Thursday, December 27, 2007

ID drug task force informant accused of murder

Though it's not a Texas case, a scandal arising from an Idaho drug task force touches on themes Grits has discussed in recent months, particularly law enforcement tolerating crimes by informants in order to prosecute low-level offenders. Reported AP:
A 31-year-old charged in a September slaying had apparently worked previously as a drug informant for law-enforcement agencies in southcentral Idaho.

John Henry McElhiney faces trial along with Cameron Watts, 29, next March in the killing of 18-year-old Dale Miller.

His body was discovered Sept. 12 bound with wire and stuffed inside a barrel in the garage of a Twin Falls apartment complex.

McElhiney had previously been enlisted by the Blaine County Sheriff's Office in some of its drug investigations.

Detective Steve Harkin called McElhiney a "cooperative individual" on some probes into drug peddling in the region.

Miller's slaying has already been linked to drug activity
When you're investigating serious crime, unfortunately, saints and angels do not often present themselves as witnesses. But this case shows why criminal informant use should be restricted to more serious crimes and not employed profligately to pursue low-level offenders: Not infrequently, police wind up tolerating more serious offenses by their snitches than they're investigating in the first place.

Would Idahoans have been safer if police had viewed Mr. McElhiney as an investigative target instead of as a tool? Certainly the 18-year old victim might have been.

RELATED: See another informant-related scandal from the Pacific Northwest, in this case a lying informant who set up an innocent person through "controlled buys" monitored by drug task force officers. In Oklahoma, a drug task force officer pled guilty to a misdemeanor this month embezzling seized drug money and staging a burglary to cover up the crime.

ALSO RELATED
: The federal Byrne grant fund that pays for regional drug task forces has been cut by 2/3 in the most recent federal budget. In 2006 Texas abolished its drug task forces, shifting Byrne grant money to drug enforcement on the border.

30 comments:

Roy said...

Why would you trust an untrustworthy sleazeball to testify in a more serious crime?

If we would stop treating lowlifes as credible witnesses in all cases, the police would have to give up using them, which would mean a lot fewer innocents getting sent to prison, and would free the police, oh, maybe exploring careers in public service?

rage judicata said...

I don't know, just because this guy was an informant in the past does not mean that the victim would still be alive. I know your opinion on informants generally, but this isn't one of those cases.

A murder by a past informant is not the same as convicting someone based on informant testimony.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

There are many issues with informants, rage. One is that sometimes they exchange false testimony for leniency for their own crimes. In other instances, as with this one, another concern is that police may tolerate crimes by informants in order to pursue other cases.

I didn't say the victim would still be alive - no one can know that one way or another - but it's sure possible, and I'll bet none of the cases police made with this CI were as serious as the crime he wound up committing. Given that I can't help but wonder if police misplaced their investigative resources by viewing him as a collaborator instead of an investigative target.

rage judicata said...

Yeah, I can see that. But I can't imagine an informant would go through the thought process of "I get along with the cops, so I bet I can kill this guy and get away with it or get a reduced sentence."

But who knows.

We don't know if the informant was someone who should otherwise have been investigated either, so who knows if the would have or should have gotten him for other crimes.

Yeah, the cops don't know if they don't look, which is part of your point. I just don't see how they can ignore the information he's given in the past.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Rage, the thought process isn't "I get along with the cops, so I bet I can kill this guy and get away with it or get a reduced sentence."

The erroneous thinking lies with police, not the informant - they used a thug to make cases against people who were less dangerous than he was. (Since most informants are working off their own offenses, it's highly likely he could have been arrested, though such details are presently unavailable.) That misjudgment left him free to allegedly commit this crime.

Whether or not he might have been arrested earlier, perhaps you'll agree it's pretty clear these drug task force cops weren't very careful about who they climbed into bed with.

rage judicata said...

I meant to include the cops' willingness to look the other way as well.

I agree that cops should spend their time where it is most useful and use information that is as credible as possible.

And I wish I had been more careful about who I crawled into bed with in my life as well, but each time I learned something. Sometimes the dirtiest ones knew the most.

Yeah, sorry about the analogy--but you started it.

Anonymous said...

Seriously Grits- why don't you just put a big ole banner across your blog site that says you hate police and the justice systems.
This post and your responses to it are just ridiculous.
Who the hell else is going to be an informant? How about we send Biff and Buffy fresh out of Harvard and have them pose as undercover dealers and runners. I'm sure they'll last a few minutes before the bad guys blow their hairsprayed locks onto their brain matter somewhere. In that case, ridiculous/unworldly informants would cause more murders from being recognized. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Why don't you read what I actually write before you comment here, 2:01? Or at least register a nom de plume with Blogger so I don't have to keep answering to some anonymous flake too cowardly to use their real name.

