February 05, 2013

Death of a young Washington informant inspires new legislation

Jeremy McLean was a young informant who was threatened and eventually killed by a heroin trafficker. Jeremy's story--and his parents' lawsuit against the police-- was featured in the widely-read 2012 New Yorker article on the risky use of young informants. The Daily News subsequently ran this in-depth four-part series detailing the specifics of how Jeremy came to be an informant after he developed an addiction to pain medication, the threats against his life, and the police's inaction that contributed to his death: Death of an Informant, Part I.

In January, Washington State Senator Adam Kline introduced legislation, SB 5373, that would regulate the use of drug informants like Jeremy. The bill would ban the use of informants who are 16 years old and under, require police to tell informants about their obligations and potential rewards in writing, and establish new accountability mechanisms for keeping track of informant use. It's an important bill, particularly the restriction on using juvenile informants which few states currently have.

Filed in ,

October 17, 2012

Texas police pressure traffic violator into drug work

ABC News ran this story about a mother who was pulled over for traffic violations and then pressured into becoming a drug informant to avoid arrest. Story here: Cops Use Traffic Tix to Force Woman into Drug Buys, Lawyer Claims. This is the same scenario reported in Attica, New York, where another young woman was pressured into becoming a drug informant when she was stopped for failing to pay traffic tickets. See this post: Recruiting new informants. Such stories remind us that police have discretion to use any opportunity--even a speeding ticket--to recruit new informants, even when the offense is minor or has nothing to do with the crimes the police want to investigate.

Filed in , ,

September 20, 2012

FOX News: slain mother was a working informant

FOX News ran this story about Jamie Seeger, a mother of two who was killed while working as an informant for a local sheriff's office in Florida. The family is suing in an effort to get more information. Story here: Slain mom was working for sheriff's office. Seeger's death may bring new scrutiny to the efficacy of Rachel's Law, which imposed new regulations on police creation and use of informants.

Filed in ,

September 07, 2012

More on young informants

The New Yorker article is generating new awareness and a lot of great discussion about young informants and the use of criminal informants more generally. TalkLeft discusses the overall challenges of informant use here: Informants as Pawns in the War on Drugs. NPR's Talk of the Nation did a special segment on the topic here: Use of Confidential Informants Mostly Unregulated.

Filed in , ,

August 29, 2012

New Yorker story on young informants

The New Yorker has just published an important story on the use of young vulnerable informants. It discusses numerous cases in which young people have lost their lives trying to work off their own offenses, and reveals how common the practice is and how little protection the law and police typically provide. Synopsis here: The Throwaways: Police enlist young offenders as confidential informants. But the work is high-risk, largely unregulated, and sometimes fatal.

Filed in , , ,

July 30, 2012

An alternative to snitching for juvenile drug offenders?

Using juvenile offenders as informants can be the opposite of rehabilitation: it keeps young people in contact with criminal networks and can exacerbate drug use and other dangerous behaviors. See this post on a Miami juvenile informant. But a new "restorative justice" approach in Texas offers a different model, in which juveniles charged with serious drug offenses are offered a chance at rehabilitation and skills training. Here's the NYTimes article: New Home for Juveniles Recruited to the Drug Trade. Almost no states regulate the law enforcement policy of turning young people into informants (see Dennis, Juvenile Snitches); the Texas experiment reminds us that the juvenile system is first and foremost supposed to be rehabilitative.

Filed in , ,

May 14, 2012

Law review article on Rachel's Law

The Boston College Journal of Law & Social Justice has published this note, Toward Efficiency and Equity in Law Enforcement: "Rachel's Law" and the Protection of Drug Informants. It focuses on an important provision in Rachel's Law that was eliminated, that would have required police to provide potential informants with counsel. Here's the abstract:

Following the murder of Rachel Morningstar Hoffman--a 23-year old college graduate--Florida passed "Rachel’s Law," which established new guidelines for the police when dealing with confidential informants. Immediately prior to its enactment, lawmakers stripped Rachel's Law of key provisions. These provisions required police to provide a potential informant with an attorney before agreeing to any deal. Opponents of these provisions argue that they hamstring law enforcement agencies in their efforts to prosecute drug crimes. Rather than serving as an obstacle to effective law enforcement, the attorney provision in the original version of Rachel's Law enables efficient prosecution of crimes and protects minor drug offenders who may be unsuited for potentially dangerous undercover informant work. This Note recommends that the attorney provision be restored to Rachel's Law, and encourages other states to enact similar statutes.

Filed in , , , ,

Impact of 'Rachel's Law' on informant use

The Tallahassee Democrat has published this article about the effects of Rachel's Law on informant use in Florida, four years after the death of Rachel Hoffman: Four years later, Hoffman's death still impacts CI use. The article concludes that the Tallahassee police department made some significant changes.

