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Friday, June 11, 2010

At least five imprisoned based on lying drug informant

Watch this video news clip from WINK-TV News (an ABC affiliate) in Florida: "Convicted felon: lying confidential informant sent me to prison." The informant, Shakira Redding, admitted that she set up innocent people by fabricating drug deals: she'd buy drugs in advance and hide them on her body to provide to the drug task force as "evidence" after the alleged deals. The government had promised her money, a home, and custody of her children if she provided incriminating evidence against others. Romill Blandin was one of Redding's innocent targets who spent 20 months in prison after Redding made a video of a man in a car that she claimed was Blandin, and then picked Blandin out of a line-up. Tellingly, Blandin never saw the video before he pled guilty--his public defender told him that he couldn't see it unless he went to trial and that his criminal record made it likely that the jury would convict him. He chose to plead guilty instead of risking a longer sentence.

This story is an almost exact replay of the Hearne, Texas debacle in which a confidential informant working for the local drug task force set up dozens of innocent African Americans. The Hearne case was the subject of the movie "American Violet," and an ACLU lawsuit. Here's the description from the book's introduction:
In the economically troubled town of Hearne, Texas, 27-year-old criminal informant Derrick Megress wreaked havoc. In November, 2000, a federally-funded drug task force swept through the town arresting twenty-eight people, mostly residents of the Columbus Village public housing project. Megress, a suicidal former drug dealer on probation facing new burglary charges, had cut a deal with the local prosecutor. If he produced at least 20 arrests, Megress's new charges would be dropped. He'd also earn $100 for every person he helped bust. One of his innocent victims was waitress Regina Kelly, mother of four, who steadfastly refused to plead guilty and take a deal for probation even as she sat in jail for weeks. Another target, Detra Tindle, was actually in the hospital giving birth at the time that Megress alleged that she had sold him drugs. A lie detector test finally revealed that Megress had lied--mixing flour and baking soda with small amounts of cocaine to fabricate evidence of drug deals. Charges against the remaining Hearne suspects were dropped, although several had already pleaded guilty.
Such stories are not aberrations; drug task forces are large-scale users of criminal informants in which the risks of fabrication are high. Massachusetts, for example, reports that in 2005-2006 its federally-funded drug taskforces relied on over 2000 confidential informants who made 45 percent of the taskforces' controlled buys.