, and I was out of the house in 15 minutes. So that's why I think I was in shock. And I told my husband, and he was ready to follow me up there. And I said, "No, she’s going to be OK. She’s going to be OK." And I talked to her father. I talked to her best friends. I was searching for her. And so, I drove up, and when I got near Perry, which is where they found her body in a ditch, which was another county out of Tallahassee, the victim’s advocate was talking to me, Kim Powell, and she said—I can’t remember the exact words, but she said they might find Rachel’s—you know, with her missing, they might just find her body. And I said, "Are you saying that that’s a possibility or probability?" meaning one would mean yes and one would mean no. And I had to hang up the phone, and I just screamed as loud and as long as I could. And I was hoarse from it.

    And I drove up to the—and then I called my husband, and I said, "Come." So he hurried up, and the rabbi hurried up. And her father was a half hour behind me. And I got to the police department in Tallahassee, and the victim’s advocate, Kim Powell, was there, and she saw me in. And there were four or five police officers escorting me into the narcotics division. And I thought that was odd, because she was a missing person. And we sat down, and they asked me if I wanted to, you know, wait for Irv to show up, her father, before I spoke with them, and I said, "Yes," because he is more clear about following the conversation, and I didn’t want to say, you know, anything that I didn’t have a witness to. Anyway, I was just—I was just numb. I was just in shock. And they said, "Well, she’s missing." And they didn’t tell us anything about what had happened, that they had used her as an informant, how she had died. I found out about the gunshot wounds six weeks later on her death certificate. I didn’t know where. I didn’t know how many. I found that out two years later during Deneilo Bradshaw’s—the accomplice, I believe—

    AMY GOODMAN: Margie, I want—I want to turn to—

    MARGIE WEISS: —who had a speedy trial, because he felt that he was innocent, because it was his stepbrother-in-law that they found the blood on his pants. Hello?

    AMY GOODMAN: Margie, I want to turn to Tampa Police Officer David McCranie. Here’s how he described what went wrong in your daughter Rachel Hoffman’s case.

    OFFICER DAVID McCRANIE: She was told to stay in a certain location. We have protocols that were in place that would keep her safe at that location. She then decided to leave and meet them on her own. And the investigator of the case, investigator in charge, communicated with her on the phone and told her, "Do not leave," pleaded with her not to leave, "Do not [inaudible] them." Our stance is, your safety, the safety of the public, is far more important than any drug deal. We can always make another drug deal. So we pleaded with her not to leave. She was able to leave before we could stop her and decided to meet them on her own.

    AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn now to Sarah Stillman, who is a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. She just won a George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting for her piece, "The Throwaways," that came from an eight-month investigation into how law enforcement uses young confidential informants. Talk about how Rachel’s story, as her mom, Margie Weiss, describes it, fits into this bigger picture and what you learned happened with Rachel. What was the encounter that led to her death?

    SARAH STILLMAN: Yeah. Well, part of what really stood out about Rachel’s case is that, you know, here she was, this young woman found with some pot and, I believe, a small handful of ecstasy pills. And she was sent off ultimately to buy 1,500 ecstasy pills, a stash of cocaine and handgun from two convicted felons. Ultimately, in the midst of the sting, the police lost track of her, as often happens in these situations. She was told to go to a second location. And when she did that, ultimately, one of the men found the wires, the surveillance wires that the police had hidden in her purse, and shot her.

    AMY GOODMAN: In her purse?

    SARAH STILLMAN: Exactly. They were hidden in her purse, which some—some police would argue was sort of against the conventional protocols of, you know, the safest place to put the wires. But they opened the purse to—essentially, to stage a robbery, to steal the money in the purse. And then she was killed.

    NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Sarah Stillman, how different is Rachel Hoffman from the typical confidential informant whom you profile in your New Yorker piece?

    SARAH STILLMAN: You know, I think, demographically, she may not be the most representative insofar as, you know, many of the people who are—who find themselves in these very vulnerable situations do not necessarily kind of have a college education, do not necessarily have parents who are looking out for them, who also, you know, afterwards really stand up and speak out, as Margie and Irv Hoffman have done, really getting out there to really fight for reforms, to say, you know, "We’ve heard so many stories from people around the country who have faced really similar things without protection," young people, sometimes teenagers, sometimes people as young as, you know, 15 years old, going out there into these very dangerous situations, and ultimately kind of—Rachel’s parents have really fought for legislation to try to change this in Florida and, you know, hopefully at some point, around the country.

    AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break and then come back to this conversation, and we’ll be joined by a professor who has written a book on this subject and staying with Sarah Stillman as we hear the story not only of Rachel Hoffman, but of other young people who become informants and what happens to them. Who is responsible for them? Who is responsible for their lives? This isDemocracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Back in a minute.


    AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Sarah Stillman, staff writer for The New Yorkermagazine. It was just announced that she’s won a George Polk Award for this piece that she wrote called "The Throwaways," an eight-month investigation into law enforcement’s unregulated use of young confidential informants in drug cases, that has led to calls for reform in four states. Sarah, how did you discover this story?

    SARAH STILLMAN: I came upon this issue a number of years ago. I had been looking into a case of murder in Florida, and when I found this young woman’s family, who had been killed, she told me that—they told me that she had been working as an informant for the police, that she had been getting threats on her life, and that, ultimately, she wound up, you know, dead in a lake with no sort of accountability. And I began looking at this issue of, you know, what protections exist for informants, and I found out about Rachel’s case and Rachel’s Law. And as I began looking around the country, I started finding other cases in Kentucky and in Washington state and in Detroit with all kinds of people of varying levels of education and varying geographies who had had their lives put at risk in this way.

    AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined by Alexandra Natapoff, who is a professor of law at Loyola Law School and author of the book Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice, who runs a snitching blog, as well. But before we go to her, Sarah, tell us about a few more of these cases that you profile in your piece, "The Throwaways."

    SARAH STILLMAN: Well, at the beginning of the show, you mentioned Shelley Hilliard, who was a young woman in Detroit, a transgender teenager, who was found smoking a bit of pot on a motel balcony. She was basically told, you know, by the police that if she didn’t call her dealer immediately and have him come back to the scene and bring some more drugs, that she would be incarcerated, which, you know, was particularly troubling for her as a transgender person, obviously the implicit threats of sexual violence for someone such as her. You know, she agreed to do this, called the dealer back, and he came and was arrested. And ultimately, it’s alleged that the police revealed Shelley’s identity to the dealer, who was then let out, I believe the next day, and came back and smothered her to death with another man and dismembered and set her on fire. So it was a very brutal and traumatic death, really for this young woman to escape having been found with an ounce of pot. So, that was a very common theme I found, was sort of the risks involved in these cases were often very incommensurate with the charges these people were facing.

    That was also the case of a young man in Washington state. His name was Jeremy McLean. He was found selling eight methadone pills, a controlled substance, to a friend, who it turned out was working as a confidential informant also. And, you know, he signed a contract, under pressure, to become an informant. And he agreed to do four stings, ultimately, to get him freed of the charges. And not only did he do those four stings, but he did another sting after that, and another and another and another after that. Ultimately, he did 14 stings, and he was still not let off. At one point, you know, he got a heroin trafficker behind bars. That guy got out, began threatening his life. Jeremy went to the police for protection and received none and ultimately was violently murdered, as well. So, there are just so many instances of people actually crying out for help and protection from police after doing this dangerous work and not receiving it, and then you see these tragic outcomes.

    NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to bring Alexandra Natapoff into the conversation. Alexandra, you’ve written extensively on this issue. Can you talk about the increasing use of young confidential informants in American law enforcement, especially when it comes to the war on drugs?

    ALEXANDRA NATAPOFF: Well, it turns out that the use of criminal informants is a massive part of the way we run our criminal justice system, in ways that the public almost never gets to see. It’s one of the reasons that this New Yorkerarticle by Sarah Stillman is so important. It really draws back the curtain on a particularly shocking aspect of this larger phenomenon, which is that we permit vulnerable people, like young people, even children, people with substance abuse problems or mental health issues, people who don’t know their rights, to be pressured by police and prosecutors into becoming informants in ways that are terribly risky to their health and well-being. This is part of a larger phenomenon: We accord vast discretion to police and prosecutors to create, use, pressure, as well as reward, criminal informants in order to gather information and make cases in ways that are almost entirely unregulated, secretive and unaccountable.

