Thursday, December 08, 2005

Here a snitch, there a snitch, everywhere a snitch snitch

Ever since I read Professor Natapoff's great article on confidential informants last spring, I've begun collecting bad snitch stories the way that others collect curios from tourist attractions they've visited. I've noticed a few more recently that merit note:

Dallas Fake Drug Update: Often, where there's a bad CI, there's a bad cop.

Defrocked Dallas narcotics officer Mark Delapaz has been
indicted on three counts of defrauding the agency's confidential informant fund. Newspaper reports had stated the informant in that case made up to $200,000 per year working for DPD (more, even, than the police chief!) but now it looks like much of that was skimmed by police investigators. As of this summer, the agency still hadn't fixed its broken informant system.

While nearly everyone's heard of the Tulia cases, I find most folks still haven't heard about the Dallas fake drug scandal, but it turned out that 50% of the coke and a quarter of the meth supposedly seized by the Dallas PD in 2001 was actually fake drugs used to set up innocent people. Eight officers in the DPD narcotics unit performed "field tests" allegedly verifying the fake substances were drugs, and since the targeted defendants were mostly Mexican immigrants, most were deported or plea bargained instead of the evidence ever being vetted at trial. In many ways, I find this even more disgraceful than Tulia. Tom Coleman was convicted of perjury, but most of those eight cops are still on the force, and Delapaz, while obviously deserving of prosecution, has been
made the scapegoat for a much broader problem that's being swept under the rug. Every officer who said their field test found real drugs when they were really fake should have been fired and prosecuted, IMO.

OK Audit Finds 'Questionable' Transactions In Sallisaw PD Informant Fund.
In Oklahoma we find a similar case of police allegedly filching cash that's supposed to pay their snitches. The current Sallisaw PD chief has announced he'll investigate his predecessor for allegedly dipping into the confidential informant fund ("
State Audit Recommends Legal Review," Sequoyah County Times, Dec. 7). Here's the most damaging of the audit's findings:
* Concern: Receipts and expenditure of drug funds by the former police chief.

* Findings: Receipts provided by the former chief were questionable. Two receipts with the same number indicated different dates and amounts. One confidential informant provided a statement to the Sallisaw Police Department indicating some of the receipts were falsified.

Receipts appear to have been numbered as an afterthought. "We are unable to find corresponding evidence submitted for evidence purchases," [state auditor Jeff A.] McMahan wrote.

Receipts provided by the former chief reflect that he expended $24,520 to confidential informants for the purchase of evidence, information or services.

In one instance, the audit revealed that there were two receipts, totaling $450, for the purchase of evidence and information from a confidential informant.

The informant named on the receipts provided a witness statement to the police department indicating that these receipts were falsified.

"I signed the papers that he asked me to sign saying that I had received (sic) money for giving information to him, but I never gave him any information on anyone but myself," the confidential informant said in his statement. The statement goes on to state that after leaving office the former chief allegedly paid the informant $200.

The former chief's records reflected 185 purchases of evidence totaling $7,305.

"We contacted the OSBI and obtained a listing of evidence submitted by the police department," McMahan wrote. "The submittal list indicates that the former chief submitted evidence on one occasion. We contacted the evidence custodian for Sallisaw Police Department to determine if any of the purchased evidence had been turned in to the Sallisaw Police Department evidence room.

"According to the current and former evidence custodians, the former chief had turned in, on one occasion, a 'green leafy substance.'

"While we were unable to find corresponding evidence submittals for the evidence purchases reflected on the former chief's records, this does not preclude the possibility that some or all of the evidence may have been submitted by another officer, submitted for destruction without a suspect's name or secured in a location other than the Sallisaw Police Department evidence room," the audit indicates.

Of the $24,520 in expenditures documented by receipts, $17,215 (70 percent) indicated expenditures for information or services.

"Validating these receipts would require us to locate and interview confidential informants used by the department. Performing this type of investigation would place auditors, who are not law enforcement personnel, in a potentially hazardous endeavor. Additionally this activity may have a direct impact on past, as well as pending, investigations being conducted by the Sallisaw Police Department," the audit reported.

McMahan recommended that any further investigation into the validity of the receipts submitted by [Chief Gary] Philpot should be performed by a law enforcement agency.
I've seen plenty of receipts from CI funds in Texas departments as part of ACLU of Texas open records requests, and since they all use pseudonyms for the informants, they'd be damn easy to fake. Obviously, they sometimes are. The police chief in Sallisaw, incidentally, is an elected position.

