All charges are being dismissed in a high-profile drug roundup in East Texas after it turned out the key informant in the case made up a bunch of information, authorities said Monday.Several things jump out at me here. First, if you think this is an isolated incident I'd encourage you to take 20 minutes to watch this video about a lying snitch in Hearne, Texas - the scenario, I promise, will sound familiar. When you start to pay attention to these large-scale undercover drug stings, they're common as dirt and a lot of them don't pass the smell test.
Harrison County District Attorney Joe Black has dropped charges against 33 people arrested this past October in Operation Trick or Treat.
"Information came forward to our office that the informant utilized in this undercover operation had possibly misled and lied to officers during the investigation," Black said. "Secondly, my office nor any local law enforcement agencies want to participate in the prosecution of any individual based upon evidence which may have been illegally or fraudulently obtained."
About 20 percent of the cases were compromised, Black said, but a shadow was cast over the entire operation.
Authorities believe the informant they used to buy drugs had fabricated much of the evidence. Black did not disclose specifics of informant's actions that led him to throw out the case.
Second, it seems unlikely that one snitch could identify and purchase dope from 33 different drug dealers in Harrison County - it's possible, I suppose, but it's not that big a place. (There are about 62,000 people countywide; Marshall is the county seat and the major town, but the rest is quite rural; half the towns in Harrison County are unincorporated.)
Whenever I see arrests based on drug buys from a single snitch in the double digits, much less in the 30s, that raises a red flag for me, and it should for police supervisors and DAs, too. What's usually happening in such situations is the snitch has turned users into dealers using technicalities under the law. Here's how it works. The snitch smokes crack or shoots meth with another drug user who thinks he or she is hanging out with a fellow doper. The snitch then asks the friend to get him some dope next time he or she scores, and if they do, BOOM!, the friend can be prosecuted as a dealer.
That scenario creates crime and encourages people to engage in drug dealing (at least technically, legally speaking, if not as a business enterprise) when they probably wouldn't otherwise. Prof. Alexandra Natapoff wrote about this in her seminal article on snitching last year, arguing that common snitch practices in the drug war actually create and promote crime:
a central harmful aspect of informant use is the official toleration of crime. ... The informant 'revolving door' in which low-level drug dealers and addicts are arrested and released with orders to provide more information arguably perpetuates the street-crime culture and law enforcement tolerance of it. At the very least, it violates the spirit of 'zero tolerance' and 'quality of life' community policing policies aimed at improving the communal experience of high crime communities. ... For communities already suffering from high crime rates, criminally active informants thus exacerbate a culture in which crime is commonplace and tolerated.That's what probably happened here. Even if the snitch hadn't lied, he spent many months promoting crime in Harrison County before anyone made a pretense of stopping it. Odds are he was a criminal himself who police "flipped" to become an informant.
I wish I thought local law enforcement would learn the right lessons from this incident, but comments by the DA to the Marshall News Messenger ("Drug charges are dropped against 33," Dec. 5) make me have my doubts:
"None of these will be re-indicted on charges based on this investigation," Black added, "but that does not mean they can't have a case made against them in the future. Hopefully, this will be a wake-up call for them."A wake up call for THEM? This should be a wake up call for Black and the law enforcement agencies involved! They're the ones who wrongfully accused innocent people based on the word of a lying crook. Those who spent Thanksgiving in jail as a result of this shoddy police work aren't the ones who need the wake up call - it's the delusional cops and prosecutors who think these kind of drug enforcement tactics are useful or justified.
See past Grits posts about snitching. MORE commenters chimed in at TalkLeft on the subject.