For six months immediately following Hoffman's death, the department suspended the use of all CIs. For a long time, no one wanted to work narcotics cases, which often rely on informants, the chief said.

"We had to be confident in our investigators that they were ready," [Chief] Jones said.

An audit of department confidential-informant files conducted about six months after Hoffman was killed found lax record keeping and noted areas of improvement. Personnel were moved, the vice unit was made a part the Criminal Investigations Division of a new Special Investigation Section and supervision was stepped up.

Today, TPD's rules governing the handling of confidential informants mirror that of Rachel's Law, which was spearheaded by Hoffman's parents and provides some safeguards for vulnerable informants.

"I think we've got a very good policy now," Jones said. "We have elevated ourselves and are back in the lead and set the tone for the state."


Tallahassee is reminiscent of Los Angeles in the 1990s. After a massive grand jury investigation concluded that the jail was rampant with unreliable informants and that police and prosecutors were relying on them, the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office instituted significant changes. Today, it has some of the most rigorous regulations for the tracking and use of jailhouse informants in the country: Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office Legal Policies Manual.

Filed in , , , ,

March 23, 2012

Miami New Times series on juvenile informant

Enriquez Bosco was 15 years old when he became an informant for the police, providing information against one of Miami's most notorious gangs. This three-part series in the Miami New Times documents Bosco's travails--including drug addition, rape, and ultimately deportation--from which his handlers failed to protect him and in some cases, may have brought on. From Part 2 of the story:

Enriquez's story begins and ends in Nicaragua, where he was exiled this past June. Though he had cooperated with Miami police to bust as many as 30 gang members -- including leaders of the infamous International Posse -- authorities allowed him to be beaten, raped, and exiled to the country of his birth with barely a mention of his service. His crime: a guilty plea to possessing traces of cocaine, a third-degree felony that required two days in jail. It resulted from a long-ago drug habit that started when police employed him to make a drug buy.

Juvenile informants often incur terrible risks with little or no protection from the legal system. For an indepth look at the phenomenon, see Andrea Dennis, "Collateral Damage? Juvenile Snitches in America's Wars on Drugs, Crime and Gangs," 46 Am. Crim. L. Rev. 1145 (2009).

Filed in , ,

January 27, 2012

Tallahassee agrees to pay $2.6 million in informant Rachel Hoffman's death

The city of Tallahassee, FL, has agreed to settle the case over informant Rachel Hoffman's death for $2.6 million. Story here. Tallahassee police had sent Hoffman, a young inexperienced informant, on a sting operation to buy guns and drugs, during which she was killed. After Hoffman's death, the Florida legislature passed "Rachel's Law" which requires Florida police to create guidelines for the creation and use of informants. See this previous post: Florida's Rachel's Law offers some protection to informants. The Hoffman settlement is an important milestone because it acknowledges that governments may be responsible for the dangers that informants often face when trying to satisfy police or prosecutorial demands for information and cooperation. Recently, several other families have brought similar suits for the death of young informants. See here , here, and here.

Filed in , ,

January 24, 2012

Washington state family sues police for the murder of their informant son

From the Washington State Daily News: Family of murdered informant files claim.

The parents of a slain Longview drug informant have filed claims against Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties, saying narcotics detectives coerced 26-year-old Jeremy McLean into their service, then failed to protect him from a drug dealer he'd helped police snare.

McLean, who was murdered by William Vance Reagan Jr. in late 2008, was arrested on drug-related charges and "was forced to sign a plea agreement ... in order to avoid incarceration," according to documents filed late last month. The terms of the plea agreement required McLean to become an informant for the Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Narcotics Task Force, according to the claim...


Reagan, who was sentenced to life in prison, confessed to the killing, saying he was trying to keep McLean from testifying against him.



Filed in ,

January 11, 2012

Detroit teen killed after becoming an informant

Shelley Hilliard, a 19-year-old transgendered woman, agreed with police to set up a $335 drug deal in order to avoid being arrested for marijuana possession. Three days later she was killed, allegedly by the man she set up. Detroit News story here: Teen found dead three days after helping police. This story illustrates how informant culture encourages dangerous decisions that are wildly disproportionate to the crimes involved. This young woman took a great risk to avoid the petty offense of marijuana possession, and police turned her into an informant, with all its attendant risks, in pursuit of another petty drug deal worth less than $400. Such important decisions--by individuals or police--should not be made so cavalierly. For example, Florida's "Rachel's Law" requires police to establish guidelines to determine when it is appropriate, or too dangerous, to turn a suspect into an informant. Rachel's Law was passed in response to the death of Rachel Hoffman, another young informant who was killed while setting up a drug deal. See this previous post: Florida's Rachel's Law provides some protection to informants, and the Families & Youth section on the main website for related stories.