    NERMEEN SHAIKH: And Alexandra, can you talk about some of the states that have passed legislation to protect informants and what kind of legislation is set to be introduced this month in Washington state?

    ALEXANDRA NATAPOFF: So there are a number of states that have looked at different aspects of informant regulation. The increased focus on the risks to young and juvenile informants, in particular, has sparked a great interest around the country. The legislation that is being introduced in Washington state at the moment would, among other things, prohibit the use of informants under the age of 16. At this time, only California has a law that prohibits the use of juveniles under the age of 14. In other states, we permit police and prosecutors to make the decision about whether children should be used as informants and whether they should be exposed to the kinds of risks that Sarah Stillman documents in her New Yorker article. States around the country have also considered other kinds of legislation, not only to protect informants, as does Rachel’s Law in Florida as a result of the efforts of Margie Weiss and her family, but also to improve the transparency and the accountability that attaches to police and prosecutorial use of informants. Right now, again, it’s a largely unregulated and secretive world in which these deals are made at great risk often to the informants themselves and great risk to other members of the community when these deals are made.

    AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Brian Sallee, a police officer who’s president ofBBS Narcotics Enforcement Training & Consulting, a firm that instructs officers around the country in drug bust procedures. He said, quote, "There’s no such thing as training an informant. ... You direct them what to do, and if they follow those directions that will make it safer for them. There’s always going to be a risk, but when things go bad it’s usually because they didn’t do as they were told to. They get themselves hurt, not the officers. The informants cause their own dilemma." Your response to that, Professor Natapoff?

    ALEXANDRA NATAPOFF: So, the law is extremely cavalier about the well-being of informants. Essentially, American law treats informants as assuming the risk of anything that might happen to them in the course of this deal. Again, Sarah Stillman has uncovered how shocking and inappropriate that can be, particularly for vulnerable people who are brought into the criminal system. But the law provides very few protections for people who take this risk, and provides vast resources to the government by which to pressure individuals into taking such risks.

    And it’s not only risks to personal health and well-being that the law permits. For example, the law permits the government to pressure individuals, women in particular, into having sex with targets in order to bring people into the criminal justice system so that the government can file charges against them for prostitution and other related charges. In other words, the law says that almost anything is negotiable, nothing is off the table. Parents can become informants and take risks in order to work off the charges of their children. Girlfriends can become informants to work off the charges of their boyfriends. Children can be turned into informants to work off the most minor of charges. In effect, we’ve—

    AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.

    ALEXANDRA NATAPOFF: In effect, we have left this arena entirely unregulated, and it’s time to bring it into the light.

    AMY GOODMAN: Alexandra Natapoff, we want to thank you very much for being with us, professor of law at Loyola Law School, author of Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice_, runs a snitching blog at snitching.org. She testified before the House Judiciary Committee on law enforcement confidential informant practices. And thank you so much to Sarah Stillman. Congratulations on winning the George Polk Award. We’ll link to yourstillman">piece, "The Throwaways," at democracynow.org.

    I have uploaded the video to this transcript to the file archive...

    Part one of the video can be found here: http://www.drugs-forum.com/forum/local_links.php?action=play&catid=165&linkid=12431&page=1
    Part two can be found here: http://www.drugs-forum.com/forum/local_links.php?action=play&catid=165&linkid=12432&page=1

    February 21, 2013

    Amy Goodman
  11. twigburst
    I don't have any pity for people that get busted, try to narc someone out and get killed in the process. The cops are scumbags because they are cops, but if you don't want to go to prison for selling drugs don't sell drugs. That's like the only universal rule that drug dealers are actually supposed to honor. If they made it any easier or safer to rat, more people would do it so fuck it. I like hearing about snitches getting killed, fuck em.
  12. twigburst
    Also, your opinion of snitches changes a lot when you actually get ratted out. Pieces of shit should do their time instead of putting their mistake into someone else's lap.
To make a comment simply sign up and become a member!