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Help Needed: Drug War Chronicle Seeking Cases of Informant Abuse

Many of our readers know about the tragic case of Rachel Hoffman, a 23-year-old in Tallahassee, Florida, who was killed by drug dealers after police coerced her into acting as an informant without having access to an attorney. Drug War Chronicle is currently looking for cases, reported or unreported, in which police appear to have committed misconduct or made serious misjudgments in their treatment of informants.

If you can help us find such cases, please email David Borden at borden@drcnet.org. We will keep your name and personal information confidential unless you tell us otherwise. If you are uncomfortable sending this information by email, feel free to contact us by phone instead; our office number is (202) 293-8340, and you can speak or leave a message with David Borden or David Guard. Thank you in advance for your help.

Further information on the informant issue, including the Rachel Hoffman case, can be found in our category archive here.

Help Needed: Drug War Chronicle Seeking Cases of Informant Abuse

Many of our readers know about the tragic case of Rachel Hoffman, a 23-year-old in Tallahassee, Florida, who was killed by drug dealers after police coerced her into acting as an informant without having access to an attorney. Drug War Chronicle is currently looking for cases, reported or unreported, in which police appear to have committed misconduct or made serious misjudgments in their treatment of informants.

If you can help us find such cases, please email David Borden at borden@drcnet.org. We will keep your name and personal information confidential unless you tell us otherwise. If you are uncomfortable sending this information by email, feel free to contact us by phone instead; our office number is (202) 293-8340, and you can speak or leave a message with David Borden or David Guard. Thank you in advance for your help.

Further information on the informant issue, including the Rachel Hoffman case, can be found in our category archive here.

Rachel Hoffman's Family Issues an Urgent Call for Change

The mother of slain drug war victim Rachel Hoffman has started the Rachel Morningstar Foundation to advocate legislation requiring legal counsel for prospective drug informants as well as decriminalization of marijuana in Florida. You can make a donation here.

For anyone still catching up on Hoffman's story, this heartbreaking video is a good starting point:


Rachel was involved in NORML and SSDP. She was one of us, and while I wish she'd thought better than to become an informant, we still don't know what threats police used to coerce her into assisting in the operation that took her life.

Rachel is someone we might have met at a conference someday. Someone who might have posted a comment on a drug policy blog or responded to an action alert. For whatever reason, that simple thought bothers me in an uncomfortable way that the drug war atrocities I cover daily often do not. It's a feeling I've had to shake off as I type, reminding myself that I've seen too much of this already to be rattled by the inevitable.

Every drug war victim has a story, each of them upsetting and important in its own way. We know all too well the common thread that binds these tragedies together and we'll stand without hesitation behind the Hoffmans as they've so bravely stepped forward so that their loss can become something positive, something Rachel would be proud of.

Who killed Rachel Hoffman?

 

In memory of Rachel Morningstar Hoffman...
December 17, 1984 -
May 7, 2008


Donate to the Rachel Morningstar Foundation

Dear Friend,

Nearly two weeks ago, an SSDP member lost her life in the crossfire of the War on Drugs.

Rachel Hoffman had just graduated from Florida State University, with plans to attend culinary school. As an undergrad, she was popular among her group of friends, many of whom she met through her involvement in FSU's chapters of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

Like many college students, she shared marijuana with her friends, and would often "go in" on larger amounts in order to save money. And that's how she got busted.

Rachel was threatened with prison time, then promised a slap on the wrist if she agreed to wear a wire and set up a deal with her suppliers. Tallahassee police gave her $13,000 in cash and told her to purchase 1,500 ecstasy pills, 2 ounces of cocaine, and a handgun. They never informed her attorney, family, or the state prosecutor before they sent Rachel into the lions' den that day. And nobody had the chance to tell her she was in way over her head.

After police found Rachel's body, they held a press conference and blamed her for her own death. Among Rachel's family and friends, sadness quickly turned into outrage and action. Last Wednesday, hundreds of students marched in protest of the role the Tallahassee Police Department played in Rachel's death. They held signs that read "Who Killed Rachel?" and "No More Drug War" while wearing t-shirts from SSDP and other allied organizations. Please take a moment to watch this powerful video of the demonstration:

Protest video

In her memory, Rachel's parents have established the Rachel Morningstar Foundation, the goal of which is to pass a law requiring legal advice to be sought before a civilian can consent to undercover work. They will also work to decriminalize marijuana in Florida. Please make a generous donation to the foundation today, and include a personal note to Rachel's parents if you are moved to do so.