In any event, I didn't say I was anti-police, that's just your recurring blather. (Every time you post here, I notice, you create some straw man like the idiocy about Biff and Buffy instead of addressing what I really said.) I didn't say what you accused me of; I wrote that "criminal informant use should be restricted to more serious crimes and not employed profligately to pursue low-level offenders."

And it should.

Anonymous said...

You forgot to tell them "best" Grits. Must have struck a nerve.

2+2= -475.9 (yeah, that doesn't make sense either said...

"I didn't say what you accused me of; I wrote that "criminal informant use should be restricted to more serious crimes and not employed profligately to pursue low-level offenders."

You are trying to make an apple grow on an orange tree Grits. This informant killed someone AFTER THE FACT of being an informant for "low-level offender" crimes. Your connecting of the dots is nuts and a grasp of anything you can find to try and make snitching fit your bill. You're a blogger. So, if you kill someone tomorrow out of a fit of rage, you shouldn't have been allowed to blog? That makes about as much sense as what you tried to connect in your post.

Anonymous said...

Our legislators don't want us using terrorist scum as spies to try and protect our nation...but the cops can use any old scum to bust petty criminals and innocent old ladies.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You set policies according to risks and rewards, 2+2, and my argument was that the risk of shielding a serious offender outweighs the benefit from informant use in lower level cases. Many law enforcement agencies including the feds have policies to say you shouldn't use informants if other means are available, and place various restrictions on informant use precisely because the use of "incentivized" informants for more than two centuries has proven to be a highly problematic two-edged sword for the justice system. It's not anti-police to say so, or to argue for limits on use of coerced informants (as distinct from "witnesses" who aren't trading against their own culpability for other crimes).

Anonymous said...

You need to read your own article post Grits. NO WHERE in there does it say the guy was a "serious offender" (as you say shouldn't be used for snitching)when he was an informant. It says he helped with drug peddling cases but nothing about his criminal history past. You either know more than what you posted or you are jumping to conclusions about his criminal behavior and extent of it. Either way- you appear to be making it fit your argument without the back up of actual information on him.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'm judging from the totality of circumstances given 20/20 hindsight, looking to policy prescriptions to prevent recurrences of what was obviously a mistake. If informants frequently didn't go on to commit crimes after being granted leniency, your point might have merit. But this is just one case of many. That's why stronger policies and standards for using informants are needed overall.

Anonymous said...

"I'm judging from the totality of circumstances given 20/20 hindsight, looking to policy prescriptions to prevent recurrences of what was obviously a mistake. If informants frequently didn't go on to commit crimes after being granted leniency, your point might have merit."

Are you for real??? "20/20 hindsight logic"? Seriously? Wow Grits- you should have stopped before your really proved yourself over the cliff on that one. You bash "civil rights" abusers but it's okay for you to jump to conclusions, assume and make assumptions like that? Cripes.

Anonymous said...

Uh Grits- aren't you doing what you dislike so much- "guilty before proven innocent"? Do you even know the guy's criminal history?
"obviously a mistake"? Obvious when? Certainly not then. But, how is it even now? Even if he killed a guy- how is that connected to him helping out the police earlier? That's quite a stretch.

Anonymous said...

Grits said:
"If informants frequently didn't go on to commit crimes after being granted leniency, your point might have merit."

Grits, these guys will most likely commit further crimes whether they are an informant or not according to your own statement. Why shouldn't the police use whatever helpful information they can get? Like the commenter said about using people who would stick out like sore thumbs if they tried to infiltrate drug areas or be snitches, it seems like the police don't have much to choose from without making it obvious they are trying to make a case. Who are they supposed to use? I didn't see where the guy had any bad stuff on his record either. Why are you assuming he was a murderer at the time he was a snitch? I haven't committed any crimes in my life, but if I kill someone tomorrow does that mean I shouldn't have been a real estate agent? If I give the police information now but lose my mind later and kill someone; was it because I became a snitch? I don't get at all what you are trying to put together.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

First, my goal is not to convict the guy in a court of law, folks, but to advocate policy changes that will prevent the same thing from recurring. For those purposes, 20/20 hindsight is exactly what's needed.

As for "who are they supposed to use," you misunderstand my argument. I don't think they need to be used at all for low-level drug stings, and should be reserved for more serious offenses.

Also, snitching is not a job like a real estate agent. Police coerce testimony by threatening prosecution for other offenses. It's that process that creates the problems, and that's why it should only be used in more serious offenses.

There's a risk reward ratio, and snitches shouldn't be used where reward is low because risk is ALWAYS high, as demonstrated in this case.

