Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"Operation Trick or Treat" turned out to be snitch's trick

We may have reached the end of the Tulia saga, as I wrote the other day, but the Tulia problem still persists: Long-term undercover drug stings, especially those utilizing criminal informants, remain unaccountable and continue to needlessly fill up Texas prisons with low-level users and target innocent people. The latest horror show comes from northeast Texas in Marshall. Dubbed "Operation Trick or Treat," the drug sting resulted in arresting 33 people in late October on the word of a single snitch who it turned out lied to police. Reported KTBS-TV News ("East Texas authorities say informant fooled them," Dec. 4):
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.

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.
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.

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.


Anonymous said...

To get a real picture of the problem watch the "Wire".

It's not just a snitch, a police, or a prosecutor problem. It's a MODEL and if you watch the "Wire" you see how easy "Bubbles" was able to get a minister stopped to get even with the cops with a phone call.

Drug enforcement has evolved, changed, and the "Wire" has depicted the model and the attitudes of law enforcement, politicians, and the drug dealers themselves.

Isn't it interesting that the homicide division and the drug investigators have some of the same targets but don't work together.

Different police supervisors have different approaches (street enforcement, buy busts) and Freamon, who really knows how to investigate, isn't in charge.

The "Wire" accurately sums up the Culture of Enforcement which in my mind is NOW more dangerous than most of the drugs.

When the day comes that the police can't officially find bodies to keep the murder rate of Baltimore down, snitches are the least of my worry in that culture.

Anonymous said...

To One and All,

At this time of the year with Christmas growing near, as well as the end of another year. I can't help but think of all those parents and children who will suffer due to others fears! Their suffering IS NOT due to the harm they have caused others, but simply because they have chosen to use a plant PROVIDED by the very person and beliefs we celebrate this time of year???

I would ask all those of faith as well as those of none, when you gather with family and in your homes and houses of worship, ask ourselves and each other WHAT HAVE WE DONE!

There Has To Be A Better Way!

The only way this madness will ever end, is through true and honest openness, education and the true practice of what one preaches! Please take a few minutes and educate yourself with the links I have provided below. And it is my hope with open discussions we will find a way to lessen the numbers of parents and children suffering this time next year!

The Myths - www.DrugWarDistortions.org
The Facts - www.DrugWarFacts.org
Weekly Updates- www.drcnet@drcnet.org
Wrongful Deaths - http://blogs.salon.com/0002762/stories/2003/08/17/drugWarVictims.html

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year TO ALL!

Rusty White
Speaker www.leap.cc
Only with our silence can they continue to abuse our countries sons and daughters.

Drugs are Bad " BUT " the failure called the WAR ON DRUGS does far more harm!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Anonymous, the missus brought up The Wire, too, after reading this post this morning. I agree it's only part of a bigger picture, but I think holding cops and prosecutors accountable for how snitches are used is important. Snitches commit crimes with impunity in exchange for information, all in the name of the taxpayers. That's its own problem, though the drug war exacerbates it by making their use so common, IMO.

Merry Christmas to you, too, Rusty.

Anonymous said...

Cops who tolerate snitches committing crimes should be charged with obstruction of justice and given jail terms. Cops who make false arrests should pay for their crimes in jail.

Law enforcement needs draconian law enforcement applied to itself. Obviously, the cops cannot do this themselves.

There is no way to make the system work.