Filed in , ,

September 16, 2011

New York officers sued for failing to protect informant

The mother of a 20-year-old informant is suing two NYPD officers for failing to protect her son who was killed an hour and a half after he tipped off his handler to the location of some guns and drugs. Story here: Mom of slain informant Anthony Velez sues cops for failing to protect him. Such suits are rarely successful--courts have been reluctant to hold police accountable for the fate of their informants, even when the government contributes to the risk. See this post discussing the government's responsibility for the safety of its informants.

Filed in , , , ,

June 13, 2011

New documentary on domestic terrorism at NY and DC film festivals

A new award-winning documentary, "Better this World," is opening at film festivals in New York and Washington D.C. this month. The documentary follows the story of two young men and their relationship with an FBI informant that led to domestic terrorism charges in connection with the violence at the 2008 Republican National Convention. Schedules and ticketing information are below. Here's the synopsis:

The story of Bradley Crowder and David McKay, accused of intending to firebomb the 2008 Republican National Convention, is a tale of idealism, loyalty, crime and betrayal. Better This World follows the radicalization of these boyhood friends from Midland, Texas, under a revolutionary activist. The results: eight homemade bombs, multiple domestic terrorism charges and an entrapment defense hinging on a controversial FBI informant. The film goes to the heart of the war on terror and political dissent in post-9/11 America.

The film will have its New York premiere during the Human Rights Watch Film Festival on June 18, 19 and 20 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater. Screening times: Saturday, June 18 at 6:30 p.m., Sunday, June 19 at 4:00 PM, Monday, June 20 at 4:00 PM. Tickets available here; trailer available here. The film will play in DC at Silverdocs Film Festival on June 22 & 23 in Silver Spring. Info here.

Filed in ,

April 13, 2011

Young informant killed and mother sues

In 2008 in Florida, 16-year-old Maciel Martin Videla was killed for being an informant. News story here: Mother of murdered confidential informant sues sheriff's office. The family's suit against the Sheriff's Office is based in large part on an undercover police officer's admission that the murderer, Alfredo Sotelo-Gomez, told him (the officer) that he knew Videla was a snitch that he was going to "take care of him," but the officer did not report the threat or warn Videla, who was killed the next day. Narcotics agent: Defendant promised to 'take care of' victim. Sotelo-Gomez was convicted yesterday of kidnapping and first-degree murder.

Videla was killed before the Florida legislature passed Rachel's Law, see Florida's Rachel's Law provides some protection to informants, although that legislation would not necessarily have prevented the police from using Videla as an informant.

Filed in ,

January 01, 2011

Washington State introduces exciting new legislation

Senator Bob McCaslin (R-Spokane Valley) has introduced Senate Bill 5004 which would vastly improve the way Washington creates and uses criminal informants: An Act Relating to disclosure and regulation of criminal informant evidence and testimony. The effort was triggered by this case -- More on the Spokane convictions --in which three young men were convicted based on the testimony of a criminal informant. Even after an acccomplice recanted, saying that the three were set up, the boys still were denied a new trial. The family of one of the three, Paul Statler, has been vigorously advocating for legislative change -- hence SB 5004. Inlander Magazine story here: Reasonable Doubt. Full disclosure: I provided Sen. McCaslin's office with information in support of this bill, and I am strongly in favor of the effort.

This bill is an excellent example of the kinds of legislative change that we can expect more of, as legislatures and the public learn more about the risks of informant use. It is also a moving example of how families of young defendants are influencing the debate over informant policy -- see Florida's Rachel's Law offers some protection to informants, and Recruiting new informants. This is such an important phenomenon that Snitching.org has created a new subject matter area devoted to it: Families & Youth. More to come.

Filed in ,

September 24, 2010

Young informant commits suicide

A significant problem that has not yet received sufficient attention: protecting young and vulnerable informants. This story in the Missoulian is about how police handled Colton Peterson, a suicidal 21-year-old who was working for them as a drug informant: "Family believes son's suicide partly caused by law enforcement's conscription as an informant." The story raises some of the same issues that caused Florida to pass "Rachel's law" after 23-year-old Rachel Hoffman was killed while working as an informant. See these previous posts: "Florida's 'Rachel's Law' offers some protection for informants" and "Recruiting new informants." Under Florida's new law, police must now consider certain minimum factors before recruiting a person as an informant, including the person's "age and maturity," and "whether the person has shown any indication of emotional instability." My deepest condolences to Colton's parents, Juliena Darling and Frank Peterson.

Filed in ,

April 19, 2010

Jury finds police violated victim's rights by using false "snitch" label

Last week, a federal jury decided that two Los Angeles police officers violated a young woman's constitutional rights by falsely labeling her a snitch--a label that led to her death--and then failing to protect her. L.A. Times stories here and here. In an effort to get gang member Jose Ledesma to confess to a murder, police told him that Puebla had identified him as the shooter, even forging her signature on a fake photo array, although Puebla never identified Ledesma. At the same time, the jury found that Puebla and her parents also contributed to her death, and awarded no money to the family.