In the meantime, Rachel's murderers must be brought to justice. But the drug dealers who pulled the trigger clearly aren't the only ones responsible for her death. They are the police who coerced her into being an informant and the politicians who justify waging a War on Drugs to "protect young people from drugs," while using those very same young people as pawns in their deadly game. On Wednesday, one protester's sign poignantly asked, "Do you feel safe?"

Whether you are a student, an alum, an educator, or a nonstudent, there are plenty of ways you can join with SSDP in the fight to replace the War on Drugs with policies of regulation and control that will actually make us safe.

But for today, I hope you'll take a moment with me to reflect upon the countless lives lost in the name of this unjust war, and to honor the passing of one of our own.

Then, let's get to work.

Sincerely,
Micah Daigle
National Field Director
Students for Sensible Drug Policy

Location: 
Tallahassee, FL
United States

DrugSense FOCUS Alert: Tallahassee Drug Cops Accessories To Murder

DrugSense FOCUS Alert #366 - Monday, 19 May 2008 Another civilian alleged to be guilty of nothing more than possession of ecstasy and 25 grams of marijuana has been killed while under the watch of narcotics officers. This time, the dead woman is Rachel Morningstar Hoffman, a resident of Clearwater FL and a 2007 graduate of Florida State University in Tallahassee. Hoffman, 23, was found dead in rural Taylor County early Friday after two men suspected in her kidnapping and robbery led investigators to her body. Murder charges are pending, according to the Tallahassee Police Department. Hoffman was last seen Wednesday night near Forestmeadows Park while attempting to assist TPD vice investigators by buying drugs and a gun from two men. Though not yet convicted on the charges of marijuana possession and possessing ecstasy with intent to sell, the Tallahassee drug cops intimidated her into doing what should instead be the most risky part of their job. Rather than expose themselves - while using their state police training and their resources of being heavily armed and protected - they sent in Hoffman unarmed to deal with drug and weapon suppliers. Neither Ms. Hoffman's attorney of record nor the states attorneys office was notified of her involvement in this dangerous, high risk undercover operation by Tallahassee Police. Further, Ms Hoffman's participation in a court-ordered drug-treatment program should have precluded her from buying drugs for police, legal and treatment professionals have stated. Our country supports drug treatment. People undergoing treatment are required to avoid all contacts with anybody who uses or sells illegal drugs. Thus we should demand that laws preclude the use of any person undergoing treatment as an informant. ONLY due to the insanity of drug Prohibition policies would such an operation take place within our communities putting civilians at risk of injury and death as they do jobs that should instead be done by real police. But unfortunately, drug Prohibition guarantees that all drug dealing will be covert - behind closed doors - carried out by mystery players and participants. This is in contrast to the sensible system in place for literally 99% of drugs - notably alcohol, tobacco and Rx pharmaceuticals - where all dealers are out in the open. Police and regulators can easily investigate the how, when, where and who of all drug dealing that is not forced on to the street by 21st century Prohibition. Florida police, elected officials and voters all need to carefully consider how much longer we will endorse such a policy that leaves 100% control of production and dealing for a short list of in-demand drugs to street dealers, gangs and international cartels. Despite the sad death of Rachel Hoffman ten days ago and despite any number of future deaths that will occur among police and civilians alike, the "War on Drugs" continues to be an abject failure for reducing either the use of illicit drugs or the aggressive, violent street sales of those same drugs. Everyone needs to ask, "How many more police and civilians need to die before we come to our senses and end drug Prohibition?" Please consider sending a Letter to the Editor directed to the Tallahassee Democrat, which is the location of this sad story, and also the newspaper read daily by Florida State legislators and Governor Charlie Christ. Please also consider sending letters to other Florida newspapers which have carried opinions about this murder. Newspapers expect that the letters they receive be unique so please insure that each letter you send is at least slightly different. Letters of 200 words or less have the best chance of being printed. Thanks for your effort and support. It's not what others do it's what YOU do. ********************************************************************** The first story from the May 10 Tallahassee Democrat may be read here: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v08/n483/a06.html MAP has archived almost 30 news and opinion clippings related to Ms. Hoffman's murder. New clippings are added each day: http://www.mapinc.org/people/Rachel+Hoffman Some of the best items to respond to are the Editorial and Opinion clippings, with the most recent being: US FL: Editorial: Rachel Hoffman Case Demands Outside Review (Tallahassee Democrat) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v08/n493/a06.html US FL: OPED: Innocence Lost on Both Sides of the Law (Tallahassee Democrat) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v08/n495/a01.html US FL: Editorial: Why Was Informer Put At Risk? (St Petersburg Times) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v08/n504/a12.html US FL: PUB LTE: Blame the War on Drugs (Tampa Tribune) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v08/n506/a04.html ********************************************************************** Additional suggestions for writing LTEs are at our Media Activism Center: http://www.mapinc.org/resource/#guides, or contact MAP's Media Activism Facilitator for tips on how to write LTEs that are printed. heath@mapinc.org ********************************************************************** PLEASE SEND US A COPY OF YOUR LETTER Please post a copy of your letter or report your action to the sent letter list (sentlte@mapinc.org) if you are subscribed, or by e-mailing a copy directly to heath@mapinc.org if you are not subscribed. Your letter will then be forwarded to the list so others can learn from your efforts. Subscribing to the Sent LTE list (sentlte@mapinc.org) will help you to review other sent LTEs and perhaps come up with new ideas or approaches as well as keeping others aware of your important writing efforts. To subscribe to the Sent LTE mailing list see http://www.mapinc.org/lists/index.htm#form ********************************************************************** Prepared by: The MAP Media Activism Team, www.mapinc.org/resource
Location: 
Tallahassee, FL
United States

