Congress Scrutinizes the Use of Informants in Drug Law Enforcement Following Accidental Shooting of 92-Year-Old Woman

July 19, 2007

Blind Trust in the Informant System is Dangerous, Say Civil Rights Advocates and Members of Congress

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: media@dcaclu.org

NEWS TRACKING
> It’s free and easy to track current events and up-to-the-minute news about informant-related issues

HEARING MATERIALS
> ACLU’s briefing paper proposing federal reforms
> Congressional testimony of Professor Alexandra Natapoff, Loyola Law School
> Congressional testimony of Commander Patrick O’Burke, Texas DPS

FURTHER READING
> Snitching: The Institutional and Communal Consequences (Professor Natapoff)
> The Snitch System (Center on Wrongful Convictions)
GET INVOLVED
> Has Police Use of Informants Affected You or Your Community?

WASHINGTON – The House Judiciary Committee held hearings today to examine the dangers of the informant system as used in drug law enforcement. Today’s hearing was prompted by the tragic death of a 92-year-old Atlanta woman, Kathryn Johnston, who was shot during a botched SWAT raid of her home. The raid was based on information fabricated by police, who falsely attributed the misinformation to a confidential informant. Civil rights advocates and members of Congress called for an overhaul of the informant system, instituting oversight mechanisms and safeguards to prevent future injustices.

“The informant system is a ticking time bomb in need of immediate reform. Ms. Johnston’s death has sounded the alarm: we’ve handed over too much police work to informants,” said Jesselyn McCurdy, legislative counsel at the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Informants can be useful tools for law enforcement, but there must be oversight and regulation of their use if our system of justice is to live up to its name.”

In November 2006, Atlanta police conducted a paramilitary-style raid of Ms. Johnston’s home based on information of suspected drug activity at her address. Fabricating information they claimed to come from an informant, police improperly obtained a warrant for a “no-knock” raid that allowed them to burst into Ms. Johnston’s home without warning. In the course of an internal investigation conducted after the raid, two police officers admitted to fabricating evidence in order to secure a warrant and pressuring an informant to cover for their misconduct.

“The government’s use of criminal informants is largely secretive, unregulated, and unaccountable,” said Alexandra Natapoff, J.D., a professor at Loyola Law School, in her testimony before the committee. “This is especially true in connection with street crime and urban drug enforcement. This lack of oversight and quality-control leads to wrongful convictions, more crime, disrespect for the law, and sometimes even official corruption. At a minimum, we need more data on and better oversight of this important public policy.”

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