Anonymous said...

"There's a risk reward ratio, and snitches shouldn't be used where reward is low because risk is ALWAYS high, as demonstrated in this case."

It is NOT demonstrated in this case. No where in the story does this person's use as an informant connect to him later murdering someone. If you were in a court of law, you'd be tossed out on your ear trying to use what you said as your burden of proof. Stick to what you can prove Grits. Otherwise you're doing exactly what you accuse others of doing. You may want it to fit, but the facts don't.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"No where in the story does this person's use as an informant connect to him later murdering someone. "

Hmmmmm, he was an informant who murdered someone, so we'll have to agree to disagree.

"If you were in a court of law, you'd be tossed out on your ear trying to use what you said as your burden of proof."

Perhaps you missed it when I wrote this: "my goal is not to convict the guy in a court of law, folks, but to advocate policy changes." How many different ways do I have to say it?

Anonymous said...

You say everything but how the two are connected. Blah, blah, blah. Advocate policy changes based on what? You have nothing. Hope to go against you in court or some policy making meeting some day if you think your points add up. I definitly disagree since I wouldn't want to lose or make nonsense policies. But, you stick right to it if you want.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You're main problem IMO is you view this too defensively. I'm not accusing police of doing anything wrong, or saying they could have known what he would do later. I'm saying if by policy crooks weren't routinely given leniency so they could make more drug cases, maybe this drug task force snitch wouldn't have been left on the street when their investigation finished. The chance is worth enacting the policy. Ask his victim's family if they'd prefer the task force had him prosecuted instead of rewarded.

Also, if you think this is the only instance of police working with an informant who turned out to commit worse crimes than the people they were investigating, then you've got another think coming.

Looking forward to that debate in any policy setting, where usually repetitive whining and smearing assumptions about people's motives do not substitute for argument as readily as in blog comments.

Anonymous said...

The fact is- you are wrong and you're not going to admit it. You are going to throw any kind of nonsense and deflection of BS logic you can to try and make the two fit. Plain and simple- they don't. I ususally agree with most of your posts and comments, but not this time.
Best,

Gritsforbreakfast said...

When you label what I say "nonsense" without disputing the details, it's hard to counter, so as I declared earlier, we'll have to agree to disagree. FWIW, I think my comments here have been consistent throughout, you just disagree with them, as is your right. Have a great new year.

Anonymous said...

"When you label what I say "nonsense" without disputing the details, it's hard to counter,..."

WHATEVER Grits. I put my counter in every post. Your rationalization that this guy being an informant (if focused on by the police as a target instead) would have prevented a murder- is as big of a stretch of making things fit your agenda as you can get. That was my counter. You can't say you didn't see it, I said it in every post. You just couldn't make your nonsense fit so you played blind so you could bypass that and pull in other crap that had nothing to do with anything to try and deflect. Regardless, we definitely disagree. This horse is dead. The New Year is already good.

Anonymous said...

I would no more trust the info coerced from a criminal,intent on saving himself,than I would from a terrorist,who being tortured would also say anything to make the pain stop. This is another example of how Prohibition 2 makes the public lose respect for law enforcement. But don't worry, the future of the phony, so called "war on drugs" is soon to become financially ended.

Anonymous said...

I have personally witnessed "informants" give good and accurate information for the sake of saving their own butts and for the better of society. There's plenty of "one time" offenders out there who have been honestly caught in the wrong place at the wrong time (ie- the friend riding with the friend transporting or in possession of something or it being left for "safe keeping" unbenounced to the clueless girlfriend, etc.). Giving them the out to give information rather than throwing what that "one time person" who we never see again (which does happen) into jail is a waste of tax payer dollars. Just because this idiot in your story later on went and killed someone shouldn't take away a good tool we have to keep our jail space open for those who really deserve it and give a break to those who otherwise wouldn't get one. I noticed too that it only says that the murder was drug related, but it doesn't say how. The guy dead in the barrell could have been going after the guy for being a snitch. Who knows, it doesn't say. Being a snitch doesn't come without a price on both ends.

Zman said...

A "One time person" is a fantasy. If a bank robber robs a bank,do you call the crime "money related"? The term "drug related" ,could at this time, refer to the economy of the worlds banking community. Petro dollars and narco bucks rule.Just stop snitching! And end the PHONEY WAR ON DRUGS,it's also a waste of taxpayers money.

Anonymous said...

A "one time person" is not a fantasy. It happens every day. Sorry it doesn't fit what you want the agenda to be.

But, I do agree. The "war on drugs" is a farce. If the war on drugs ended, our government would collapse in on itself. Politicians and the well connected would have to come up with another way to run money and keep agendas going.

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