Law Enforcement: Death of Florida Student Forced to Become a Snitch Sparks Protests in Tallahassee

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/tallahassee2.jpg
courtesy FSU NORML
The death last week of a Florida State University student who was killed while acting as an informant for the Tallahassee Police Department after being arrested on marijuana and ecstasy charges has sparked intense criticism of the police. On Wednesday, around 100 people gathered at the Old Capitol to call for police accountability in the murder of Rachel Hoffman, 23, who was allegedly shot and killed by two men she was trying to set up for the police.

Tallahassee police have been on the defensive since Hoffman's murder last week. Various law enforcement spokesmen have attempted to blame Hoffman for her death by arguing she didn't follow proper informant procedures.

But the protestors at the capitol weren't buying it. They criticized both Tallahassee police behavior in sending Hoffman out to buy cocaine and a gun, but they also leveled strong criticisms at the informant system in general.

"What we're trying to do is make sure TPD is accountable for their actions," Matthew Zimmerman, vice president of the Florida State University chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told the Tallahassee Democrat.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/tallahassee3.jpg
courtesy FSU NORML
"I just think it was stupid that this all happened over drugs," said Mckenzie Smith, who said she had known Hoffman since childhood. "I don't think her life was worth busting two dudes."

"TPD had Rachel Hoffman going into a situation she had no place being in, just because she was associated with marijuana," said Rachel Lillibridge.

Zimmerman added, "I don't think two wrongs make a right. To make someone who's been convicted rat out someone else to get their sentence lessened is the right thing to do, I think everyone should be treated according to the law."

Two men have been arrested in Hoffman's death and are expected to be charged with murder shortly. But for many in Tallahassee, the shooters aren't the only guilty parties.

Tallahassee PD's Pathetic Response to Rachel Hoffman's Death

I've already discussed the shamelessness of Tallahassee Police Chief Dennis Jones, who blamed Rachel Hoffman for her own death after his officers got her killed in a botched drug sting. But the more I think about it, the more sickening it becomes.

This statement from the Hoffman family's attorneys perfectly highlights how insulting and evasive this response from Chief Jones really is:

From the press conference's inception, the Tallahassee Police Department took the opportunity to inform the community of the victim's criminal charges, and made the point, both directly and indirectly, that her death was the result of her breaking protocol during the sting operation. The family and the attorneys for Rachel Hoffman have serious concerns about the statement that Rachel somehow caused her own death.

Rachel Hoffman was a 23-year-old woman, a graduate of Florida State University, and a daughter, beloved family member, and friend. At no time during the press conference was it addressed that Rachel Hoffman was not a trained law enforcement officer, was not on the Tallahassee Police Department Vice Squad Unit, or that she had taken any training classes regarding the Tallahassee Police Department's "protocol". It was not addressed why Rachel was placed in this situation in the first instance, other than she had criminal charges pending. However, even with criminal charges pending, the main concern is how Rachel came to this position and what measures were taken in order for her to agree to go there. Her family and attorneys believe it was her involvement in the drug sting that led to Rachel's death, and not the fact that she allegedly broke any protocol, but rather that she was led to the site in the first place. [baynews9.com]

Officers pressured her into becoming an informant and instructed her to attempt a massive purchase of ecstasy, crack cocaine, and a handgun. The suppliers either knew she was setting them up or simply killed her as part of a robbery. In either case, it was the police who instructed her to approach dangerous people with a suspicious request.

It's their fault she died, but also the fault of the drug war itself, which treats police as heroes when they learn to excel at manipulating and endangering people.

Police Entice Woman to Snitch, Get Her Killed, Blame Her for Her Death

NORML reports on the death of Rachel Hoffman, another disgusting and preventable death caused by the war on drugs and the reckless police tactics it has inspired.

Hoffman was caught selling marijuana and ecstasy in Florida. After threatening her with prison time, the police then gave Hoffman the option of becoming an informant–without first consulting with her lawyer. They set up a deal with her connection. What happened in between isn’t yet clear. But they found her body late last week.

Proving once again that the most dangerous thing about illicit drugs like ecstasy and marijuana isn’t the drugs themselves. It’s what the government does to you after you’re caught with them. [The Agitator]


Watch this video, in which Tallahassee Police Chief Jones blames Rachel for her own death and then says, "we are aggressively seeking justice for Rachael and her family."

If Chief Jones wants justice he should start by fixing the protocols he claims his officers adhered to. They sent Rachel in to purchase an uncharacteristic amount of drugs, along with a gun, just to ramp up the charges even higher. Their insatiable lust for big busts and big headlines gave them away and got their informant killed. There's nothing complicated about this. No nuances to debate. It's horrible policing brought on by a horrible war, which produced another horrible outcome.

Note: If you get arrested, speak with a lawyer immediately and do not fall for the common tricks police use to recruit snitches. They may tell you that this is your only chance to make a deal. They may exaggerate how much trouble you're already in, so as to leverage your cooperation. Frequently, people arrested for drugs endanger their own lives by becoming informants, when a lawyer could have gotten them off altogether. The drug war feeds on these coercive tactics, creating crimes that would never have occurred, and ruining one life after the next. Don't fall for it.

Law Enforcement: Florida Judge Throws Out Most Charges in Tampa Latin Kings Case, Chides Cops for Sleazy Snitch

A Florida judge Monday threw out charges against nearly two dozen defendants in the Tampa Latin Kings drugs, racketeering, and conspiracy case, citing FBI and Tampa Police use of a confidential informant with a lengthy criminal record who threatened nearly two dozen people into participating in the "conspiracy." While he rejected defense assertions of prosecutorial misconduct, Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Daniel Sleet excoriated law enforcement as he dropped charges against 23 of the more than 50 original defendants in the highly-publicized case.

While some of those arrested have been jailed, unable to get bail since the August 21, 2006 raid on the Caribbean American Club in South Tampa, others have already accepted plea bargains to probation or prison sentences. Charges remain against only a handful of key players in what was described at the time as a "close-knit, well-organized" gang.

Judge Sleet was particularly appalled by the role played by confidential informant Luis "Danny" Agosto, who cut a deal with the FBI and the Tampa police to "take down" the Latin Kings, but had to resurrect the moribund local chapter to do it. He used threats and intimidation as part of his scheme. And on the side, he stole motorcycles, plotted drug deals, and threatened women while working as a paid snitch.

According to a detailed account of the case in the Tampa Tribune, Agosto, who already had a long record of felony convictions, was in jail facing armed burglary and grand theft of a motor vehicle charges when the FBI and the Tampa police hired him to investigate possible drug and weapons activity among the Latin Kings. In return, the burglary charge vanished and Agosto got 10 years on probation for the car theft, according to testimony and Sleet's written order. He also got a rent-free apartment, a cell phone, $2,400 hundred a month living expenses, and the promise of a $100,000 bonus upon conviction of Latin Kings members.

But, as the order noted, "A little over a month after he was employed by law enforcement, [Agosto] ventured back into his previous life of crime." After listing a litany of criminal acts by Agosto while being paid by law enforcement, Sleet called him "an out-of-control convicted felon abusing his role as an informant." Law enforcement should have arrested Agosto, Sleet wrote, instead it "excused" his crimes.

Worse yet, Agosto used beatings, threats, and intimidation to compel people to attend meetings he called, which in some cases were the sole basis for the racketeering and conspiracy charges they faced. In essence, Sleet found, Agosto created the conspiracy, and law enforcement abetted that behavior. "A court should not allow this illegal and impermissible conduct to snare criminal suspects," Sleet wrote.

