Contact: Mikayla Hellwich
60 MINUTES REPORTS ON USE OF CONFIDENTIAL INFORMANTS
Parents of Murdered College Student Encourage Families to Know Rights, Lawyer Up
The CBS news program 60 Minutes reported this week on how police departments across the U.S. are recruiting and coercing young people to serve as confidential informants (CIs) in return for dropping low level, nonviolent marijuana and other drug charges. Some college students report being coerced by officers who said they weren’t allowed to call their parents or a lawyer. While trained undercover agents and CIs can be helpful for infiltrating large criminal organizations, the majority of states don’t require CIs to be of a certain age, trained, or protected by the departments that hired them. 60 Minutes is shedding light on this issue as the practice has led to traumatizing and deadly consequences for several students and their families.
One case examined by 60 Minutes reporter Lesley Stahl involved an Ole Miss student called “Greg” who ultimately had no stake in a drug deal except that a friend, a CI, left drugs in Greg’s dorm room, and another friend, also a CI, came by to pick up the drugs. Greg was later accused of being a drug dealer and, threatened with 20 years in prison and a felony record, was intimidated into working with police. “I felt like I had a gun to my head,” he said. Officers told Greg his charges would be dropped if he made 10 different drug buys – all of which he had to stage and organize by himself. After 6 buys, he was charged with drug distribution, despite the deal Greg thought he made. He later hired a lawyer and the charges were ultimately dropped after the case was brought to the attention of the district attorney. Greg’s lawyer, Ken Coghlan, said that drug task forces get better funding when they show higher arrest numbers. “Law enforcement is addicted to the drug war,” said Coghlan.
“If a court cannot accept a guilty plea for a misdemeanor charge unless the person has had the assistance of an attorney, then it seems eminently logical to forbid police departments from recruiting young people to pretend to commit felonies in order to entrap other students or armed felons unless the young person has the opportunity to consult with legal counsel,” said Eric Sterling, former Counsel to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee and advisory board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of criminal justice professionals working to end the War on Drugs.
Another college student, Andrew Sadek, was detained for selling $80 worth of marijuana. In order to get the charges dropped, Andrew was told he needed to start working with the police and make several drug buys. Before having completed all his buys, Andrew disappeared from his dorm and was found two months later at the bottom of a river wearing a backpack full of rocks. The cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head. Police claim the death was suicide even though a gun was never found. Andrew’s mother, Tammy, says she would have immediately called a lawyer if she had been aware of Andrew’s encounter with Officer Weber. Tammy and her husband now warn other parents to be wary of striking deals with police without a lawyer present.
A controversial campus police CI program at UMass-Amherst was shut down after an in internal investigation found that college students are particularly vulnerable to coercion. There could be as many as 100,000 confidential informants working with law enforcement across the country.
The full 60 Minutes story can be viewed online here: