Check out a few stories that have hit the headlines over the past week. They are just a snapshot of the injustices that occur every day in America when known criminals work as informants to do the work police should be doing:
- The Associated Press reported this past week that while one South Carolina police department was paying an informant to participate in drug deals, another local sheriff’s department was expending resources to bust the same informant for committing the very same drug offenses! After the informant was caught in the sheriff’s sting, the informant accused several sheriff deputies of beating him and breaking his teeth by shoving a shotgun barrel in his mouth. Even though a state agency cleared the deputies of the beating, it does not appear that anyone is looking into how to keep law enforcement agencies from working against one another when it comes to informants.
- The San Antonio Express News reported that Texas’ highest criminal appeals court issued a decision that, in effect, allows police officers to give illegal drugs – even when the drugs are evidence in a case – to informants for their personal use! In this case, a police officer caught the potential informant with drugs, but before booking the evidence in her case he gave some of the drugs back to her so she could get high. The officer’s defense to the tampering-with-evidence charge? “I was trying to create a snitch.”
- The Asbury Park Press reported that a New Jersey police officer was accused of regularly having sex with a married informant, and at least once brutally raping her, which resulted in her bearing his child. The informant has accused the police department of permitting and encouraging police officers to sexually harass and have sex with female informants and other women they encounter while on duty. The Mayor proclaimed “no wrongdoing,” and the police officer who fathered the informant’s child is back on patrol – apparently with a free pass to “work with” informants.
- The Daily Southtown News in Illinois reported this past week that an informant was sent to prison for fraud, impersonating an FBI agent and lying to federal authorities. The informant fraudulently schemed to extort money from several individuals, and when one of his victims refused to give him money, he reported him to the FBI and claimed that he was a terrorist! Unfortunately, the Illinois State Police, the FBI, and the DEA all used this paid informant for years to convict people and put them in prison. Even though the informant was convicted of falsely accusing people, it does not appear that anyone is looking into whether innocent people are in prison today because of his lies during his years as a supposedly “reliable” informant.
- The Ledger-Enquirer in Georgia reported last week that after an informant drew narcotics officers into a deadly shootout where they killed a civilian, the informant’s testimony will determine whether the police are in fact liable for the killing. Unfortunately, the informant has changed his story too many times to know what actually happened. First he denied that he worked as an informant in the past. Then he said he had. He then denied knowing specific things about the drug supplier that was being investigated. He later said he did. He then said the drug supplier was armed and dangerous. Later he said he was not. How can we make such life-and-death decisions without requiring that information from informants be corroborated?
The way our government uses informants is so ripe for abuse even law enforcement officers and courts aren’t capable of finding the truth anymore. Whether each of these cases is the police officer’s fault or the informant’s fault – or both – one thing is clear: our nation’s informant system is broken.
The ACLU is working with lawyers, elected officials and in the community to promote awareness and to ask for accountability measures such as corroboration of information from informants, and reliability hearings to test the credibility of informants. You can help us out by reporting any experience you’ve had with the use of informants in your community by filling out this story collection form.