"This court finds that law enforcement's conduct, by and through [the confidential informant], was so outrageous toward those defendants... as to violate the Florida Due Process Clause," Sleet wrote. "Dismissal is an extreme sanction; however an extreme sanction is warranted to punish extreme conduct."

Lyann Goudie, a defense attorney in the case who wrote a 114-page motion to drop the charges, congratulated the judge on his decision in her favor. "Most of these defendants should not have been charged at all," she said. "That offended all of us."

Law Enforcement: Detroit Prosecutor Charged With Misconduct for Allowing False Testimony in Drug Case, Misleading Jury

The head of the Major Narcotics Unit of the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office has been charged with professional misconduct for allowing an informant and two Inkster police officers to lie on the stand in a 2005 cocaine case and for misleading jurors in her closing arguments in the case, the Detroit Free Press reported, citing the state Attorney Grievance Commission. The prosecutor, Karen Plants, was reassigned from her supervisory position Tuesday, after the Free Press called Prosecutor Kym Worthy's office seeking comment on the charges, which were filed Monday.

Worthy was in the news just a week ago announcing she would seek criminal charges against Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his former chief of staff, Christine Beatty, for perjuring themselves in a police whistle-blower case. In announcing the criminal charges against the pair, Worthy said perjury cannot be tolerated in court proceedings.

But she was singing a different tune when it came to one of her prosecutors abetting perjury. Although Worthy conceded there was perjury in the 2005 drug case, she said Plants had properly notified the judge after the trial.

Still, Worthy had to reiterate her office's stance on perjury. "The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office does not condone perjury of any kind," Worthy wrote. "The office takes very seriously its obligations to the public, to the accused, and will continue to do so in the future."

Here's what happened: Informant Chad Povish gave police information leading to a 47-kilogram cocaine seizure in March 2005. During a preliminary examination, two evidentiary hearings, and the 2005 trial, Plants allowed Povish, Inskster Police Sgt. Scott Rechtzigel and Det. Robert McArthur to repeatedly deny they knew each other. That prevented defense attorneys from finding out Povish was a paid snitch and attacking his credibility, the commission charged.

Povish actually tipped off the police to a drug buy, then took duffel bags full of cocaine from one defendant before police arrived. He later told jurors he had never met the cops before and he didn't know what was in the duffel bags. Plants knew the claims were untrue, but never corrected them, the commission said. Even worse, she tried to buttress those false claims during closing arguments to the jury, characterizing Povish and another witness as "dummies who were stupid enough to be the carriers, the mules."

According to the commission, Plants told Wayne County Circuit Judge Mary Waterstone twice that the cops and informant had lied, but neither Plants nor the judge notified the defense. "He knowingly committed perjury to protect the identification of the" informant, Plants told the judge in one instance. "I let the perjury happen."

Waterstone said she understood the perjury was committed to protect the snitch's life, a claim made by Plants. But the commission pointedly noted that prosecutors had produced no evidence that Povish's life was indeed in danger or would be if his role was disclosed.

Waterstone has since retired from the bench.

The prosecutor's office later filed a confession of error in the case of one defendant after he was convicted, but both defendants ended up taking plea bargains with significant prison time. But they also both appealed, and one of them, Alexander Aceval, saw his case sent back to the appeals court by the state Supreme Court to decide if the perjured testimony denied him a fair trial.

Aceval's lawyer, David Moffitt of Bingham Farms, told the Free Press the episode is "the worst instance of police, prosecutorial and judicial misconduct" he has seen. "Not only did they attempt to unfairly convict my client, they covered up and lied in the face of accusations about the scheme."

Legal experts consulted by the newspaper agreed the charges were serious. "If a prosecutor violates a legal or ethical duty, the criminal justice system is perverted," said Larry Dubin, an ethics professor at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.

Farmington Hills lawyer Michael Schwartz, grievance administrator for the commission in 1979-88, said: "The normal everyday result should be disbarment. But the mitigation is that she wasn't doing it for herself. She was trying to protect a confidential informant."

Schwartz also faulted Judge Waterstone, who he said should have declared a mistrial or told jurors witnesses had lied once she knew. "A judge simply cannot sit by and do nothing," Schwartz said. She "has to make sure the rules of ethics are adhered to."

Whether Wayne County Prosecutor Worthy will prosecute the lying police and informant like she is the mayor and his one-time paramour remains to be seen. Meanwhile, prosecutor Plants, who abetted the perjury and misled the jury, has been demoted, but is still on the job.

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