This is an interesting case for a number of reasons. First, the government is rarely held accountable for its use of or failure to protect informants, so the jury's conclusion that the police violated Puebla's constitutional rights by using her in the ruse and then failing to protect her could support future cases. Here is a link to the complaint in the case: Puebla v. Los Angeles, Case No. 08-3128. For another example of the trend(?) towards greater protection for informants--particularly young vulnerable ones--see this post on Florida's new informant legislation. At the same time, the Los Angeles jury apparently believed that Puebla and her family significantly contributed to her danger--finding the family 80% responsible and the police only 20% at fault. While it is unclear from the Times article why the jury came to this conclusion, the public and the criminal system often blame informants for their own injuries or even death, on the theory that they take the risk by becoming informants in the first place. In this case, the government argued that Puebla was killed, not because of the police ruse, but because she testified months later at a hearing in which she said that Ledesma was gang-affiliated.

Filed in , , ,

November 10, 2009

Recruiting new informants

Here's a revealing article in the Buffalo News: Walking thin line in Village of Attica: Would-be informant says police coerced her into cooperation. It's about Bianca Hervey, a 20-year-old college student who got pulled over by police for failing to pay her traffic tickets. The police threatened to put her in jail for the night, unless she agreed to become a drug informant. Although Hervey did not use drugs or have any connections to the drug world, police told her it didn't matter--she could still work as a snitch and try to set people up. Frightened of going to jail, Hervey signed the informant agreement. When she told her father, attorney Richard Furlong, what had happened, however, he "went ballistic." Furlong went to the police and to the City of Attica and complained about the recruitment of young people into the world of drugs, but the police and the Village Board refused to change the policy.

This story illustrates how snitching has quietly become such an immense part of the criminal justice system. Many cities have policies like Attica's, in which police can recruit any potential offender as a drug informant--even a 20-year-old guilty of nothing more than a traffic violation. It was this same type of policy that led to the death of 23-year-old Rachel Hoffman in Tallahassee, Florida, and triggered Florida's ground breaking legislation on the subject of informant-creation. See post: Florida's "Rachel's Law" offers some protections for informants.

Filed in , , ,

September 17, 2009

Florida's "Rachel's Law" offers some protection to informants

While using criminal informants can produce bad evidence and even sometimes more crime, the snitching phenomenon is problematic in other, more complex ways. Criminal snitches themselves are often vulnerable people--they may be young, undereducated, or suffering from substance abuse or mental disabilities. Indeed, this is true more generally for the majority of people in the criminal system. When police pressure such suspects to cooperate, many people feel as if they have no choice, even if cooperating is not in their best interests. Last year, 23-year-old Rachel Hoffman became an informant in Tallahassee, Florida, trying to avoid jailtime for her possession of a small amount of drugs. Police sent her on a sting operation during which she was killed. Her death triggered an outcry and resulted in ground breaking legislation to regularize the process by which police turn people into informants. My op-ed on the new law is published here in the Daily Journal, and it describes some of the law's features:

[It] creates new, basic mechanisms to protect informants and to increase police accountability. For example, Rachel's Law requires law enforcement agencies to establish policies and procedures, including recordkeeping rules, to guide police when they turn a suspect into an informant - essential regulations that most United States police departments lack. The law also requires police to tell suspects that police cannot make promises about what charges will be filed or dropped in exchange for cooperation - only a prosecutor can do that. Police must also consider an informant's suitability - including their age, maturity, and risk of physical harm - before entering into an agreement. This last requirement is a nod to the fact that many experts concluded that Rachel Hoffman was unsuited to the dangerous task that police assigned her.

The bottom line is that being an informant can be a very dangerous thing. Not only may the undercover work itself pose risks, but snitching can subject people to retribution and violence from all sort of sources. More on this in later posts.

Filed in , ,

VISIT MAIN SITE

Legislation, Litigation, Reports & Scholarship

Comprehensive resource site for lawyers, journalists, government officials & the public.

Recent Posts

Categories

Archives

Snitching by Alexandra Natapoff A Barnes & Noble Best Pick of 2009

2010 ABA Silver Gavel Award Honorable Mention for Books
2010 ABA Silver Gavel Award
Honorable Mention for Books

Related Links

Other Law Blogs and Websites of Interest

Legal Disclaimer

  • Content on this site is for informational purposes only. Snitching Blog does not give legal advice; nothing on this site should be construed as legal advice. Snitching Blog does not warrant the accuracy or currency of any information on this site.
  • Guest bloggers are invited in order to enhance the diversity of information and opinion available on this blog. Their opinions are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Snitching Blog. Snitching Blog does not endorse any company, private service, or product.