Web of Nastiness Around Snitch Abuses by Chief in Preston, Idaho.
In Idaho, a former snitch named Bart Pitcher was released from prison after two and one half years after he was allegedly chewed up and spit back into the prison system by officials who abused the confidential informant process, apparently, in the very worst way. Pitcher has filed a civil suit alleging wrongful prosecution ("Web of Preston Power Abuse Claimed," Logan Herald-Journal, Dec. 4).
Court records in the Bart Pitcher wrongful-prosecution case reveal a number of previously unreported accusations against former Preston Police Chief Scott Shaw and other city and county officials.

These include that Shaw illegally used Pitcher, who was on probation for methamphetamine use, as a confidential informant, busted him for drugs used in a police-sanctioned “controlled buy,” then seized property unrelated to the drug bust — even property belonging to his parents.

Court depositions in the case also accuse the police chief and Pitcher’s probation officer, former Preston Mayor Jay Heusser, of using their positions to gain sexual favors from Pitcher’s girlfriend and coercing Pitcher into pleading guilty.

It turns out Pitcher's informant deal violated a rule that I think should be in place everywhere: In Idaho, law enforcment officials can't use probationers as snitches without a judges approval. (I think they shouldn't be able to do so at all.) Pitcher alleged that:
Heusser threatened to send Pitcher to jail if he didn’t agree to work as a confidential drug informant.

Pitcher had violated his probation in the spring of 2002. His lawyer claims Heusser permitted Pitcher to work as a confidential informant with Shaw and the Idaho State Police, despite a Department ... directive which “specifically forbids the use of a probationer as a confidential informant without a written agreement between the law enforcement agency and the sentencing judge.”

That's a really good rule to add to the list -- I know some Texas district judges who impose that dictum in their own courts, but to my knowledge we don't have similar safeguards here across the board. The ability to revoke probation over nearly anything these days gives law enforcement too much coercive leverage -- it's a situation ripe for abuse.

Cops Prosecute Theft, Still Waiting to Inhale
Libby has the story of a case in Pennsylvania where a 19-year old alleged dealer "took the informant's cash but never returned with any of the herb. The cops finally had to call the suspect on his cell and tell him he was holding their money in order to get it back." Reports the Penn State Collegian, "He was not charged with drug-related counts because investigators never found that he was in possession of drugs."

UPDATE -- Good Editorial on Snitching and Hip Hop: A reader emails to point me to this interesting op-ed by "illseed" on AllHipHop.com, "To Snitch Or Not To Snitch," who expresses personal discomfort with the "Stop Snitching" meme promoted by Hip Hop artists, but also notes, "There is a no snitching policy that permeates the very fabric of our culture ... Lets start with the police. Aside from Rodney King’s beating at the hands of police (which was on video tape), name a criminal case where police officer turned in another one. Didn’t think so. With this thick 'Wall of Silence,' the cops should be the ones wearing the 'Stop Snitching' shirts."

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Grits,

Speaking of snitches, check out http://www.whosarat.com/

Don't know much about the website but in most cases "snitches" are identified by picture, name, and location.

Drug agents are identified too.

Danika said...

Hell yeah! This blog has got to be the most honest and interesting one I have read since I started reading these things last week. I am a twenty-eight yr. old college student who is sick and tired of "the people" wanting to put more instead of less drug addicts in jail who by the way haven't done a freakin' thing TO them. I was born in Ft. Worth and I have lived in Texas on and off all my life. Sadly, I moved away a little over two years ago after my crazy Mexican boyfriend went nuts on Meth and he had to go to some wierd treatment-bootcamp place and then to jail another seven months. And he hasn't hurt a soul-He just couldn't get clean and the system didn't seem to concerned about a f**ckin thing except getting the money for his fines each month and locking him up again every few months for not showing up to his probation. He got a ten year suspended sentence but all in all he's been in jail or forced treatment over three years if you add it all up. In the state I live in they lock you up longer for cooking meth than murder or rape a lot of times and they love to imprison women with children who test positive for meth. Yep. It's all about making meth users out to be the devil himself instead of sick addicts-What the hell do people think? Getting off dope is easy? No. I know!!
My aunt is the psych. DON at one of the biggest jails in the state of Texas and she tells me all the time about the ridiculous reasons the people in that jail are there for-most of whom are mentally-ill and even more are drug addicts whose only crime was calling 911 for "no reason" or stealing cat food or something like that. Anyways, I put your blog on my favorites list and I am thankful I came across it. Don't stop!!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks a lot, Danika! Welcome to the blogosphere.

And to anonymous -- Thanks for the tip. I think I'll blog the response instead of comment here!

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